St. Mary’s President and CEO Methven ‘building momentum’ after first year
St. Mary’s Healthcare is investing in its future under the leadership of president and CEO Jeffrey Methven, which is already beginning to pay dividends.
“We’re building momentum. Some of the challenges that the organization was facing when I started we were able to overcome,” Methven said.
Stabilizing staffing levels and the finances were perhaps the largest challenges at the independent healthcare organization when Methven started a year ago.
Raising morale was inextricably linked to those goals when the Board of Trustees selected Methven to lead St. Mary’s after a nationwide search.
The extroverted hospital leader is making strides on all fronts, according to board Chairman Michael Pepe.
“It really has begun to turn our culture around and is creating a broader sense of optimism for the path we’re going to take moving forward and the vision we have for what we can become again,” Pepe said.
Since his first day, Methven has prioritized interacting with staff and community members.
“I’m not a clinician, but I can really have an impact on the care that we provide to the community and that for me starts with really being a resource to our associates,” Methven said. “It’s really our associates who are on the front lines. They do just such phenomenal work.”
After initial meet and greets, Methven has remained in circulation at informal gatherings in the cafeteria, regular town hall meetings with staff and by reestablishing larger celebrations, such as the annual gala. He also issues a weekly newsletter to keep employees up to date.
Being accessible and approachable is key to receiving honest feedback about what is working at the organization and what could be better. Downtime from the inherently “serious” healthcare business to simply socialize with peers is also vital.
“Those are the types of things for me that are meaningful and those are the types of opportunities I seek out,” Methven said. “That elevates the level of care and quality we’re delivering to the community.”
The previous absence of those opportunities with leadership in recent years apparently contributed to a deteriorating culture within the organization.
“We value and treasure our staff. We think they’re some of the most dedicated workers in the area. The commitment they have to our vision is unparalleled and they have always had that,” Pepe said. “All people want to feel part of something bigger and all workers want to feel that as well that requires regular interaction with leadership and by leadership.”
Attributing the results to Methven’s leadership, Pepe noted that at least 85 former associates have returned to positions at St. Mary’s in the last year. At least some of those staffers originally left due to the climate of the workplace.
“These people who once worked here are talking to their former colleagues, who still work at St. Mary’s and they’re obviously passing the message onto their former coworkers that the culture is turning around and you might want to consider coming back home,” Pepe said.
A number of Methven’s former colleagues have also followed him to St. Mary’s from Saratoga Hospital, where he previously held leadership roles for nearly 20 years.
FINANCES AND WORKFORCE
St. Mary’s has also been successful in recruiting new staff and providers in a variety of areas, including primary care, obstetrics and gynecology, behavioral health, gastroenterology and oncology.
The healthcare organization is also in the process of establishing an in-house pulmonary team for anticipated launch later this year.
“Pulmonary is one of those critical specialties that does enhance care,” Methven said.
It was not immediately known how long St. Mary’s had been without a pulmonary provider, but the absence meant critically ill patients requiring such care would need to be transferred to other hospitals.
An unknown number of locals experiencing shortness of breath or other respiratory symptoms would sometimes travel to other institutions seeking care on their own. Bringing those services in-house will ensure residents can be seen locally and receive consultations in their community hospital when needed. The pulmonary team will also be capable of conducting sleep studies.
“It’s important that the service is available here within our community so that the community does not have to travel as far for that service,” Pepe said.
Expanding services to meet the community’s healthcare needs support both patient health and the organization’s financial health, officials said.
“We want patients to feel likely they can receive care close to home,” Methven said. “At the end of the day, I think we’ve got to grow our way out of some of our financial challenges that many hospitals in the region have been facing.”
These investments and dedicated agency staff have improved patient experience and quality of care, according to Methven, who believes this has supported growing inpatient volumes.
“We’re building trust in the community. As we’re building trust, that’s allowing us to create more loyalty,” Methven said. “That speaks volumes to the tremendous commitment and work of our associates on a daily basis.”
“Those are the things that reinforce for me that I’m in the right position. I made the right decision and I’m in the right place and together we’re going to do great things,” he added.
As the organization treats more patients, Methven said ensuring full reimbursement is received from insurance companies is vital. St. Mary’s is engaging a third party expert to help streamline the accounts receivable process to avoid leaving insurance dollars on the table for provided care.
“As the financial outlook improves, that allows us to make investments in programs and services,” Methven said.
“The ultimate benefactor is the community,” Pepe said.
INVESTING IN FACILITIES
St. Mary’s has a capital budget for the first time in several years, and has already invested in equipment and facilities upgrades.
Projects have included the replacement of the helipad at St. Mary’s Hospital on Guy Park Avenue, the addition of obstetrics beds and the purchase of new ultrasound equipment.
A new wide bore MRI machine will be delivered in the spring. The imaging device with a larger opening will be better able to accommodate patients of all sizes while alleviating claustrophobic “angst.”
Replacing aging equipment with modern technology often provides new capabilities to improve patient care, such as new screening capability with the MRI. Methven said state of the art supplies can improve efficiency and help staff in the normal course of their duties.
At the same time, Methven said an architectural firm was engaged last summer to develop a master facilities plan, which is expected to be completed in the first quarter of this year.
Aside from assessing physical structures, Methven said the plan will analyze the delivery of services at the hospital’s facilities, including the potential to gain efficiencies by centralizing certain services.
St. Mary’s Hospital on Guy Park Avenue and the Memorial Health Center on Route 30 presently each feature both inpatient and outpatient services, leading to redundancies between the aging buildings.
“As we look to grow, we want to alleviate the idea that we’re paying for things twice,” Methven said.
Among other things, the master facilities plan will examine potential benefits from centralizing inpatient services at one campus and outpatient services at the other. Making those sorts of “strategic” decisions will take time after the assessment wraps up.
“My hope is that provides us with a 15 to 20 year roadmap,” Methven said.
Centralizing campuses could be complicated by dual use of the kitchen at Memorial to serve that building’s inpatient programs, while also serving the Edward L. Wilkinson Residential Health Care behind it. The nursing home also relies on heating, cooling and power systems at Memorial.
While there are no plans to reduce or discontinue any services, Methven acknowledged the nursing home is among the programs “constantly” being evaluated to determine whether it is a “core” service for St. Mary’s.
“A lot of hospitals across the country have gotten out of the nursing home business. That is a challenging business,” Methven said. “We have a good reputation and good quality, but we can’t be all things to everyone. I would not be doing my job effectively if that wasn’t one of those programs or services that we weren’t always evaluating.”
For now, St. Mary’s is focused on investing in the workforce and continuing to improve the patient experience at Wilkinson. Methven indicated future evaluations would center on whether the agency is running it as “effectively” and “efficiently” as possible.
“If we get to a point where we feel like we’re not, then who could we partner and collaborate with who could do that as good if not better than St. Mary’s,” Methven said.
Although he plans to continue exploring various options to partner with other area agencies, Methven was clear that St. Mary’s will maintain its status as an independent healthcare organization.
St. Mary’s had joined the Ascension Healthcare Network in 2002, but left the national healthcare system in 2020. Pepe said the Board of Trustees became disenchanted after being required to shift more and more functions to the umbrella agency at costs exceeding those for handling the tasks in-house.
“Sometimes when you belong to a greater national organization it becomes a financial drain and that’s what happened to St. Mary’s,” Pepe said. “That’s not always the answer to hitch your wagon to a larger group, it has its benefits, it has its downsides and right now our appetite is to remain independent to see how we can make a go of it on our own.”
As someone who was born at St. Mary’s and a lifelong community resident, Pepe said preserving the community hospital for generations to come is especially important to him. He said other board members have similar personal motivations in coordination with staff.
“We all have a stake in wanting to continue the success of the hospital,” Pepe said. “At St. Mary’s, we feel a sense of purpose in making sure there is a local option for our community.”
It’s the same for Methven, whose lifelong goal was to lead a community hospital.
“It’s a position that I’m grateful to be in and don’t take for granted,” Methven said. “It’s all about continuing to make those small incremental improvements … so this community has a state of the art, thriving hospital that it can feel proud of.”