08/19/09 — Director addresses Cherry Hospital future

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Director addresses Cherry Hospital future

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 19, 2009 1:46 PM

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Cherry Hospital Director Philip Cook speaks to Rotary Club members about his plans for the future of the hospital Tuesday afternoon at the Goldsboro Country Club.

With Cherry Hospital expecting to receive its official federal certification any day now, Director Philip Cook is looking forward to continuing the process of improving the state psychiatric facility.

Speaking to the Goldsboro Rotary Club Tuesday, Cook said hospital officials "have been given every assurance we'll regain that certification."

But, he added, "That's just the beginning point of re-establishing our credibility."

Established in 1877 and opened in 1880 as a psychiatric facility for the state's black population, Cherry, Cook said, has "a great history to build on."

Today the hospital serves North Carolina's 38 eastern counties with an adolescent unit, an adult unit, a geriatric unit and a long-term care unit for all ages.

And faced with the responsibility of providing that range of services, Cook explained to the group gathered at Goldsboro Country Club that he has begun implementing five new foundations for the hospital.

The first, he said, is retaining and recruiting the right people.

"Being able to have the right person and making sure they're in the right position is critically important," Cook said. "If we can do that, everything else will sort of fall into place."

Part of that, he said, means transitioning away from using temporary agency nurses, to hiring people on as permanent staff -- something he said would help with finances and with continuity of care.

It also means, he said in response to a question, treating employees -- especially healthcare technicians, with whom many of the documented problems have occurred -- with respect.

Their pay, $11-$12 an hour, is in line with "industry standards," but where improvements can be made is in how much their work is valued, Cook said.

"I think what makes a difference is the work conditions," he said. "I think we need to respect the healthcare techs and empower them to do well."

Healthcare technicians make up about 600 of the hospital's 1,200-member staff.

"These are the people who are involved in doing things. They're the ones rolling up their sleeves and being involved in providing care," he said.

The second foundation is ethics -- compliance and safety.

"Our problem at Cherry Hospital is that over the last year, the agency (federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare) said that we were not meeting their expectations," Cook said.

Turning that around, he said, has meant more training and a better focus for staff, particularly when it comes to using restrictive measures.

"Our goal is to have such high expectations for ourselves that they exceed CMS," he said.

But, Cook cautioned the club, that does not mean the end of incidents or injuries at the hospital.

"There will be an incident that will occur. It's inevitable given the type of care we provide and the people we provide it to. There's going to be some sort of difficult situation," he said. "Not to make any excuses. People do not come to Cherry just to come to Cherry. People at Cherry are experiencing a crisis or disaster in their lives, and often are the people in the community who have the least amount of resources to help themselves."

And with those thoughts in mind, Cook's third goal is service excellence, which, he said, means providing patients with a high quality care, as well as treating them with professionalism and respect.

"We know nobody is happy to be at Cherry, but we hope that when they leave they will have had an experience they can say, 'Those folks cared about me. They did a good job of taking care of me,'" he said, adding that the majority of patient surveys that are returned do show positive comments.

The fourth foundation Cook wants to rebuild the hospital on is a culture of continuous quality and performance improvements.

"We want to build a culture of improvement," Cook said, adding that he wants every employee from the top to the bottom to not only feel like his working conditions have improved, but to also be able to explain how and why they have improved and what else needs to be done.

And finally, Cook said, the hospital's fifth foundation is its financial performance.

"It is critically important for any hospital to operate in a sound manner financially," he said. "We owe that to you."

Last year, he explained, the hospital operated at a cost of about $1,150 per patient day, with 160 to 180 patients in the hospital on any given day.

But, he said, that low number of patients was not because the hospital was turning people away because of its loss of federal certification and the Medicaid and Medicare funds that come with that.

"I don't think it had anything to do with that," he said. "I think it had to do with purposely reducing services to get through the problems that had to be dealt with."

The goal, this year, he continued, is to get that number closer to the optimum of $850 per patient day, with 200 to 210 patients a day.

He said that despite the recent reductions in beds and staff, Cherry should still be able to increase the number of people it serves by making the admissions process more efficient -- meaning working more closely with the region's local management entities and local hospitals to make sure those patients who need to be at Cherry are served.

"We are going to work to reduce the number of denials for admission, and we're going to work to reduce the delays in services," Cook said. "The demand for services is out there, and I believe we can increase our capacity by being more efficient. We have the staff and the beds for that."