Trust issues plague the relationship between Ascension St. Joe’s and the community it serves

https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/health/2019/12/16/st-joes-accountability-coalition-seek-commitment-ascension-hospital/3831008002/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202019-12-17%20Healthcare%20Dive%20%5Bissue:24684%5D&utm_term=Healthcare%20Dive

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Three empty chairs at a community meeting epitomized the mistrust between the leaders of Ascension Wisconsin and the St. Joe’s Accountability Coalition.

The coalition, composed primarily of community leaders from Milwaukee’s north side, invited Ascension Wisconsin to that Oct. 1 meeting to press the health system to sign a legal contract binding it to a list of commitments. The commitments included keeping Ascension St. Joseph hospital open and providing an urgent care clinic, affordable housing assistance, local hiring, more employee training and living wages for all employees.

Ascension didn’t show.

For one, Ascension Wisconsin officials said they were told they would not be allowed to speak at the event. For another, they said signing a contract was unnecessary because they have promised to keep the hospital open, already hire locally and provide employee training.

The hospital, which employs about 800 people, is one of the neighborhood’s largest employers.

The coalition wants the hospital to sign a community benefits agreement, known as a CBA, which is a contract between community groups and real estate developers or government entities.

Reggie Newson, Ascension Wisconsin’s vice president of government and community services, said the health system is proving its commitment to the community by expanding and adding services to St. Joseph.

For example, two certified nurse-midwives were just hired for the hospital’s new midwifery clinic and a third is being recruited. The hospital is also planning to hire a cardiac nurse practitioner and cardiologist.

But members of the coalition aren’t convinced, because they say there is no legal penalty if Ascension fails to follow through on its promises.

Nate Gilliam, an organizer with the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, advisory board member of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and coalition spokesman, said the coalition just wants accountability.

“It’s good that they’re saying all these great things on paper and to the media,” he said. “But if they are going to do that, they shouldn’t have a problem with signing a CBA.”

Future bright despite history of mistrust, Ascension says

The lack of trust between the coalition and Ascension Wisconsin started 18 months ago, when hospital administrators — citing losses of roughly $30 million a year — proposed cutting some of Ascension St. Joseph’s surgical and medical units and other services, such as cardiology support.

The hospital, at 5000 W. Chambers St., serves a majority African American population on the city’s north side, an area facing steep socioeconomic disadvantages. Decades of limited access to health care have contributed to higher rates of chronic disease. Higher rates of poverty means many residents rely on Medicaid for health insurance.

Residents interpreted Ascension’s proposal as a precursor to closing the hospital and — in an area where transportation is scarce — feared they would have to go farther for health care.

The proposal was criticized by Mayor Tom Barrett, several aldermen and community leaders, including George Hinton, CEO of the Social Development Commission and former president of Aurora Sinai Medical Center, who wrote an op-ed in opposition.

Ascension dropped the proposal.

But that was 18 months ago.

Since then, Newson said the hospital surveyed more than 1,000 people by telephone and held five community listening sessions. The information was used to develop priorities for the hospital and corresponding programs, such as the midwifery program and heart and vascular community care center.

Similarly, members of the coalition conducted their own survey, knocking on hundreds of doors and collecting 584 detailed responses.

When surveyed on non-clinical services, over 40% of residents said housing assistance, local hiring and living wages were their top priorities. From the coalition’s survey on clinical services, 61.6% said access to urgent care was most important to them.

Kevin Kluesner, Ascension St. Joseph’s chief administrative officer, said he and others are well aware of the health disparities and disadvantages within the community they serve.

He said Ascension Wisconsin’s push to expand services is proof the hospital isn’t going anywhere.

That commitment is despite the hospital’s having lost roughly $150 million since the 2012 fiscal year. In the 2018 fiscal year, the most recent for which information is available, Ascension St. Joseph lost $31.6 million.

By comparison, Froedtert Hospital reported $134 million in profits for the 2018 fiscal year, according to information filed with the Wisconsin Hospital Association. Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center reported $166 million in profits in 2018.

Gilliam said that since the hospital is a non-profit venture, lost profits shouldn’t matter. He also said that Ascension Wisconsin has more profitable locations across the state, that can offset the losses at St. Joseph.

Coalition wants accountability

The results from the coalition’s survey mirrored what residents at the Oct. 1 community meeting described.

Charles Hawkins said he likes his primary care physicians, but said they keep leaving.

Another resident who lives blocks away from the hospital, Arkesia Jackson, said when her brother-in-law experienced a flare-up of his COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she was thankful a community hospital was nearby.

“He ran inside the emergency and collapsed, car running,” she said. “He is a patient at St. Joe’s. They had all his records, they knew who he was, they knew what he was suffering from.”

Newson said the goal is to provide consistent, quality care for all patients.

Gilliam acknowledged that details of what the coalition is asking for, such as racially equitable health care and helping with housing assistance, are somewhat vague. However, that’s because its members said they want to sit down with Ascension and hammer out an agreement — as long as Ascension commits to signing one.

Coalition members argue that other hospitals have worked with community groups on similar initiatives.

Robert Silverman, a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Buffalo, said there are some rare examples of CBAs being used in the health care field.

For example, Yale University signed a CBA with the Community Organized for Responsible Development group in 2006 regarding the construction of a new cancer center.

It still remains unlikely that Ascension, a national organization, would willingly set such a precedent for its hospitals.

Gilliam said he thinks it’s important for hospitals to be accountable to the community.

“I don’t see why they see a community benefits agreement as adversarial off the top,” Gilliam said. “Whenever they’re ready to come to the table in earnest, we’ll be there. That’s it.”

But with the addition and expansion of several new programs, Kluesner said he’s not sure what else hospital officials can do to prove they are serious about being a reliable anchor institution on the city’s north side.

“We’ve signed 11 new providers. That’s the best proof we could give of our commitment to growing services here at St. Joseph. If people are wondering what are we doing at Ascension St. Joseph, I think that actions speak louder than words,” he said.

 

Top 5 Differences Between NFPs and For-Profit Hospitals

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/top-5-differences-between-nfps-and-profit-hospitals

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Although nonprofit and for-profit hospitals are fundamentally similar, there are significant cultural and operational differences, such as strategic approaches to scale and operational discipline.

All hospitals serve patients, employ physicians and nurses, and operate in tightly regulated frameworks for clinical services. For-profit hospitals add a unique element to the mix: generating return for investors.

This additional ingredient gives the organizational culture at for-profits a subtly but significantly different flavor than the atmosphere at their nonprofit counterparts, says Yvette Doran, chief operating officer at Saint Thomas Medical Partners in Nashville, TN.

“When I think of the differences, culture is at the top of my list. The culture at for-profits is business-driven. The culture at nonprofits is service-driven,” she says.

Doran says the differences between for-profits and nonprofits reflect cultural nuances rather than cultural divides. “Good hospitals need both. Without the business aspects on one hand, and the service aspects on the other, you can’t function well.”

There are five primary differences between for-profit and nonprofit hospitals.

1. Tax Status

The most obvious difference between nonprofit and for-profit hospitals is tax status, and it has a major impact financially on hospitals and the communities they serve.

Hospital payment of local and state taxes is a significant benefit for municipal and state governments, says Gary D. Willis, CPA, a former for-profit health system CFO who currently serves as CFO at Amedisys Inc., a home health, hospice, and personal care company in Baton Rouge, LA. The taxes that for-profit hospitals pay support “local schools, development of roads, recruitment of business and industry, and other needed services,” he says.

The financial burden of paying taxes influences corporate culture—emphasizing cost consciousness and operational discipline, says Andrew Slusser, senior vice president at Brentwood, TN-based RCCH Healthcare Partners.

“For-profit hospitals generally have to be more cost-efficient because of the financial hurdles they have to clear: sales taxes, property taxes, all the taxes nonprofits don’t have to worry about,” he says.

“One of the initiatives we’ve had success with—in both new and existing hospitals—is to conduct an Operations Assessment Team survey. It’s in essence a deep dive into all operational costs to see where efficiencies may have been missed before. We often discover we’re able to eliminate duplicative costs, stop doing work that’s no longer adding value, or in some cases actually do more with less,” Slusser says.

2. Operational Discipline

With positive financial performance among the primary goals of shareholders and the top executive leadership, operational discipline is one of the distinguishing characteristics of for-profit hospitals, says Neville Zar, senior vice president of revenue operations at Boston-based Steward Health Care System, a for-profit that includes 3,500 physicians and 18 hospital campuses in four states.

At Steward, we believe we’ve done a good job establishing operational discipline. It means accountability. It means predictability. It means responsibility. It’s like hygiene. You wake up, brush your teeth, and this is part of what you do every day.”

A revenue-cycle dashboard report is circulated at Steward every Monday morning at 7 a.m., including point-of-service cash collections, patient coverage eligibility for government programs such as Medicaid, and productivity metrics, he says. “There’s predictability with that.”

A high level of accountability fuels operational discipline at Steward and other for-profits, Zar says.

There is no ignoring the financial numbers at Steward, which installed wide-screen TVs in most business offices four years ago to post financial performance information in real-time. “There are updates every 15 minutes. You can’t hide in your cube,” he says. “There was a 15% to 20% improvement in efficiency after those TVs went up.”

3. Financial Pressure

Accountability for financial performance flows from the top of for-profit health systems and hospitals, says Dick Escue, senior vice president and chief information officer at the Hawaii Medical Service Association in Honolulu.

Escue worked for many years at a rehabilitation services organization that for-profit Kindred Healthcare of Louisville, Kentucky, acquired in 2011. “We were a publicly traded company. At a high level, quarterly, our CEO and CFO were going to New York to report to analysts. You never want to go there and disappoint. … You’re not going to keep your job as the CEO or CFO of a publicly traded company if you produce results that disappoint.”

Finance team members at for-profits must be willing to push themselves to meet performance goals, Zar says.

“Steward is a very driven organization. It’s not 9-to-5 hours. Everybody in healthcare works hard, but we work really hard. We’re driven by each quarter, by each month. People will work the weekend at the end of the month or the end of the quarter to put in the extra hours to make sure we meet our targets. There’s a lot of focus on the financial results, from the senior executives to the worker bees. We’re not ashamed of it.”

“Cash blitzes” are one method Steward’s revenue cycle team uses to boost revenue when financial performance slips, he says. Based on information gathered during team meetings at the hospital level, the revenue cycle staff focuses a cash blitz on efforts that have a high likelihood of generating cash collections, including tackling high-balance accounts and addressing payment delays linked to claims processing such as clinical documentation queries from payers.

For-profit hospitals routinely utilize monetary incentives in the compensation packages of the C-Suite leadership, says Brian B. Sanderson, managing principal of healthcare services at Oak Brook, IL–based Crowe Horwath LLP.

“The compensation structures in the for-profits tend to be much more incentive-based than compensation at not-for-profits,” he says. “Senior executive compensation is tied to similar elements as found in other for-profit environments, including stock price and margin on operations.”

In contrast to offering generous incentives that reward robust financial performance, for-profits do not hesitate to cut costs in lean times, Escue says.

“The rigor around spending, whether it’s capital spending, operating spending, or payroll, is more intense at for-profits. The things that got cut when I worked in the back office of a for-profit were overhead. There was constant pressure to reduce overhead,” he says. “Contractors and consultants are let go, at least temporarily. Hiring is frozen, with budgeted openings going unfilled. Any other budgeted, but not committed, spending is frozen.”

4. Scale

The for-profit hospital sector is highly concentrated.

There are 4,862 community hospitals in the country, according to the American Hospital Association. Nongovernmental not-for-profit hospitals account for the largest number of facilities at 2,845. There are 1,034 for-profit hospitals, and 983 state and local government hospitals.

In 2016, the country’s for-profit hospital trade association, the Washington, DC–based Federation of American Hospitals, represented a dozen health systems that owned about 635 hospitals. Four of the FAH health systems accounted for about 520 hospitals: Franklin, TN-based Community Hospital Systems (CHS); Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America; Brentwood, TN–based LifePoint Health; and Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corporation.

Scale generates several operational benefits at for-profit hospitals.

“Scale is critically important,” says Julie Soekoro, CFO at Grandview Medical Center, a CHS-owned, 372-bed hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. “What we benefit from at Grandview is access to resources and expertise. I really don’t use consultants at Grandview because we have corporate expertise for challenges like ICD-10 coding. That is a tremendous benefit.”

Grandview also benefits from the best practices that have been shared and standardized across the 146 CHS hospitals. “Best practices can have a direct impact on value,” Soekoro says. “The infrastructure is there. For-profits are well-positioned for the consolidated healthcare market of the future… You can add a lot of individual hospitals without having to add expertise at the corporate office.”

The High Reliability and Safety program at CHS is an example of how standardizing best practices across the health system’s hospitals has generated significant performance gains, she says.

“A few years ago, CHS embarked on a journey to institute a culture of high reliability at the hospitals. The hospitals and affiliated organizations have worked to establish safety as a ‘core value.’ At Grandview, we have hard-wired a number of initiatives, including daily safety huddles and multiple evidence-based, best-practice error prevention methods.”

Scale also plays a crucial role in one of the most significant advantages of for-profit hospitals relative to their nonprofit counterparts: access to capital.

Ready access to capital gives for-profits the ability to move faster than their nonprofit counterparts, Sanderson says. “They’re finding that their access to capital is a linchpin for them. … When a for-profit has better access to capital, it can make decisions rapidly and make investments rapidly. Many not-for-profits don’t have that luxury.”

5. Competitive Edge

There are valuable lessons for nonprofits to draw from the for-profit business model as the healthcare industry shifts from volume to value.

When healthcare providers negotiate managed care contracts, for-profits have a bargaining advantage over nonprofits, Doran says. “In managed care contracts, for profits look for leverage and nonprofits look for partnership opportunities. The appetite for aggressive negotiations is much more palatable among for-profits.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hospital Boards Seeing Low Turnover Rates, AHA Finds

http://trustees.aha.org/transforminggovernance/aha-2019-governance-survey-report_v8-final.pdf

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/hospital-boards-seeing-low-turnover-rates-aha-finds

A survey of hospital and health system CEOs noted opportunities for improvement in board governance, alongside some positive trends.

The boards of trustees governing U.S. hospitals and health systems have relatively low turnover rates in an industry that’s shifting rapidly, according to a survey report released Wednesday by the American Hospital Association.

The survey asked more than 1,300 CEOs of nonfederal community hospitals and health systems in the U.S. about their organizations’ governance structures and practices, then the AHA compared their responses to data collected in a similar survey five years ago.

The researchers found that the policies and norms in place for most healthcare organizations result in low levels of board turnover.

The report cited several related opportunities for improvement:

  • Nearly a third of all respondents said their boards do not use term limits at all.
  • More than 75% of respondents said their organizations either didn’t replace board members during their terms or kept reappointing them (when eligible) within the past three years, rather than recruiting a fresh face.
  • Formal assessments were not conducted within the past three years for boards, board members, or chairpersons at 31% of respondent organizations.
  • Older board members are increasingly common. Overall, 12% of board members were age 71 or older in 2018, up from 9% in 2005, the report states. The percentage of members age 50 or younger was 22% last year, down from 29% in 2005.

Luanne R. Stout, president of Stout Associates based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and a retired Chief Governance Officer of Texas Health Resources, wrote in commentary included with the report that healthcare organizations have a number of options when trying to foster a healthy degree of board turnover.

“Term limits (usually three or four consecutive, three-year terms) are helpful in accomplishing board turnover; however, some boards are reluctant to adopt term limits for fear of losing highly valued board members,” Stout wrote. “Boards that annually review board member attendance, performance and contribution can achieve desired levels of rotation and competency enhancement without utilizing term limits.”

The AHA report also notes some positive trends around healthcare board governance, including the following:

  • There has been some increase in racial and ethnic diversity among board members. The survey found 58% of respondents had boards with at least one non-white member, up from 53% in 2014. (That means about 42% of boards were still composed last year entirely of white members.)
  • A majority of boards restructured to improve their governance.
  • Nearly half of all system boards include members from outside the communities served.

“This year’s survey demonstrates how hospitals and health system boards are rising to meet tomorrow’s challenges through redefining roles, responsibilities and board structures,” said AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack in a statement. “These changes are not surprising given the continued transformation in where, how, when and from whom patients receive care.”

 

 

 

Solving the Decision Bottleneck In Two Essential (But Not So Easy) Steps

Solving the Decision Bottleneck In Two Essential (But Not So Easy) Steps

Imagine a single organization from the perspective of two different cultures: Culture Accountability and Culture Bottleneck.

In Culture A (Accountability), things get done quickly and efficiently. Executive teams are cohesive and managers know what is expected. As a result, managers run a tight ship and are quick to course-correct any activity, behavior or process that doesn’t align with the shared mission and vision. Managers are confident that their decisions will be supported by the executive team. Conversations, both vertical and horizontal, are focused on both process and people; results and relationships. Those who do not fit the culture leave on their own accord.

In Culture B (Bottleneck), bottlenecks create frustration. Decisions seem to be an afterthought and lack of trust precedes the need to micromanage. Managers fear making decisions because their decisions are often overridden. Executives complain that their managers never get the job done. On the front lines, turf wars and internal drama erupt spontaneously. Uncertainty, unexpected change and chaos color the culture. Conversations are avoided and poor performance is justified until something major happens and firing is the only option.

“At most organizations, the bottleneck is at the top of the bottle.”– Peter Drucker

All other things considered, there are two components that distinguish Culture A from Culture B: Clarity and Communication.

1. Clarity: How and who makes decisions

In every single instance of time-wasting drama, no matter how it manifests, at the root is a lack of clarity in some form.

On the front lines, when employees are unclear about what success looks like, they lose confidence and waste productive hours getting reassurance and clarification — procrastinating when uncertain. At the highest level, lack of clarity about the real problem or the desired end result wastes time and resources hiring vendors and consultants offering “one and done” workshops or other ineffective solutions.

Even when there is clarity about the real problem, the end result and the process, a big road-block I often see is the lack of clarity about who is in charge and how decisions are made.

For context, let me share a quick example. Years ago I was on a project for a mid-sized corporation. My inside contact, a high-level director, had absolutely no power to push the project forward. Because of this fact, any work I did had to be approved by the top executive who would continuously change calendar dates and, in doing so, would “delegate” the date changing to the director, who had to navigate calendars and multiple dates. I estimate we wasted at least 40 productive hours chasing down the real decision maker to make a change instead of setting up one phone call.

Increasing clarity inevitably increases your productivity and speed. Here are some suggestions for increasing speed by increasing decision-making clarity.

What to start doing

  1. After identifying the real problem and the desired outcome, take the necessary time to agree on how decisions will be made among top executives. Whether you are a co-owner or a team of C-suite executives, your organization’s success and your peace of mind is dependent upon your maturity to clarify your decision-making processes.
  2. Have a plan in place to maximize efficiency and decision making for those times when change happens.
  3. Give real decision-making authority to those to whom you delegate power.

What to stop doing

  1. Stop going rogue on your senior partners. Before you make a major decision, get alignment from your executive team.
  2. Stop delegating when delegation creates a bottleneck. Instead, hire an assistant to do the grunt work and let your director-level people get their own work done.
  3. Stop complaining about your employees and team members. If you find yourself complaining, set a time on the calendar to confront the issue with the person (or people) who needs to hear the conversation.

2. Communicate: Initiate clear conversations

The number-one problem I see that slows progress and efficiency is the inability or unwillingness of leaders to initiate what I call executive conversations. Executive conversations (as I define them) are both results- and relationship-oriented.

Many drama-laden cultures adopt an either-or mentality: a mindset that it’s all about results — anything for a profit, or it’s all about relationships — avoiding conflict at all costs. Both mindsets create accountability-related issues.

In his bestselling book, Advantage, Patrick Lencioni says:

“Many leaders struggle with accountability but don’t know it. Some will tell me that since they aren’t afraid to fire people, they must not have an accountability problem. Of course, this is misguided. Firing someone is not necessarily a sign of accountability, but is often the last act of cowardice for a leader who doesn’t know how or isn’t willing to hold people accountable. At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction which may not be pleasant.“

When there is a lack of accountability there is a lack of alignment, and when there’s a lack of alignment there’s a need for executive conversations.

What to start doing

  1. Increase your awareness of what is happening that should not be happening, and articulate it.
  2. Ask for the behavior or action you want directly and succinctly without blame.
  3. Keep the overall good of the organization in mind when you address the issue.
  4. State how the problem you perceive affects the revenues, productivity, team, client satisfaction or any other business case.

What to stop doing

  1. Stop holding grudges and realize that a grudge is a sure sign of a conversation that needs to happen.
  2. Get coaching support to learn how to initiate conversations that get results instead of resentment.
  3. Stop firing people before you’ve had the courage to have a couple of conversations. If you communicate effectively, they will either improve with some coaching, or they will eliminate themselves when they see they can’t cut the mustard. The good news is they will probably leave on friendly terms.

Conclusion

There are many factors that shape culture; however, it’s up to the senior leaders to eliminate the time-wasting bottlenecks that contribute to high-drama cultures. Get clear on the real problem and the desired end result. Clarify who is in charge and how decisions are made. Initiate executive conversations that are both relationship- and results-oriented to transform the Bottleneck Culture into a Culture of Accountability.