It wasn't exactly a paradise for healthcare three years ago when Eugene Woods took over as chief executive officer of the beleaguered Roy Lester Schneider Hospital in the heart of tropical St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
The only hospital on the 34-square-mile island, Schneider was in deep financial disarray, with losses estimated at about $4 million in 1998, the year before the arrival of Woods. Saddled with a disgruntled staff and a crumbling infrastructure, the 169-bed hospital also owed about $3 million to vendors.
Since Woods assumed control as the first permanent CEO at the hospital in nearly four years, the vendors have been paid off, admissions have increased and the hospital expects to post an operating profit of about $1.5 million this year on revenue of about $44 million. Net revenue in 1998 was about $37 million, Woods said.
"I think people perceived this as an impossible situation, but I thought differently," says Woods, 37. "We had so much trouble we had difficulty purchasing blood. It was that bad.
"We had a lot of debt. The staff was frustrated. My task was to change the system. If you can do that, good people will start shining. And they did. What made this such an important mission for me is that this is the only hospital in the community. I felt an extra responsibility to make this hospital the best it could be."
Michael Covert, president of Washington Hospital Center in the nation's capital, describes Woods, a friend and colleague, as a "self-effacing and compassionate" administrator who almost single-handedly has helped create "the most respected hospital in the Caribbean community."
Woods has a master's degree in business administration and a master's degree in health administration from Pennsylvania State University in State College. He began his career as the executive director for Women's Health Services, a primary-care center serving several rural areas around Lewiston, Pa. Before his move to the islands, he was vice president/administration at 468-bed Southside Regional Medical Center in Petersburg, Va.
Woods say the island's Legislature exercised so much control over Schneider when he arrived that the hospital couldn't even write its own checks to vendors or hire its own nurses without governmental approval. He worked on getting a bill introduced in the Legislature that provided the hospital with much more autonomy, giving its top executive the independence needed to help turn around the hospital's fiscal fortunes, he says.
One step from probation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations when Woods arrived, the hospital received a near-perfect score on its most recent JCAHO survey and has recruited 10 new physicians during the past year in such specialties as orthopedics, gastroenterology and anesthesia, Woods says.
"We've had to be creative down here," says Woods, who is married and the father of two-including a 6-month-old boy born at the island hospital. "Sometimes you think you just don't have the resources. But we've made it work."
After three years in St. Thomas, Woods returned to the mainland earlier this month. On Sept. 4, he assumed a new job as vice president of clinical services at Washington Hospital Center, a 907-bed academic medical center in the nation's capital.