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By Dan Rudy 

Hospital board prepares for TruBridge, CEO search

 


Despite hectic midsummer schedules, the Wrangell Medical Center Board of Trustees was able to find quorum for its meeting on July 15.

During his monthly report, finance director Doran Hammett informed the board that a consultant with company TruBridge was on site at the hospital, preparing for the transition of WMC’s billing services. The board and the Wrangell Borough Assembly last month approved a contract with the firm, offering it 2.2 percent of the transactions it processes.

Though the two-year contract may cost $400,000, the transition is expected to improve the hospital’s financial situation. It currently has $4 million in its accounts receivable, and Hammett anticipates a positive change in cash flow once the group takes over billing duties on Aug. 3.

Once online, TruBridge will be an “extension of our business office,” he explained.

Development coordinator Kristen Reed updated the board on current progress of the hospital’s CEO search. Last month, CEO Marla Sanger announced her intention to step down on October 30, and contractor PeaceHealth has stated it will not renew its management contract with WMC after she leaves.

Advertisements were put out through American College of Healthcare Executives and other venues.

Reed reported that of 35 applications received by the week’s end, 10 or so appear to have the experience the hospital is looking for in a CEO.

Board members Bernie Massin, Barbara Conine, Beth Blake and Terri Henson agreed to sit on a hiring committee to examine the applications, with the first planned meeting scheduled for yesterday at 10 a.m. Sanger will assist in the process, but not choose a successor. Henson said she would invite city manager Jeff Jabusch to help as well.

“It looks like it’s been going pretty well,” Henson said of the search. Applicants have been informed the search will be a public process, with candidates’ identities and professional record open to disclosure.

Henson explained the committee intends to keep the process as transparent as possible, and its meetings will be open to the public.

Other upcoming staffing changes were also reported: Jim Holder will be promoted to maintenance director after Brian Smith retires at the month’s end. Long-time healthcare employee Maxi Wiederspohn recently retired as well. Most recently she had liaised with visiting doctors and specialists, arranging for a place for them to work and informing the public of their schedules.

“The doctors really loved working with her,” Sanger commented.

Head of the hospital’s quality program Sandi Calvert also left recently.

“She really built a good program, and what she built will not be lost,” Sanger said, adding that the hospital has a good candidate in mind to fill the vacancy.

Speaking as a person to be heard, retired nurse Janet Buness addressed the hospital’s search for a new director of nursing and the general state of its nursing department. She told board members that at this time the nursing staff situation is “extremely dysfunctional.”

Among her concerns were aides eating at nursing stations, staff shopping on computers during work hours and a general air of rudeness.

“I find there’s just a total lack of respect,” Buness stated. “I think this is just a symptom of the fact that there isn’t any permanent-enough staff.”

WMC’s nursing department makes use of about half a dozen traveling staff, often hired through agency referrals.

“There’s a lot of coming and going,” Sanger explained. She said she could not give a specific answer for how many positions are open in the department because some travelers are temporarily filling in for nursing staff who plan to return.

A nurse of four decades who retired last month, Buness felt the problem with staff was to due to leadership. The current nursing director, Denise McPherson, will be leaving the position at the end of August and will be moving to half-time during the transition. Applications were put online July 14, and responses were expected by the week’s end.

“There needs to be someone there who is a strong personality,” Buness commented.

While she stated the nurses were probably excellent clinicians, Buness felt some displayed poor interpersonal skills on the job. In her opinion, the next director would need to be able to address these issues.

Speaking afterward, Sanger said she had not been aware of these problems. At the meeting, she pointed out the behaviors Buness brought up are all against hospital regulations. But Sanger did concede there was a turnover problem, exacerbated by the number of employment options elsewhere open to nurses.

“Recruiting is difficult,” she said, adding the hospital may have to explore more Internet-based recruiting. Sanger pointed out there were several promising candidates to fill vacancies at the hospital, with a new nurse scheduled to start shortly and another visiting soon afterward.

The hospital is continuing to transition from its outdated call-care system, with service due to end on July 31. Letters issued by hospital staff last month recommended that users of the program seek alternative medical alert systems on the private market.

And in other news, the hospital’s 8th Annual Brian Gilbert Memorial Tournament & Banquet held May 22-23 raised $32,000. Sanger reported it was one of the best held in a while.

The hospital’s imaging department received a perfect score for its Mammography Quality Standards Act certification following a State Department of Health and Social Services inspection last week. The annual inspection examines policies, procedures, and other related documentation, for which the department received a “100-percent” grade.

 

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