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UMass Memorial led from the brink by chaos expert


“UMMMC Dawn,” by CXW1044 via Wikipedia.

This Boston Globe story details how UMass Memorial Health Care was brought back from a financial cliff under the leadership of chief executive Eric W. Dickson, M.D., a former emergency physician named in 2013 to run the system.

The nonprofit and privately run system,  dominant in central Massachusetts, was losing millions of dollars a month. The Globe writes: “Patients were choosing other hospitals. Executives were jumping ship, and employees were unhappy. …Patients were choosing other hospitals. Executives were jumping ship, and employees were unhappy.” 

So, the paper says: “Dickson needed to think like an ER doctor again: Identify the most serious problem, deal with it, and move on to the next. He made a series of drastic cuts and changes — some of them unpopular — to turn around the system. Two and a half years later, the network of four hospitals, with a combined 12,906 employees and 1,099 beds, has returned to financial stability, and is aggressively vying for patients in the competitive and changing world of health care.”

“The medical center, which, like other big teaching hospitals, has high costs associated with medical research and training new doctors, was losing business to cheaper competitors, including Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester. And UMass Memorial almost failed to make payments on its $350 million in bonds, which would have put the board and leadership at risk of losing control of the organization. ‘I’m an emergency physician: Chaos has been my life for a long time, making order out of the chaos,”’ Dr. Dickson told The Globe.

“Dickson quickly moved to cut 600 employees from the workforce, including clinical and administrative staff. He sold eight buildings. He closed operating rooms and hospital units. He negotiated a deal with the nurses union just hours before a planned strike in Worcester. He transferred Wing Memorial Hospital in Palmer, Mass., to Baystate Health , of Springfield, Mass., so  UMass Memorial executives could focus on their operations in and around Worcester.”

“Meanwhile, Dickson and his team looked for ways to make the business more efficient. They centralized scheduling at one Web site and one call center, so patients could more easily book appointments. They started buying supplies — surgical gloves, medications, and the like — for the entire hospital network together, in an effort to negotiate better rates.

“One of Dickson’s biggest initiatives is pushing what are known as lean management principles, a style traditionally used to root out waste in the manufacturing industry. This includes posting key goals and ideas for improvement on workplace walls, from executive meeting rooms to patient floors. Employees throughout the system are required to generate ideas for how to improve operations. These can be as small as moving where gloves are kept in a patient room so they’re easier to access, to putting a computer on wheels to help physicians complete their rounds more quickly.”




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