Northeast Regional Medical Center: Eric Barber, Chief Executive Officer

by HCE Exchange on March 26, 2012

Being one of America’s 50 Best Hospitals doesn’t mean you have to have the best-looking facility, be a huge hospital, or have every piece of the latest high-tech equipment. Becker’s Hospital Review chooses hospitals for the list based on a commitment to putting patients’ needs first and providing high-quality care.

Northeast Regional Medical Center, located in rural Kirksville, Mo., is a 115-bed teaching hospital, offering nearly every healthcare service short of neurosurgery and open-heart surgery. The hospital was named to Becker’s Top 50 in 2011 and in 2009, to Thomson Reuters Top 100 and was also an Everest Award winner in 2009.

Northeast is a small hospital in a rural community with no hospital of comparable size within 60 miles. The medical center is part of Community Health Systems, based in Franklin, Tenn. Northeast is housed in a facility built in the 1970s and as a result, hasn’t had all of the latest technology, but the physicians, staff, and leadership are dedicated to quality, service, and teaching.

Looking the part

Northeast is working floor-by-floor to upgrade the facility and make it look like a Top 50 hospital. The medical center has made huge strides in a little over a year. In 2010, Northeast did a $3.9-million renovation of the obstetrics/nursery unit, which includes five labor and delivery rooms and 10 postpartum rooms, and a $2.7-million expansion in the Critical Care Unit, taking it from six beds to 10. The facility also built a new cardiology clinic in partnership with Missouri Heart.

“We have had challenges with aesthetics and outdated technology,” said Chief Executive Officer Eric Barber. “If we are acting like a Top 50 hospital, we should look like one, too. Our remodel was long overdue and brought our look up to match our clinical expertise and service.”

In 2011, the hospital renovated two med-surg units that were comprised of 49 patient rooms and 98 beds. Upgrades included the installation of two flat-screen televisions in each room, one for each patient, and the addition of laminate flooring and patient handrails throughout the units.

The hospital has also added communication boards at the patient bedsides that are meant to facilitate communication between the patients, their families, and the providers. Barber said it’s also a way to track who their providers are, relay any notes to or from the family, and monitor the patients’ pain level and how their recovery is progressing. Furthermore, the nurses’ stations were reconfigured to be more user-friendly, since nursing students, nurses, residents, physicians, and therapists would all be sharing one station.

Also in 2011, Northeast added a new cath lab and a new 64-slice CT scanner. All in all, these projects total $3.5 million in capital expenditures.

Committed to service excellence

Northeast plans to maintain its status as a top hospital through quality and patient satisfaction. Even in planning the renovations, administrators considered patient needs.  It is routine for administrators at the hospital to make rounds to newly admitted patients each morning. During one round, Barber met a patient who said the plans for renovation had overlooked the toilet seats, which were too low for patients to sit on, especially after a joint surgery.

“We looked at the toilets after talking with this gentleman, and sure enough, they weren’t functional,” Barber said. “We have three busy orthopedic surgeons and see a lot of orthopedic cases, so we added raising the toilets by two inches to our renovation plans.”

Northeast has embraced the StuderGroup’s Nine Principles as a part of its commitment to excellence. The Nine Principles provide “a roadmap to help leaders navigate the journey to developing an excellence-based culture.”

“A huge part of quality in healthcare is the patient perception of how they were treated when at a hospital,” Barber said. “We have a strict focus on that with our implementation of the Studer principles. It has helped us shape the culture of our hospital, and it’s been exciting to see the positive change that has come from these principles. Our culture makes it more enjoyable not only for patients and families, but also for employees and medical staff.”

Barber said these efforts position the hospital for a pay-for-performance scale and ensure that Northeast is exceeding the national standard in HCAHPS scores and core measures.

Teaching and recruiting in a rural setting

Northeast Medical Center serves as a teaching hospital for A.T. Still University, the nation’s founding school for osteopathic medicine; Truman State University; and the University of Missouri. Northeast offers residencies in nine specialties with about 35 residents and interns on rotation.

The partnership with A.T. Still University has helped the hospital attract new physicians, and Barber is excited about future opportunities as the university will be adding a dental school by 2013.

“We are poised for some sustainable growth,” he said. “The dental school will benefit everyone in our community and improve our ability to continue to attract talented physicians to our medical staff.”

Physician recruitment is especially challenging at rural hospitals, but Northeast’s reputation has helped attract new medical staff.

“Being in a rural setting, it can be difficult to have a full complement of specialists,” Barber said. “But we have had a lot of success adding new members to the medical staff who have had a profound impact on making sure we’re providing the services our community needs.”

Most recently, the hospital has added an orthopedic surgeon with a sports-medicine focus, a urologist, and an ENT physician who recently finished a fellowship in otology. These specialties continue to expand the services Northeast can offer, and Barber looks forward to a future of growth that reflects the high-quality care the hospital provides.

-by Patricia Chaney

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