Archive for December, 2008

Dr. Atkins and Me…

December 23rd, 2008

Some of you know my history . . . for a decade I was a totally dedicated follower of the Dr. Dean Ornish coronary artery disease reversal program.

For example, for the past ten years, the only thing that would typically pass between my lips at a holiday party would be party garnishes. No kidding; decorations, twigs, sticks… and the occasional veggie. No dips, no chocolates, no meats or shell fish, no cookies, no pie, no fat.

One interesting factor that evolved from embracing that philosophy is that, in spite of all of my efforts to enlongate my life, my personal challenges never really decreased. It hit me one day when I was looking in the mirror that I was actually peering at the enemy, and it was me. It has been pointed out to me that, for all intents and purposes, I am a crisis magnet.

During those years of complete passion for the Ornish program, there were many days where my adrenaline flowed freely. It usually happened when Dr. Ornish and Dr. Atkins had debates on television about their very different diets. Truthfully, the diet was such a small part of the Ornish program that it angered me when so much emphasis was placed on the complete disparity between these two very different programs.

Well, tonight I felt closer to Dr. Atkins than I had ever felt. In 1976, my buddy Jim and I went on the Atkins diet and lost about 30 pounds. That diet ended because the pork rinds, hard boiled eggs, and thousands of chicken wings, rashers of bacon, sides of beef, and pounds of cheese just became too much for me, and they probably resulted in my needing the Ornish diet.

What made me feel close to Dr. Atkins this time? Ice. He had slipped and fallen on the ice, hit his head, and eventually died from the injury. Well, tonight provided me with a bonding opportunity with Dr. A. It was the beginning of the holiday season. The kids had gathered for dinner with the four and a half grandkids, the soon to be deployed son-in-law, Moosie the dog, and Kiki the cat. It was a nice gathering and, as I walked off the porch and onto the walk, my feet went out from under me, my body went air borne, and I fell directly on my back with the force of a meteor hitting a dry lake. The wind left my body. Stars were flying around my head like a Road Runner cartoon, and pain began sweeping through my limbs in waves.

The difference between Dr. Atkins and me was that my head did not hit the ground. Was it a conscious decision to hold it up, or was it just pure luck? Don’t know, but, at least for now, it seems like I might live. The last time this happened to me was on a cold winter afternoon in 1978. After teaching for eight hours, I was leaving school with a baritone saxophone case in one hand and a euphonium case in the other, both destined to go to the repair shop. It was then that my feet left the ground. Once again, the air completely evacuated my lungs. It was that very day that I vowed to always wear rubber-soled shoes in the winter. Didn’t help tonight. Oh, well, at least my fall didn’t include a head injury. Dr. Atkins and I both needed more salt in our diets.

No fear. I’m still here.


What Am I Up To?

December 19th, 2008

For those of you who might have any interest in this topic, read on . . . for the rest of you, have a great holiday. 

With seven working days remaining until the name of this blog should be officially changed to Ask a Former Hospital, I’d like to just make a short list of the areas in which I have been and will be working as the International Director for SunStone Consulting.

1.  Patient Centered Care. . . It is clear that this area of expertise will be my first and foremost focus, my passion.  How can any hospital succeed in this arena?  How do you become not only patient but also employee centered in such a significant way that your HCAHPS scores improve, your infection rates will go down, your length of stay will decrease, and the bottom line will improve significantly?  That’s the story that is burning inside me.  So far my new job has included significant keynote speeches, visits to hospitals seeking this guidance, and plenty of blogs and articles.  With organizations like Planetree, the Samueli Institute, and American Healthcare Solutions seeking to spread this word, this topic should consume a great portion of my time.

2.  Patient Advocacy. . . When the day is done, and my time is over, it is my very deep desire to have helped to change healthcare significantly, and patient advocacy is a very clear key to the success of this goal.  My book “Taking the Hell Out of Healthcare” was the first step toward telling the advocacy story. 

3.  Being Green . . . No matter what the pundits say, the world will only become a better place if we all work toward a common goal, to reduce the carbon footprint.  The investments made in this arena will result in a multi-fold financial and philosophical payback to any organization seeking to explore a green philosophy.  We have agreed to do Beta work in this area, and believe that every hospital will benefit financially from this initiative.  Pittsburgh Gateways is leading this initiative, and it is my commitment to work with them to bring to my CEO peers not only the how to but also the financial benefits that will make this work possible.

4.  Being Digital. . . As my current position comes to a close, we can openly declare that we will be completely digital before the end of the fiscal year.  One of our tasks has been to bring groups of hospitals together through fiber connections for work on tele-mental health, tele-pharmacy, and disaster recovery.  These are only three of the myriad of initiatives that fiber connectivity will permit.  Corathers Consulting will be working with me to help introduce various aspects of this somewhat complex initiative to hospitals throughout the United States.

From these four areas of expertise, dozens of additional projects, services, and opportunities will also be made available like arrows in a quiver.  We will continue to promote our knowledge regarding the use of genomics in the hospital setting.  We are also working with groups to introduce other services through our peers and partners that will help hospital CEO’s in their journey to fortify and grow their organizations.  Areas such as strategic facilities plans, construction and finance alternatives, physician strategic plans, physician office work, legal partnerships, food purveyors, insurance services, benefits management, case management, fund raising, marketing, as well as literally dozens of other growth and infrastructure opportunities will be on this menu.

SunStone is also working with me on the most important aspect of these initiatives and that is to help hospitals, practices, and senior leaders find the money to initiate every aspect of the programs needed to thrive.  Be it DRG Transfers, Workmen’s Comp initiatives, RAC preparation, and a myriad of other financial initiatives that will result in finding or reclaiming money, SunStone has that expertise to bring to these initiatives as well.   

So, as Bob Hope said so many times, “Thanks for the Memories,” and thanks to everyone who has helped me through this very emotional transition.  Please don’t forget to “Ask A Hospital” after the new year begins because being busy is my goal and helping you is my passion.


More on Leadership…

December 12th, 2008

Nick Jacobs, FACHE author of Taking the Hell Out of Healthcare

One imperative for any leader is a positive mental attitude. We must work tirelessly on believing in ourselves, and then we must work constantly to reinforce that belief with positive self-talk. If we embrace that concept that we can, there’s a very good chance that we indeed can. If, on the other hand, we believe that we won’t, we probably won’t. This single belief can initiate all forward movement. Winners in life constantly encourage themselves to think that I can, I will, and I am, and they don’t focus on the past —the should have, would have, or can’t do’s are gone forever. We can never make a better past for ourselves.

Last year, one of our employees attended a non-traditional educational seminar whose primary focus was directed toward the analysis of different personality types. When the employee returned, I asked, “What did you learn?” Their response was, “I learned that the primary function of people with my personality type is to pee on your cornflakes, to rain on your parade, and to frustrate your every creative idea, because that’s just what we do.”

Hence the opening paragraph of this piece. We are in difficult economic times, and the general counsel from our advisors is more often going to be to take no risks. If they are doing their jobs, we will be inundated with reasons why we should be against almost everything. In fact, words like growth, expansion, and opportunity all seem to be put away as this storm cellar mentality prevails. They will argue that they are saving their organizations by “shrinking to greatness” while opportunity after opportunity slips away.

One of my favorite visuals of this mind set comes from the 1990 movie Ghost where the people were helped to find their place in eternity by little demons that came out of the sewer grates to drag their souls into Hell. As leaders, we are surrounded every day by people who see their job as one of hard, cold, black and white facts. There are the extremists who spend their days spreading pessimism, fear, gloom, and negative energy; looking at the down side as they constantly undermine not only growth, but the attitudes that foster growth. The blacker the sky, the deeper the reinforcement of their concerns, and the more intense the corporate paralysis becomes throughout the organization.

Positive Mental Attitude Psychologist, Denis Waitley helped to change my life when he lectured on this topic nearly 30 years ago. He had been the U.S. Olympic athletes’ psychologist. Dr. Waitley taught us to learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: now. He always spoke about the reality that life is inherently risky and that there is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, conservative thinkers are important in the balancing act of leadership, but they must never be given the power to control all aspects of an organization. It is a recipe for disaster. The result will be stagnancy and eventually, business failure. There must be a means to carefully look at what they have to say, to evaluate the risks outlined, and then to make a decision based upon the prudent person process, but, having said that, remember that leadership is not a gutless proposition.

If you are not interested in some sleepless nights, tension filled meetings, or numerous failures, don’t get into the game. As Waitley says, the winner’s edge is not in a gifted birth, a high IQ, or in talent. The winner’s edge is all in the attitude, not aptitude. Attitude is the criterion for success. There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.

A leader’s world is not always black and white.


Last Board Meeting…Next Challenge

December 4th, 2008

After nearly a dozen years, I attended my last board meeting as President/CEO of this hospital yesterday. I believe that I have missed only one meeting in all of those years. As I retire from the day to day operational aspects of health care and move into the next chapter of my life, it seems like a good time for reflection.

Looking back at the previous twenty plus years, my heart is filled with wonderful memories and the support of many friends, and it is also filled with the challenges and hurts that are almost always a part of senior leadership. A mentor once told me that, “The wind blows hard at the top of the pole.” I’ll never forget another suggestion that came to me from one of my former bosses when I informed him that I was thinking about becoming a hospital president. He said, “If you think you want to run a hospital, make sure you go somewhere where it is the only game in town, in the county, and preferably in the region.” Well, obviously, that was one more piece of advice that went by the wayside. We landed in a place where there were four hospitals all using the same media.

Having started as a musician and band and orchestra director, I have never moved very far from my education roots. It has always been about open communications, respect, dignity, encouragement, a spirit of co-operation, and positive mental attitude for me and those around me. In many ways, being a dad and a teacher was the best practice anyone could have had for running a hospital. Even though one of my favorite sayings was “I don’t want to be anyone’s parent here,” it seemed that there were numerous situations that were similar to the same types of issues that were regularly part of any family’s interactions.

Health care, however, is changing rather dramatically. As our economy and the Boomers both begin to shake, health care has to seek its own level. Will it be directed more toward wellness and prevention? Will it be rationed? (Rationing, of course, would indicated that everyone would get some of what is being offered. You know, similar to sugar rationing in World War II. They just wouldn’t get as much. The reality of our current system is that some get everything and others get NOTHING. Consequently, rationing may not be a great description of this process.)

My new charge is to help hospitals find their niche’, to help them find money and most importantly to find stability by becoming patient centered. We will be attempting to provide hospitals with the knowledge gained from over twenty years of experimentation into areas that had not been popular before we explored them. We will be helping hospitals to become patient-centered, digital, and green to name a few.

Some day, all of this will make sense to those of you who doubt. It was interesting when my career path went from teaching, to arts management, to tourism, to health care. The skeptics deeply questioned the transitions, but it all made sense. As I went from one discipline to the next, it all merged together in a meaningful way in health care management.

Now, we are launching into one more area of expertise, but this time, we have 40 years of experience, and deep knowledge regarding not only life, but marketing, communications, Web 2.0, patient centered care, construction, carbon credits, ambiance, Planetree, Optimal Healing Environments, employee centered care, recruitment, data mining, proteomic and genomic research, wellness centers, hospice, behaviorial modification, food services, fund raising, integrative medicine, and digital radiology equipment. So, if anyone needs a motivational speaker, some advice on OC48 lines, 3TMRI breast coils, micro turbines, public relations campaigns, or anything from the list above, remember me. My web address contact information will be