It’s only been a week – Andrew Bair didn’t even know his new phone number, much less have business cards – but the new CEO at Curry General Hospital has been trying to gently shake up the structure of hospital operations while retaining the good will and faith of those he’s trying to lead.
“We all have our own different style,” Bair said, addressing the challenges the hospital has faced in the last year. “Changeover in leadership in hospitals is not all that uncommon, but it can be very disruptive. Even though I have ideas, I have to talk to people. I’m going to be working with different people, working in a different culture. I need to test the waters.”
His first week was all about meeting people. Staff, physicians, the hospital board. People at Shore Pines Assisted Living Community. Politicians and clinic staff in Port Orford, Gold Beach, Brookings. Local private doctors. South Coast Alliance members, CEOs from other hospitals and the finance committee.
“They know me, and I’m getting to know them,” he said with a laugh.
Bair hails from Moses Lake, Wash. He holds a master’s degree in health care management and a bachelor’s degree in nursing. He has held various nursing leadership positions at hospitals in Washington and Florida.
Bair doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel – or upset the apple cart.
“I need to establish relationships with the staff of the health care network,” he said. “They’ve been through a lot of changes; it’s hard for them to have this constant churning of administration. We need communication, trust; I want to start hearing their story. They’re an incredible wealth of knowledge. I don’t have to go through all this guesswork and discovery. Those people all know it. And if they’ve got solutions for our problems, we want to hear from them.
“You have to have some kind of relationship with the point-of-service people,” he continued. “They’re working with your patient population. You can come up with the greatest plans, working with them. At smaller facilities, you’re afforded the luxury to do that.”
One issue he faces is that of recruiting physicians – a problem throughout the United States, as fewer students are entering medical school and the huge baby boomer generation ages.
“People say it’s too hard to bring people to small towns, but I don’t think that’s true,” Bair said. “The Neiman-Marcus people? It’d be hard to bring them in. But this part of the country is so beautiful, and that’s the real seller.”
He doesn’t believe doctors who come to the coast are any less qualified than those who opt to work in metropolitan areas, saying the small-city docs often come with an array of skills.
A study completed this month regarding physician supply and demand indicates the Curry Health Network will need 14 new physicians by 2017.
There is a fine line between attracting doctors to the area and inadvertently making those who are already here feel threatened, Bair said in a district meeting earlier this month. And private-care physicians are in that loop, too.
“You have to have real careful conversations,” he said. “You can’t forge ahead with that report and hire all these physicians. You have to be respectful of the providers already established here.”
Bair is aware of the conversation circulating about the possibility of a stand-alone emergency room in Brookings.
“That’s a big deal,” he said, adding that he met with Brookings city officials last week. “I will work with the state on that. It’s laid out to become an ER; we just need capital equipment to bring it up to snuff.”
The Brookings Urgent Care clinic could increase the number of physicians’ practices to meet the core needs of the community and generate some revenue for the hospital.
“We all need access to emergency care,” Bair said. “With that large a population, it would need it. If I were moving with my family to a community of that size and they didn’t have an ER, I’d think twice about moving there. If I’m moving to Agness, I’m not expecting to find an ER there. But Brookings? ...”
There are issues Bair said he can’t address yet; he’s only been in town a week.
Incorporating Brookings into the hospital district is one.
“That is fraught with all sorts of political implications,” he said with a laugh. “I’m too new to comment on that. The question I really do fear; I know there’s been a lot of discussion, argument – it’s a political mess. I’m brand new. I do not want to upset that apple cart.”
Dialysis is another: “I’m going to have to study up on that one,” he said, adding that the small district can’t provide services that put the overall core business at risk. Most hospitals do not offer the services, and private companies need to make a profit.
Other issues on the horizon include keeping track of the proposal to privatize Sutter Coast Hospital’s operations, how both Del Norte and Curry counties will fare in the next fiscal year and how well the hospital is serving the needs of the community.
Smaller, but incremental changes, even include how district meetings are run. Bair uses a “dashboard” approach that emphasizes the mission, vision and values of the board. An example could include addressing staff, service, quality of care, finance and growth.
“You take care of your people, quality and service and finances, and growth will take care of itself,” he said.
Establishing a strategic plan is paramount, too.
“There’s been an enormous amount of change in leadership here,” Bair said. “What’s fallen by the wayside is a little bit of structure.”
The 50-year-old is awaiting his family’s arrival in Gold Beach this week. And in what time he can call “spare,” Bair enjoys home improvement and landscaping projects, along with history books.
“I’m a real history buff,” he said. “You can learn a lot from great people who had tougher issues than I’ll ever have. There’s good lessons to learn.”