Adventist Health System: Donald Jernigan, Chief Executive Officer

by HCE Exchange on March 6, 2012

Being one of the largest healthcare systems in the United States is a hefty responsibility. If you add to that a faith-based mission, then you’ve got an organization with extremely high expectations. But Adventist Health System doesn’t let that intimidate them.

“We believe that having a faith-based mission calls us to a higher standard,” said Donald Jernigan, chief executive officer. “When you view the people you serve as children of God, that calls you to a different obligation than maintaining your market share or growing your business.”

The not-for-profit organization supports 43 campuses in 10 states and consists of approximately 55,000 employees. In all, the system has more than 7,700 licensed beds. Florida Hospital, the system’s flagship hospital, is one of the largest providers in America. The system also has a long-term care business and home-health agencies attached to some hospitals.

Originally established to support the healing mission of the Seventh-day Adventist healthcare organization in the southern and southeastern United States, Adventist Health System maintains its mission to “extend the healing ministry of Christ to every patient.”

In the mid-1800s, Seventh-day Adventist Christians recognized the need to treat the whole patient. Adventist Health System continues this approach with the CREATION health model — choice, rest, environment, activity, trust, interpersonal relationships, outlook, and nutrition. In addition, the system has the “His Touch” initiative, which encourages spiritual healing in the hospital and through community partnerships.

Guided by Vision 2015

To promote its mission and provide the highest quality care to patients, Adventist is preparing for a strong future. As with all health systems, Adventist is working toward electronic medical records, quality and safety measures, and physician alignment. To maintain consistency and high standards across all of Adventist’s entities, the organization’s Vision 2015 guides decision-making.

The Vision 2015 includes goals for safety, quality, and financial performance. Part of the vision involves making the clinical process completely paperless; ensuring all 43 facilities rank in the top quartile for quality, safety, and patient satisfaction; establishing highly aligned physicians; and building up cash to long-term debt at 125 percent with a minimum of 180 days cash on hand.

The vision is ambitious, but Adventist is well on its way to achieving many of these goals. The organization has seen strong financial performance for a decade, and quality measures are improving across the board. The entire system is implementing computerized physician-order entry with completion expected in early 2012.

These efforts not only improve patient care, but also prepare the organization for reform measures that require hospitals to do more with less money.

“The implementation of a clinical-information system, coupled with the work done in physician alignment is part of our strategy for getting quality results and lower operating costs,” Jernigan said. “Eliminating unnecessary variation in physician-practice patterns, getting standardization in supply costs, reducing overhead, and gaining productivity through automation are ways we are lowering our costs.”

Making hospitalist care quality care

As many healthcare systems have seen, the relationship with physicians has changed over the past few decades and is changing again with reform on the horizon. Jernigan said one trend he has seen during his career has been a “breakdown of the physician model.” Private practice was much more common than group practice, and primary-care physicians admitted patients into the hospital and followed them throughout their stay. Now, primary-care physicians rarely come into the hospital and turn patients over to hospitalists. With a looming physician shortage, the old model won’t be coming back, but Jernigan said Adventist has been making strides in hospitalist care.

“I think the new model at first compromised patient care,” he said. “We make sure hospitalist care is optimal and hone in on how they practice.”

Physician alignment is also a big push among hospitals. Adventist has initiatives in place that combine interpersonal relationships, software applications, financial services, clinical processes, and business services to help hospitals and physicians approach reform together. The organization is also working on ways to align its mission with physicians’ goals.

In addition to working with physicians, managing patient populations, especially those with chronic conditions, is a growing trend. Adventist has formed collaboratives among hospitals to manage blood sugars as well as eliminating infections. The system also focuses on employee health though the Wellness Our Way program, which offers incentives to employees to manage or prevent chronic conditions and improve their health.

Expanding its ministry of care

Adventist has been expanding capacity and bringing new facilities under the Vision 2015. The system has a state-wide network of 22 hospitals in Florida. It recently merged with University Community Health and created the Florida Hospital Tampa Bay Division along with two other hospitals, making it a 1003-bed system with seven facilities. Adventist is also building a new hospital in Castle Rock, Colo.

Adventist is on track to maintain a strong presence in the healthcare market, no matter what reform brings, and the system is committed to extending its CREATION health model.

-by Patricia Chaney

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