Gracie Square Hospital: Johnny Kuo, Chief Operating Officer

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Since 1959, Gracie Square Hospital has been caring for the mental health of New York City’s greater metropolitan area. A member of the New York Presbyterian Healthcare Network, Gracie Square is a 157-bed psychiatric facility that accepts mentally ill patients ages 16 and older. Inpatient psychiatric and geriatric programs are primarily oriented toward the treatment of acute psychiatric conditions that require a relatively short period of hospitalization. Gracie Square offers a dual focus treatment program for those who are suffering from both significant psychiatric disorders and chemical dependency. They also offer services specifically tailored to the Asian population with bicultural and bilingual psychiatric services.

The Asian Program and Other Multi Areas of Emphasis

Offering culturally sensitive services to the Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations of New York City is one of the primary programs for which Gracie Square Hospital is known. Since cultural influences strongly affect the way patients view the causes and treatment of mental illness, this approach allows patients and their families to work within their own cultural references when dealing with mental health issues. This improves the chances of successful outcomes for the patient and involves the family as active members of the treatment program.

Gracie Square Hospital is also well known for its substance abuse programs. Too often, according to says Johnny Kuo, Chief Operating Officer at the hospital since 2000, deal with the  issue of chemical dependency and treatment alone, without regard to the fact that many chemically dependent patients also suffer from a significant mental health issue such as depression or anxiety. Gracie has become a leader in successful treatment of these patients.

The Gracie Square Hospital also has a unit for patients age 65 and older. This area most commonly deals with Dementia and Alzheimer-type symptoms and conditions. Gracie Square’s services include stabilizing the acute condition and then working with family to assess a patient’s needs and find appropriate after-care accommodations and services.

Patient Safety Initiatives

Gracie Square is currently a couple of years in to a major patient safety improvement program. “We identified a high number of falls, especially in the geriatric patient population,” says Johnny Kuo, Chief Operating Officer at the hospital since 2000. “What we found is a need for patient safety education and staff education. Throughout this project we have spent over a million dollars to reduce patient falls while yielding extremely positive results.”

The hospital has increased staffing and has purchased more user and patient friendly  equipment. They’ve introduced a better wheelchair, for instance, for their geriatric population. Bathrooms at the hospital have been renovated and redesigned with safety requirements in mind, but also, they’ve put significant emphasis on constantly improving staff education and training programs.

“Management wise, especially with my senior team, we always work hand in hand, side by side. Communication is always a focus, but also strategic planning. What kind of team do we need to put in place? I am always coaching my team to utilize an “us” and “we” mentality when confronted with obstacles where they need my assistance.”

Kuo also has high praise for Gracie Square’s board. “Our board members play a very important role in our organization. They are very valuable and also give very good feedback to bring about what’s best for Gracie Square Hospital.”

Challenges in Psychiatric Care

Kuo says caring for Medicare and Medicaid patients, and the increasing number of uninsured patients is one of his greatest challenges. “We take our role in the community seriously,” says Kuo. “Our hospital teams up with other networks looking for the best answer for this uninsured population. It’s very difficult to overcome, but we continue to look for ways to branch out and meet the needs of those who are not prepared to pay for their health issues when they come.”

The other challenge Kuo sees is keeping up with healthcare technology. Not only is it incredibly expensive, he’s working in a building that is more than fifty years old, so upgrading often requires actual renovation of the building structure which increases the price tag. “This is the type of a project we are facing now and in the future,” he says. “The reality is that pretty much throughout the building, we need redesign. It’s very hard to do, but we will find a way to do it the best that we can. That’s what is best for the organization.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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Henry Scott June 27, 2012 at 5:37 pm

The staff at Gracie Square tells me that staffing now has been radically reduced. That probably explains why a friend of mine recently committed there was put in a room with blood on the floor, found abandoned and dirty underwear and blood stained swabs in the room drawers, had his eye glasses stolen, was denied his HIV medication, and has been unable to contact the outside world because the pay phones that Gracie Square patients much use to call out don’t work. This place reminds me of a mental hospital in rural Alabama in the 1950s. A quick Google search turns up many similar stories. To think a place like this exists in New York City in 2012! Management should be fired!


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