Meadows Regional Medical Center: Alan Kent, President & CEO

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Since joining Meadows Regional Medical Center in January 2000, President and CEO Alan Kent has marveled at the rural facility’s unprecedented growth across a range of quality indicators: scope of services, number of physicians, and gross revenue, to name a few. Based in Vidalia, Georgia – a town more famous for its famous  sweet  onions than its hospital’s 64-slice CT scanner — Meadows Regional has positioned itself as a viable competitor to much larger hospitals in metropolitan centers like Savannah, Statesboro, and Dublin.

With an exciting construction project scheduled for mid-2008, Kent has made a long-term commitment to revolutionize Meadows Regional Medical Center’s presence in the lives of its patients, employees, and the wider community of Vidalia. In this interview, Kent discusses a few of the “not-for-profit” hospital’s recent innovations: an “open book” management style, a state-of-the-art Wellness Center, and an aggressive plan to “think like a business.”

A History of Quality Care

Founded in 1963, Meadows Regional Medical Center provides a range of general and specialized healthcare services to the town of Vidalia, GA – population 14,000 — as well as to adjacent communities. Situated on a parcel of twenty-two acres approximately twenty miles south of the nearest major interstate highway, Meadows Regional is truly a rural facility. The hospital offers Critical Care, Maternity and Pediatrics services, Internal Medicine, Cardiology, Pulmonology, Sleep Medicine and Cardiac Catheterization, and twenty-four hour emergency care. With just over 600 employees, Meadows Regional is the second largest employer in the region. But CEO Alan Kent isn’t satisfied with being #2: as he sees it, increasing the hospital’s size and scope of services is crucial to its long-term survival.

Location, Location

“A patient should not receive lower quality medical care just because of where they choose to live,” says Kent, whose progressive philosophy has helped Meadows Regional earn a number of prestigious awards. In 2002, the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals named Meadows Regional the “Hospital of the Year.” Three years later, Solucient (now Thompson) named Meadows Regional a “Top 100 Regional Hospital and achieved the same award the following year.”

Meadows Regional also boasts a remarkably low staff turnover rate – no easy feat at a time when experienced physicians and nurses are aggressively recruited throughout the United States. By drawing strategic inspiration from non-healthcare industries, such as banking and manufacturing companies, Kent has revolutionized Meadows Regional Medical Center’s financial framework, making it an attractive candidate for any prospective physician or staff member.

Upwards and Onwards

“One of the greatest things going on in our organization right now is our continuous growth,” says Kent, who has overseen the recruitment of thirty-five new physicians over the past seven years.

“We’ve also invested over $30 million in equipment,” he adds. “We have a very technologically up-to-date equipment complement.” Some of the hospital’s most exciting technological additions include a new 64-slice CT scanner, a laser-guided navigation system for knee replacement surgery, two MRI machines, and a fully electronic medical record system in the emergency room. With new technology comes increased efficiency – which translates into increased gross revenue for the entire organization.

“Gross revenue has grown from $46 million in 2000 to $155 million in 2007,” explains Kent, who immediately clarifies, “that’s without population growth.” How, then, has Kent managed to achieve such tremendous financial growth at such a relatively isolated facility?

“We’ve grown our business by investing in the kind of quality that has brought more patients back,” he says. And with more repeat patients than ever before, Kent and his team at Meadows Regional Medical Center have decided to further expand their treatment facilities.

Expansion Plans

Kent’s team of architects and project managers are scheduled to break ground on a brand-new replacement facility in mid-2008, and Kent couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the building’s innovative “evidence-based” design.  Three driving forces behind quality care – emergency room processing speed, imaging,  and surgery, and in-patient room privacy and comfort – were held foremost throughout the design process. Ed. – I’m not sure I understand that I follow the link of these to a “quality force,”  Maybe it’s more of a patient access and efficiency point.

“Infection control issues play a big role in design, such as where to position the sinks,” adds Kent, who understands the importance of designing for the reality of day-to-day hospital operation. But this new building isn’t the only addition to Meadows Regional Medical Center’s core treatment facility – the hospital’s 60,000-square foot Wellness Center has already made a significant impact in the wider community of Vidalia.

The Wellness Center

“We took over a warehouse on the main highway and turned it into a state-of-the-art physical therapy center,” explains Kent, who goes on to list the Wellness Center’s numerous attributes: “We have a fitness center that includes an indoor track and an indoor pool. We have community classrooms, physicians’ offices, and a technology-training center for all our employees who have to learn computer operations. And to top it all off, we have a café that features Starbucks.”

The Wellness Center is available not only to hospital staff, but to the entire town of Vidalia. By extending a warm welcome to the wider community, Kent hopes to “make friends” with potential customers when they are well, so that they will feel comfortable turning to Meadows Regional when they are sick.

“We are trying not to be a traditional hospital,” says Kent. “We’ve got to think like a business.” Aside from the Wellness Center, which has already attracted visits from 1 in 10 of Vidalia’s residents, one of Kent’s most unique business implementations is his “open book” management policy.

Opening the Book on Accountability

Each and every staff member at Meadows Regional has the ability to peruse the facility’s financial reports, and is trained to understand exactly how they fit into the organization’s operation. This “open book” policy means greater accountability and transparency for the hospital as a whole, and has led to increased employee satisfaction over the past seven years.

“We won an award for our ‘open book’ management a year ago,” says Kent, who is proud of the fact that his employees not only know how to read the hospital’s financial statements, but also have the opportunity to earn regular bonuses based on the organization’s success. “We just paid out $90,000 worth of bonuses,” says Kent proudly. “Our employees deserve to share in our success.”

“We have very low employee turnover,” he adds. “We just did an ‘employee work environment survey’ where we scored significantly above the database averages.” Kent suspects that his “open book” policy has a lot to do with the hospital’s increased workplace efficiency: “I think that employees understanding the business, understanding customer service, patient satisfaction, and where they fit into the organization has a spillover effect into the quality of service.”

But even with innovative management systems in place, maintaining consistently high standards of service and care are always a challenge – especially for rural hospitals, like Meadows Regional, which rely on a limited group of specialized physicians.

Recruitment Woes

“We remain dependent on a small number of physicians,” says Kent, who notes that his hospital currently staffs just one or two physicians in each specialty department: “We only have one urologist, two EMTs, one neurologist,” he continues. “The competition for physicians throughout the United States is fierce. We remain concerned about recruitment and retention of doctors, quality nurses, and technical staff – it’s one of the most key issues.”

But Kent doesn’t believe in ignoring problems or sugarcoating the reality of managing a rural hospital: “We live scared,” he says frankly. “If you’re not scared in this business, you’re not paying attention.” For Kent, part of “paying attention” is preparing for battles before they arise, and being a proactive healthcare provider.

“The old model of just waiting to see what comes into your emergency room is a flawed model,” he says, pointing out that there are “many, many opportunities for hospitals to become more patient-friendly, more-customer friendly, and more cost-efficient.”

Kent’s Core Philosophy: “Think Like a Business”

At the end of the day, “care needs to be as good in rural hospitals as it is in urban hospitals,” according to Kent, whose main objective at Meadows Regional Medical Center is to simply “provide services that are wanted and needed.” For Kent, reducing the cost of healthcare for the individual patient is a huge part of caring for the community.

“Hospitals have so long passed along costs to their consumers,” Kent states, in disappointment. “We want to be financially viable, without relying on Medicare and Medicaid, which is what too many hospitals do.” To accomplish this goal, Kent emphasizes that “revolutionary-type changes” are in order – essentially, small rural hospitals need to “think like a business: reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and moving patients through the system.”

“That’s where our long-term survival and success is going to be,” says Kent, who has clearly established a successful “business model” at Meadows Regional.

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