Administrator touts new management style



December 3, 2015 - 12:00 AM

After only four months on the job, Tony Thompson has his sights on spurring a culture change at Allen County Regional Hospital that will make the hospital:
1. A great place to work;
2. A place where people want to come for their health care, and
3. A facility where physicians will locate to practice.
“None of these things can be done individually,” said Thompson, the hospital’s chief executive officer. “It’s a matrix,” whose structure depends on strengths in several key areas.
Thompson looks no further than himself on where to begin.
“I’m fully committed to improving communication between administration and staff; to being totally transparent; and to earning the trust of not only staff, but also of every patient and member of the community,” he said in a conversation Tuesday afternoon that touched on a number of issues facing the hospital.
High on his list is addressing a recent survey that indicated employee satisfaction “is not where it needs to be.”
Low morale “tells me we’re not doing a good job keeping the lines of communication open between administration and staff,” Thompson said. “It has nothing to do with money, but whether employees are feeling understood and appreciated by their supervisors.”
Most times, employees hesitate to convey their frustrations with management, Thompson said, making it imperative supervisors are the ones to reach out and engage.
“I think we can be a better place, but it will take buy-in by our entire management team to improve,” he said.
With a crew of 180 spread across 30 departments, Thompson acknowledged it’s a monumental — but not insurmountable — goal.
That’s where his background in a management style called the Studer Group comes in.
Named after Quinton Studer, a former special education teacher who went into hospital management, the model focuses on employee and patient satisfaction. The key is putting the focus on others, from the top down.
As CEO, Thompson envisions a staff that embraces the approach, also used at Chanute’s Neosho Memorial Regional Hospital.
Thompson said the model highlights the differences between emotional intelligence and academic intelligence.
“Lots of people have the academic training. They have the required certifications. What we’re emphasizing is how to be a better teammate.”
Thompson used the sports analogy of an all-star team that fails to win.
“Just having the talent isn’t enough,” he said. “It’s coming together as a team that secures the win. Our goal is to have a staff who as a whole has the same motive: Working to make the hospital the best it can be.”
That attitude also translates to how patients are treated, he said. There’s a difference between receiving care and feeling cared for.
Beginning in 2016, Thompson will organize quarterly employee forums in addition to monthly management meetings among department heads. He’s also interested in forming a community advisory group in which those outside healthcare give their insights as to what could improve the hospital.

RECENT strategic planning sessions by departments throughout the hospital were useful, Thompson said.
“It helped us identify our weakness, strengths and priorities.”
The easy answer for the hospital — or any business for that matter — is being busy.
“Volume solves lots of problems,” he said with a somewhat weary smile. An adequate workforce keeps the hospital working to capacity.
A goal over the next several years is to raise the level of pay so it is competitive with regional facilities.
“Of course that goes hand in hand with achieving budget,” he said. The money doesn’t just fall from trees.
“We have some positions where we are not where we need to be,” he said, giving a nod to nursing and lab techs.
Thompson sees adding specialists in nephrology (kidneys), neurology (nervous system) and dermatology (skin) as a way to serve area needs.
Building a medical arts building near the new hospital also would help strengthen a network of services, he said.

A CONSTANT threat to every hospital in Kansas is the state’s reluctance to expand Medicaid, Thompson said. Right off the bat, that loss of insurance is costing ACRH more than $1 million every year.
The federal government’s budget-cutting “sequestration” of 2013 is also a drain on the hospital’s bottom line. For every reimbursement for treatment to a patient on Medicare, the federal government lops off 2 percent.
“That’s a fiscal cliff that should never have happened,” Thompson said.
And though it’s harder to admit, the success of area hospitals also can be interpreted as a threat to Allen County’s.
“That’s a reality,” Thompson said.