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Looking back, moving forward: CCH plans for another fruitful decade
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Looking back, moving forward: CCH plans for another fruitful decade

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When Michael Hansen first decided to accept the president/CEO position at Columbus Community Hospital back in late 2009, he was just eager about the possibilities.

“One of the reasons I took the position was because I saw a great opportunity for the community of Columbus. I interviewed with places around the country, but this was the greatest opportunity. We’re in a really nice pocket in terms of service,” said Hansen, who previously was CEO at Pender Community Hospital in Pender, Nebraska. “I saw a good physician community, pretty good organizational culture and a board that wanted to be cutting-edge in terms of vision.”

At that time, CCH was what those in health care call a “tweener hospital,” defined by the American Hospital Association as those too large to be considered critical access hospitals and too small to be rural referral hospitals or thrive under the Medicare hospital prospective payment systems. Those types typically in smaller communities.

CCH was doing well financially but had some gaps in services. The board and Hansen desired to make it a regional referral hospital – a place where area residents and those even beyond came to be taken care of and took pride in because it offered top-notch services and care.

Accomplishing that required Hansen, the board and CCH leadership to start by looking within and pivoting from a path of success that had worked thus far to a new road that ultimately would pay dividends that even Hansen could not fathom.

“I was just extremely excited to do something exceptional for this community,” Hansen said. “That was exciting to me.”

STARTING OUT

When Hansen arrived at CCH, he had a senior leadership team with many members who were within the window of retirement. Already determined to achieve the goals he set forth with the board of directors, he also had a personal goal to help his senior leaders retire on top with great success.

The CCH board had primarily been focused on financials in the past. Although financials are of the utmost importance and remain a priority for CCH even today, the hospital’s leadership team at the start of the last decade decided to take a different approach to them.

“We wanted to figure out a way to spend money that also could grow our opportunity,” Hansen said. “If you focus on your people and take care of your people, they’ll take care of your patients. When you do those things, the bottom line will be taken care of.”

The CCH leadership team determined finances, quality and culture were the priorities. As such, an organizational culture change was implemented.

The idea was for every single staff member, no matter the department, to be empowered to effectively communicate with everyone else across all levels. It’s a system of checks and balances so staff can learn from their mistakes without fear and ensure it never affects the patient. Hansen likens the system to a package of Swiss cheese.

“I do call it the Swiss cheese model. When you have all these pieces of Swiss cheese, if they’re all aligned, something will drop through the holes,” he explained. “But when you crisscross them, the holes all don’t align – you have those checks and balances in place, so even if you have errors, it doesn’t fall through to the patient.

“That’s the only way you get better, the only way you learn – when you look at those mistakes and analyze them to determine where things broke down and then you fix it.”

SMART INVESTMENTS

A key piece in CCH’s financial strategy came courtesy of the community, which decided to move the hospital from its old building at 3111 19th St. (now the Community Center) to its current home at 4600 38th St. in 2002.

“One of the greatest decisions the community made was moving this hospital to this location,” said Chad Van Cleave, CCH vice president of finance.

CCH retired the debt on the building back in 2012, which has allowed it to build upon its foundation. Van Cleave noted CCH has experienced good financial success as a direct result of the current building, adding that it has also been a direct benefit to patients.

“If you’re a restaurant, the more people you can bring into your restaurant, (then) the more it reduces the cost per person for you to provide that service to them – that meal – because you’re maximizing that overhead,” he said. “That growth we’ve experienced maximized our facility and keeps those costs low.”

A significant factor in that has been hospital leadership’s commitment to reinvesting in the building, which has resulted in happy physicians and team members, and ultimately, happy patients and families.

There have been some smaller efforts that have made a significant difference. For example, some modifications were made to the lobby area after hospital staffers voiced their views on some of the troubles with it – specifically its curvy design.

“The initial campus design was like a prairie,” Hansen said. “It was beautiful, but not functional.”

The carpeting was also stripped and replaced with tile as a solution to the pain it had become to push carts through the area.

“That was just a quick win to satisfy our staff,” Hansen said.

There have been some bigger projects, as well. To this day, Hansen can still vividly remember a tough 2009 winter night when CCH Emergency Room Director Sue Dyke brought him to the ER department and he witnessed officials attempting to bring in a patient coming off an ambulance.

“The wind was absolutely brutal,” Hansen recalled, noting the hospital did not have a covered garage for ambulances at that time.

Hansen knew that had to change. So in October 2010, CCH broke ground on a multi-million dollar expansion that included a 20,000-square-foot addition to the first floor of the hospital, with an additional 10,000-square-feet of space added to the second floor. It, in essence, doubled the ER department, equipping it with state-of-the-art trauma bays, patient care rooms and, of course, a covered garage.

Funding for that construction, which was completed in early 2012, was made possible through refinancing existing bonds at a lower interest rate, re-investing money from hospital operating funds and from the hospital’s participation in a national demonstration project.

Hospital leaders have doubled down on their commitment to helping patients and staff by reinvesting in various forms of state-of-the-art technology in the last decade, such as new CT scanners, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI/Mammography) devices and the MAKO Robotic-Arm Assisted Surgery System. The latter is a world-renowned system that uses a 3D virtual model of a patient’s unique anatomy and a robotic arm to help orthopedic surgeons plan and perform total knee, total hip and partial knee replacements.

“We try to provide the state-of-the art-tools that our doctors need. The sooner you can diagnose something and start treating it, the better chance you’re going to have a good outcome,” Hansen said. “So it’s really important to us to give our doctors what they need to diagnose people early so we can have good outcomes for our patients.”

BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY

Understanding obesity and diabetes were becoming significant health issues in the United States and even in Platte County back in the early 2010s, the CCH leadership team began trying to figure out ways to really address overall wellness.

Knowing the YMCA, then located along 23rd Street, needed a new building, an idea was hatched: The Columbus Wellness Center. The 86,000-square-foot wellness center was a $22 million project by the hospital. Located at 3912 38th St., the facility opened in October 2015.

The hospital provides the medical portion with outpatient rehabilitation services that include physical, occupational and speech-language pathology for adults, as well as the pediatric rehabilitation program Wiggles and Giggles Therapy for Kids. General wellness is handled by the Columbus Family YMCA, which continues to lease space in the center.

“The stars really aligned at that time,” Hansen said. “We hit on a good need there.”

The hospital leaders addressed another community need affecting their own team members, adding CCH’s child care facility in August 2017 to address the growing need for good child care in the area.

With patients and staff always a focal point, CCH in 2010 launched its “Hospitalist Program.” When patients are admitted to CCH, they receive inpatient care from a team of doctors called hospitalists. These are physicians specifically trained in the care of hospitalized patients. Hospitalists evaluate and treat a wide range of medical conditions, and work in collaboration with primary care physicians, consulting physicians, emergency physicians, specialists, pharmacists, nurses and other members of a patient's care team.

CCH also has a nurse triage system in which calls that come in after-hours go to a triage line at CHI Health St. Elizabeth in Lincoln.

“It all provides work-life balance,” Hansen said. “It has been phenomenally successful.”

That’s on top of its close to 250 volunteers that gave more than 22,000 hours of their time in the past year alone, according to Amy Blaser, CCH vice president of physician relations and business development. She also said the organization is continuing to grow its volunTEEN program in which area teenagers get the chance to provide hands-on service in different areas of the hospital under supervision after undergoing training.

WHERE THEY’RE GOING

The last decade has been about growth on a lot of levels at CCH. Part of that growth has been addressing gaps in service lines and adding services. CCH currently has six orthopedic surgeons.

“Shoulder, foot and ankle, hand, and general orthopedic medicine – we have the full array now,” Hansen said, adding CCH also offers some plastic surgery and has an outpatient psych clinic.

Another point of pride for the leadership team is CCH’s visiting physician clinic. There are some services – like brain surgery – that CCH will likely always be unable to offer. But, the visiting physician clinic enables the health care facility to cast an even wider net on services offered and ease the burden on folks who would have to travel out of town in a lot of cases.

“We have over 17 different specialties in that suite. On any given day, there are nine concurrent doctors running clinics – sometimes once a month, once a week, whatever it may be,” Blaser said. “But this saves time on travel. It can make people anxious to have to go to Omaha or Lincoln all of the time for care. So this allows our community members to stay here for their health care and keep it local.”

CCH is also in the midst of a massive $35-million renovation that will result in upgrades inside and out. Parts of that project will be completed by May of this year, according to Hansen, and it all will be fully completed by the end of 2021.

Van Cleave said all of the investments being made at CCH are really making a difference for patients whether they realize it or not. Those investments have resulted in increased in-migration and people coming from places like Omaha, Lincoln and beyond as opposed to the other way around.

“We’re keeping those dollars here and reinvesting them in the community, as opposed to those dollars being spent in other communities and those communities reaping the rewards,” Van Cleave said. “From a financial standpoint, we’ve always tried to maintain being the lowest or second-lowest charge hospital in our peer group. Maybe not for every procedure, but over 90 percent of the time, we are the lowest or second-lowest procedure hospital out there … What we’re trying to do is provide the best quality, the best patient experience at the lowest price we can in the state of Nebraska.”

As CCH enters a new decade, the plan is to undoubtedly build upon the highly productive one that came before. Continuing to grow steady and control expenses are top priorities.

“So 10 years ago, when I saw the opportunity here, I never imagined I’d still be here 10 years later and still growing. We have been in exponential growth for 10 years,” said Hansen, who noted he is blessed to have served with six board chairs and many board members. “I feel confident in saying I believe our team accomplished what the original vision was and I think we’ve moved beyond that vision, and now we’re really cutting edge and doing some amazing things … If we can continue to do a good job of taking care of our physicians and staff, our community benefits for years to come.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

 

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Managing Editor

Matt Lindberg is an award-winning journalist and graduate of the University of Kansas.

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