05/04/09 — Cook sets sights on improved hospital

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Cook sets sights on improved hospital

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 4, 2009 1:46 PM

Philip Cook

Philip Cook has spent his first five weeks as Cherry Hospital director getting acquainted with the staff and practices.

First impressions have been favorable, he said, with plans being made to shore up the organization and to create a sense of unity.

"It's a stiff learning curve, but it's going well," he said. "Every day, I'm getting more connected with what's going on and the people here."

Compass Group, an independent management firm retained by the state after Cherry lost its Medicaid and Medicare funding in September, remains on site.

"They're continuing to work with us through the plan of correction process with Centers for Medicaid and Medicare," Cook said. "They're doing a great job."

At the same time, he credits Cherry staff for addressing improvement issues.

"We're getting that plan together. It's coming together very well," he said. "As we're having discussions, we are really taking it beyond what I would say meets the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, to try to develop services in a meaningful way, not just get a passing grade."

While there is work to be done, Cook says there are already a "lot of right people and right processes in place." He sees part of his role as that of a coach or mentor. His career has taken him around the country -- Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky and California among his stops -- Cherry Hospital stacks up quite well, he said.

"What I'm pleased with here, I think No. 1, there's a lot of really good people in place, there's a lot of good systems in place," he said. "By that I mean it's not completely broken, there's some areas we're clearly working to improve practices."

He knew going in there would be a "stiff learning curve," overcoming some of the hits Cherry has taken in recent years. Cook's arrival also comes on the heels of the state's "strong and appropriate stance" of zero tolerance in the state's hospitals.

"I see that this hospital and this state is much more strenuous and on top of things than anywhere I have ever been, and that's a compliment to Cherry and the state system," Cook said.

The hospital boasts a long and rich heritage and a great mission, he notes, and he expects to see great results in the future. He also pointed out a readiness among the staff to accomplish that.

"There's a high degree of motivation to deal with the problem areas and really have a stellar hospital," he said. "I believe it's going to happen."

Coming in, Cook likened his approach to that of the "Energizer Bunny" -- seeking to be a motivator and hopefully a visionary for the next chapter in Cherry's story.

And make no mistake, he says, he sought the role.

"They didn't find me. I wanted this job," he said. "I found out about it, so I really aggressively made my candidacy known to the right people. At this point in my career, I have been around a lot, seen a lot of things and seen other hospitals that have other difficulties and what it takes to correct it. I knew what I was getting into."

The climate for health care is a challenge everywhere, he said.

"Health care in any setting, whether it's medical or psychiatric or specialties, we're under a lot of pressure to produce and perform in very difficult times," he said. "The economy certainly affects all of us. If you're in health care, it's not a matter of (whether) it's going to be difficult or not, it's a matter of degrees. You have to just love what you do and help provide health care. It can't just be a job for anybody."

Fortunately, Cook enjoys what he does.

He fashions himself as one who likes problem-solving. So the task at hand is not too steep, although he readily admits it is not one he plans to tackle alone.

"One person can't by any means do it," he said. "We're the experts in various areas (but) you have to be willing to share control. I don't have any interest or the ability or stamina to do it all by myself. That's one of the advantages of being seasoned. One person can't do but so much."

It can be boiled down to five key areas -- people, ethics compliance and safety, service excellence, performance improvement and financial performance.

"We're talking about retention and recruiting the right people in the right places," he explained. "You get that right, almost everything falls into place."

Ethics, he said, translates to providing great programs and services, while complying with the regulations from the state, Joint Commission and other regulatory agencies.

"We're working to have our own expectations exceed those," he said. "Our expectations should be at a level where we're exceeding those basic requirements. I would say two to three years we're going to be there."

Service excellence, he said, means improving all its relationships, both with referral services and the community and internally.

"We need to continually work to provide care in a way that our patients have a sense of truly being cared for," Cook said. "We want them to leave here and think, 'Those people knew what they were doing, they were compassionate.'"

Efforts will also be geared to building a culture of ongoing improvement, he explained.

"There's a lot of things that we have to measure," he said. "That doesn't necessarily make you a bad hospital. In addition to the nuts and bolts things, we're working to develop how Cherry can work together."

Lastly, the financial area -- beyond the economy and the state budget at hand -- boils down to providing cost-effective care.

"(It's) how we provide the best care we possibly can and be conscious of the cost," Cook said. "We're going to be developing more efficient ways to provide care."

The task at hand is not simple, but it is attainable, Cook said. He is willing to make the tough decisions, but he is also willing to roll up his sleeves and work alongside those he is leading.

"I have a great deal of empathy for what it's like to work three shifts a day ... I know what it's like to be there," he said. "So my job is to help out of that experience to facilitate where they can perform their job as effectively as possible.

"But I truly do feel we're under way and every day feel better and really am optimistic about what we're doing."