Harrison Memorial Hospital: Sheila Currans, Chief Executive Officer

by HCE Exchange on July 12, 2013

Sheila-Currans-thumbMore than 100 years ago, the citizens of a small tobacco farming community in north central Kentucky built a hospital to serve emergency and acute-care needs. Today, that facility has expanded to include numerous specialties and services, while maintaining the hospital’s original personal and caring philosophy.

“Our patients are our family”

As with many rural community hospitals, Harrison Memorial Hospital takes a personal approach to all patients, with physicians caring for many patients from birth to midlife or later.

“We run into the patients we care for at the grocery store, our kids play soccer together, we see them at church,” said hospital Chief Executive Officer Sheila Currans. “With each patient, we really feel as though we are caring for a family member.”

This personal feeling creates a unique environment for staff, nurses, and physicians and influences the overall operations of the facility. Currans herself has been part of the organization for 40 years, originally serving as a candy striper, then a nurse.

Contrary to many larger healthcare facilities, Currans said Harrison Memorial does not ascribe to the hospitalist environment. She said physicians in town develop lifelong relationships with their patients and don’t want a hospitalist program.

“We have a stronger partnership with medical staff that can be nurtured if we see them every day,” she said. “I see our physicians on my rounds in the morning as they visit patients before heading to the office. It makes for a better environment and a closer connection to the community.”

In keeping close ties with medical staff, Harrison Memorial has condo suites for primary care and specialty clinics on campus that physicians can rent or own. Currans said a few physicians have purchased their office space, helping to retain physicians in an area where recruitment is challenging.

Although the quality of life in a small town is good, not every physician is seeking the rural life or the close-knit community that Harrison has. Currans said recruitment, particularly in primary care, general surgery, and obstetrics is one of the main challenges for the hospital. Harrison is located centrally between Lexington and Cincinnati, giving residents big-city opportunities, but “only certain types of doctors are going to ascribe to rural living,” she added.

Keeping an active role in the community

The hospital board and subcommittees of the board draw in community members to maintain a strong relationship. Harrison Memorial is dedicated to providing the services needed specifically for the residents of Harrison County and surrounding areas. And the hospital offers a surprising array of services for a rural facility.

“We understand that we don’t survive without the community and their loyalty,” Currans said. “We provide the care that’s needed close to home, and our market continues to come here even though we are only 35 miles from Lexington.”

Although patients are referred to tertiary centers for high-level procedures, Harrison Memorial is able to offer specialty clinics for follow-up care within most specialties, including cardiology, pulmonology, neurology, and oncology. Specialists hold hours on a monthly or weekly basis, depending on the needs of the community.

Maintaining the current facility is also part of Harrison Memorial’s commitment to the community. The building was constructed in 1968 on a hill on the outskirts of town and has been renovated and expanded upon over the years. Currans said the hospital has made a commitment to maintain a presence and not abandon a large building, leaving it to become an eyesore.

Recently, the hospital expanded its rehabilitation services department with a 2,450-square-foot addition. With the recruitment of a physician certified in orthopedics and sports medicine, the rehabilitation department has seen tremendous growth in volume. The addition allows for physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, massage therapy, and a wellness center open to the community. The department offers a SilverSneakers program and has begun offering a Vertigo and Balance Disorders Clinic.

As the healthcare landscape changes, Currans said reaching out into the community and following patients after they leave the hospital is going to be a greater focus.

“In the past, we cared for patients in the acute phase, then referred them to post-acute care providers or sent them home with good instructions, and things went well,” she said. “Now, we have to think outside those walls. We are involved in collaborative initiatives with local and regional nursing homes, hospice, and home care.”

Harrison Memorial plans to maintain the personalized attention it has always had with patients and staff, no matter the changes to the healthcare environment. Performance improvement and patient-centered care have always been central to the hospital’s operations, and moving forward, Harrison will be developing additional information-technology initiatives and working on capturing data more efficiently. Both are always challenging for small facilities, where employees often have to wear multiple hats.

Currans said the staff has been able to handle most IT and data mining in-house, as leadership supports training and development opportunities for staff. With further patient-safety and customer-service initiatives to meet federal requirements, Currans feels confident patients will only benefit from continuously improving care.

“Patients benefit when our staff puts safety and quality of care first,” she said. “They live that every day, and our patients benefit, which is reflected in our patient satisfaction and quality scores.”

-by Patricia Chaney

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