St. Mary Medical Center: Janice Ryba, CEO

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St. Mary Medical Center in northwest Indiana, is located about 30 miles southeast of Chicago. As one of three not-for-profit hospitals in the Community Healthcare System, the 190-bed facility has almost 500 physicians on staff, and operates seven outpatient locations in Hobart and neighboring communities. It has been ranked in the top 5% of hospitals, nation-wide, for four years in a row based on patient safety ratings. “Healthcare is personal,” says Chief Executive Officer of St. Mary Medical Center, Janice Ryba. “That’s the philosophy here at our facility and our entire healthcare system. We’re always asking staff to approach their work with their patient’s perspective in mind. Putting the patient’s experience first guides us in making the best healthcare decisions to assure positive patient outcomes.”

The Team Approach to Care

The hospital’s strong service record is producing the growth to support this claim. St. Mary Medical Center’s inpatient orthopedic program has seen 25-30% growth in volume since the opening of its Joint Academy in 2008. This collaborative team approach to joint replacement surgery educates and supports patients through all stages of care and rehabilitation from pre- to post-operation. “Our patient satisfaction scores are consistently in a high 90th percentile for our orthopedic unit,” says, Ryba. This successful approach to patient care and education is now being utilized in the development of a Stroke Program at St. Mary Medical Center.

One of the strengths to these programs is the use of patient care coordinators who help navigate patients through their hospitalization, care and recovery. “In both the Joint Academy and our Stroke Program, we have dedicated care coordinators, whose responsibilities are to assist our patients in navigating through their continuum of care. They become the point person for those patients and their families as well as our physicians,” says Ryba. “Our coordinators build a strong level of trust with our patients and families. Physicians appreciate it because they can trust the consistency of quality care and medical protocols for each patient. It is a valuable relationship that benefits everyone and helps patients and families move through an often complex system of health care.”

“Another priority for St. Mary Medical Center is proactive participation in our geographic service areas, identifying community needs and building programs that will meet those needs,” says Ryba. This past year the hospital opened a wound/ostomy/continence center, added an off-site ambulatory surgery center and expanded their women’s wellness programs. An innovative approach to provide exceptional mammogram services has earned the hospital and Community Healthcare System accolades as the only system in northwest Indiana offering same-day results. In addition, about 60% of patient biopsy results are provided on the same day, as well.

“For women who are worried about the possibility of having breast cancer, offering walk-in appointments and producing definitive results within 24 to 48 hours avoids a great deal of needless stress and anxiety,” says Ryba.

Current Investments

The hospital and healthcare system are currently embarking on a $40 million investment in an integrative electronic medical record system, EPIC, that will function cohesively across multiple hospital programs and departments, as well as physician offices. “These tools will enable us to implement a fully integrative approach to healthcare,” says Ryba. “It will help us manage our utilization, and delivery of healthcare, especially for patients who see multiple specialists for a variety of medical or chronic conditions.”

In October of 2009, the hospital broke ground on a new emergency department expansion and renovation, with a 23% increase in patient visits over the last three years. “For many of these patients, this will be their first visit to our hospital, and at least 20% of those patients will be admitted through our emergency department,” says Ryba.  “It’s important to make that experience as comfortable and efficient as possible.” The project, scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2010, will nearly double the size of the existing department.

Training Practitioners and Maintaining Staff

St. Mary Medical Center is involved in a number of programs with local universities as a training site for nurses, as well as for numerous ancillary services. The hospital and healthcare system emphasizes a culture that focuses on creating strong physician partners and environments that will result in great customer service.

With a focus on hiring employees committed to the hospital’s culture, the human resources department has modeled its orientation program, as well as its application process, with the Studer initiatives in mind. “We’ve been successful in retaining employees over time and making certain that new employees are invited to join our healthcare team for the right reasons,” says Ryba. The hospital already maintains a high level of longevity with employees. Management team members average 15 to 20 years with the organization.

The Future of St. Mary Medical Center

“St. Mary Medical Medical Center faces many of the same challenges as hospitals across the nation,” says Ryba. “We must advance our technology and continue to develop patient care service lines while at the same time attending to the uninsured and underinsured in our local communities.”

Ryba theorizes that the unemployment rate has not yet peaked in this region and that the effect on healthcare will lag on the impact of what’s happening in the economy by at least a year or eighteen months. “We are assuming, at this point, that we will see an increase in uninsured and underinsured patients. They will most likely present themselves in the emergency department as much more critically ill than they might have presented otherwise. We’re preparing for those possibilities, while also adjusting to the new challenges and opportunities that will be unveiled with the new health care reform laws.  I believe that by building on our strengths today, we are poised to continue to succeed in the face of the future’s uncertainty,” she says.

-by T.M. Simmons

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