Saint John’s Health Center: Lou Lazatin, Chief Executive Officer

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Seventeen years ago, the original Saint John’s Health Center was damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake in California. Since that time, the state legislature has passed significant laws regulating the standards for how hospitals should be built with the intent on making them seismically safe.

Beginning in 1997, Saint John’s began demolishing old buildings and constructing new facilities. Five years ago, a new patient tower, the Chan Soon-Shiong Center for Health Sciences (CSS), opened, and last year, the Howard Keck Center became operational. In the fall of 2012, the front entrance to the new Saint John’s Health Center will be completed, making the hospital virtually brand-new.

“We’re very pleased about the opening of the new hospital and being able to use the two core buildings, the Keck Center and Chan Soon-Shiong, for the last year,” Lou Lazatin, president and chief executive officer of Saint John’s, said.

Famous for care and services

Licensed to have 268 beds, Saint John’s has  a staff of 1600 with 900 physicians on-board. They are known for oncology, and a significant part of that program is the world-renowned John Wayne Cancer Institute, which takes research findings and translates them into direct patient care.

Saint John’s is also known for orthopedics, whether it’s total joint replacement of the knee, the hip, or the spine or sports-medicine orthopedic operations. Furthermore, their cardiovascular services are well-established, especially in the areas of heart surgery, electrophysiology, and invasive cardiology.

Because they are a community-based hospital, women’s health is important to Saint John’s, and  they are seen as the primary-care provider for women in the region, serving in such areas as childbirth, breast cancer, gynecology, osteoporosis, and menopause.

Awarded many times over

Saint John’s renown is well-earned and well-recognized. The hospital has won several significant national awards from such prominent organizations as HealthGrades, who named them one of the nation’s Top 50 Hospitals in 2011; Professional Research Consultants, from whom they received several four and five-star awards; and Los Angeles Magazine, which ranked the top physicians in L.A. County with more than 10 percent of the list being comprised of Saint John’s physicians.

In 2011, the American Hospital Association (AHA) gave Saint John’s one of its 2011 Hospital Awards for Volunteer Excellence (HAVE) for Best Volunteer Program for Saint John’s Angels of the ER program.

Lazatin takes great pride in this program and how it has transformed Saint John’s ER.

“If you came in to our emergency room,” she said, “you will be received by not only our professional staff, but also by volunteers who really become your angels. They stay with you through the entire ER process to comfort you and also to be the conduit of information, and the conduit of information can be medical. If you don’t understand what was said, they would explain it to you in a very calm, understandable manner and then keep the communication loop with your family.”

Saint John’s efforts to stay patient-centered has led them to adopt the Lean program, which is helping the hospital lessen any unnecessary repetition of any process that they put the patient through, thus reducing waste.

“We’re trying to achieve better efficacy for the patient and at the same time, be responsible as far as resource utilization,” Lazatin explained.

Applying aviation to healthcare

Another way in which Saint John’s has taken healthcare safety to a new level is with the Mach-150 program. Emulating aviation’s very rigorous safety program, Saint John’s hired two fighter pilots to work with one of the hospital’s key surgeons on applying what happens in the cockpit to what happens in the operating room.

In a cockpit, the flight crew always emphasizes communication. There’s a checklist for safety before the airplane takes off the runway, and there’s a level of cross-check to make sure that what’s communicated is verified verbally. Also, the pilot is trained to listen to any of the concerns the flight crew may have.

Lazatin said that Saint John’s has replicated this system in their OR. Surgeons, anesthesiologists, the lead nurse, the scrub tech, and any other supporting members of that team are all involved in the initial process of determining what the patient is there for, marking the surgical site on the patient with the surgeon, and explaining to the patient and the entire care team what will happen before the patient is anesthetized.

“It was a mandatory training program for all our surgeons, anesthesiologists, and all of our surgical staff, and our goal is, obviously, zero-percent error rate,” Lazatin said.

Making innovation common practice

Beyond innovative training programs, Lazatin encourages her physicians to experiment and explore new surgical techniques.

Dr. Daniel Kelly, director of the Brain Tumor Center at the John Wayne Cancer Institute, uses a method where brain tumors are removed through a natural orifice, such as the nose, a minimal slit around the eyebrow that won’t force them to have to shave it, or at the back of the ear. The goal is to move away from large invasive surgical techniques and cosmetically damaging techniques where removing a tumor often results in a patient shaving their head or having a large, burrowed hole on the skull.

Lazatin also works with her nurses to adopt floor practices that improve the patient’s healing environment.

After 10 p.m. on the floors, for example, noise is minimized significantly.  Lazatin’s goal was to get away from the noisy hospital environment, replacing it with the after-hours silence of a homelike atmosphere. This initiative has been so effective, patients have asked, “Is anybody here?”, in response to the quiet.

“I take ideas from other industries and put them into practice at Saint John’s, because at the very end of it, I want the hospital experience to not be any different from our daily experience,” she said. “The new Saint John’s is focused on breakthrough medicine and inspired healing.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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