11/05/09 — Cherry eyes plan for patient care

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Cherry eyes plan for patient care

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 5, 2009 1:46 PM

Faced with a mental health system that still is struggling to meet the needs of all its consumers, Cherry Hospital Director Philip Cook is working to extend his state psychiatric facility's patient care beyond its doors.

As part of an 18-month strategic plan that he and the hospital's management team are currently developing, Cook is looking to put a program in place for better follow-up with patients after they are discharged.

He explained that his vision is for the hospital's social work department to check in with patients at three-month intervals to make sure they are receiving the care they need.

The goal, he said, is to not only make sure patients are being cared for, but also to help the hospital learn how it can improve its own practices.

"By and large, the vast majority of folks we serve here have good outcomes, good experiences. Our job is to work to build on the good work that is being done," Cook said. "We want to find out what it means when our patients get better, when they have an improved quality of life."

The challenge, he explained, is that for many of Cherry's patients, the idea of "getting better" is not always easily measurable.

But, he said, by following up with patients and helping them access services, the hospital should also benefit from a lower recidivism rate, which would allow it to pay closer attention to those more long-term, serious cases.

"I think the mental health system is still a very fragmented delivery system," Cook said. "It's easy for us to lose track of patients, and unless we make an effort, we have no way of knowing what happens with a patient once they leave the hospital."

He hopes to begin implementing the program around the first of the year.

But the patient follow-up effort isn't the only aspect of the hospital's new long-range plan.

The plan is built around what Cook called six "critical" areas -- patient outcomes, people, regulatory compliance, public image, information technology and the budget.

And within those broad categories are a series of objectives that the management team is developing strategies to meet.

Among those are the recruitment and retention of a "high-performance work force," the improvement of overall staff morale, the improvement of internal communications and the reduction of dependence on temporary staff.

Already, Cook said, the hospital has reduced its temporary labor force by 50 percent since May. The management team also is in the process of developing an employee satisfaction survey to be released sometime around the beginning of the year.

But the most important goal is the recruitment and retention of highly qualified staff.

While Cook admitted that Cherry sometimes struggles to find nurses and other employees like any other health care facility, he did say the hospital has begun to recover from its recent problems, and that the state's budget woes have not yet affected its ability to attract employees.

"Cherry is a good place to work," he said.

Also playing into that are the hospital's plans to improve staff training across the board.

Cook explained that the staff has gone through extensive training in the last year in order for the hospital to receive its federal certification, but that those were reactive measures taken to address a problem.

"We want to be more pro-active in our training to keep our people fresh and consistent," he said, for example, by implementing a new method of de-escalation and restraint techniques.

Another example is the need to train employees on the hospitals information technology systems so they can make better use of the resources already available to them -- another goal of the plan -- to communicate between departments on patient care issues.

"That should make for a faster response for the patient," he said.

And, he added, if they can maximize the resources already in place, that should help the hospital deal with a tight budget situation.

So far, Cook said, the state's budget cuts haven't affected Cherry's ability to deliver care. Among the cuts were 31 employees, mostly in non-direct care positions, and 92 vacant positions, mostly nurses and health care technicians. No beds, however, were affected.

"We've been able to continue to move forward," he said. "So far we have not had to reduce services at all. We still have a lot of resources."

And unless the budget takes a turn for the worse, he doesn't anticipate any further cuts at Cherry.

"Unless there is a significant change to the budget, I would think we should be able to continue and even improve our services," he said.

Overall, he said, the goal of the plan is to make sure the hospital, which just recently was certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to begin receiving federal funding again, stays on the right track into the future.

And they hope to have the plan ready to implement by the first of the year following approval by the state.

In the meantime, they also are still taking input from hospital staff, and are planning to hold a series of town hall meeting with employees in the coming weeks.

"It is a work in progress, and that is how a plan should be. It's important that we use this plan," Cook said, promising that it would not be a document that sits on the shelf. "Hopefully what we have is a very comprehensive plan. Almost every part of the hospital will be challenged to make some improvements. That's how a big organization gets better, and we're trying to make this a better hospital."