The plan seems to be working for James Springfield and Valley Baptist Health System in Harlingen, Texas.
In 2001, a succession plan was set up for Springfield to take over the system from its longtime chief. Springfield was hired as vice president and chief operating officer with the intention that he would take over as president and chief executive officer after Ben McKibbens retired.
In early 2003, McKibbens retired after about 25 years at the helm of the system, and Springfield, 39, took his place. Springfield's leadership in that position and his roles within the Texas Hospital Association, Texas Institute for Health Policy and Research and the Texas Association of Voluntary Hospitals helped him earn the American College of Healthcare Executives 2004 Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award for young healthcare executive of the year. Springfield will receive the award March 1 during the organization's annual Congress on Healthcare Management in Chicago.
"(The transition) wasn't difficult at all," Springfield says of succeeding McKibbens. "The whole thing was handled very well. I wouldn't have done anything differently."
During the planned succession, Springfield says he was able to learn from McKibbens about the system and the healthcare industry. He also got to know the staff, which welcomed the young leader.
"I can't say enough about the staff," he says.
Without the employees' support, Springfield knows he wouldn't have succeeded in instituting such programs as Six Sigma, a methodology that uses statistical data to weed out organizational problems and improve customer service. Six Sigma, which was developed by General Electric Co., hasn't been used much in the healthcare industry and builds "internal competency," Springfield says. It also could save a hospital money that it would have spent on consulting, he says.
One of the Six Sigma's mantras is that if the entire staff doesn't buy into the plan, greater efficiency can't be achieved.
"Q times A equals E," Springfield says. "That means quality times acceptance equals efficiency. You could have a great plan, but if it's not accepted by the culture, it won't work."
As part of Springfield's efforts to improve efficiency, he started a reward system in which employees can win cash bonuses for money-saving ideas that are implemented. Three employees from the system's accounting department are up for a share of the maximum bonus, $50,000, after suggesting a pharmaceutical plan that could save the system $750,000 per year in medication costs.
Financially, the system exceeded its profit goals by $6.2 million for 2003, Springfield says. The system generated net income of $14.8 million on total revenue of about $684 million last year, he says.
Springfield attributes some of those financial gains to improved information technology, which is also tied to one of the system's Six Sigma initiatives, a focus on e-business. In 2003, Valley Baptist started to work with Atlanta-based A.D.A.M., a mostly Internet-based healthcare information company. Patients can click on the A.D.A.M. link on Valley Baptist's Web site and it will bring them to a page that allows them to learn about specific surgeries, procedures and diseases. Or they can just browse through the site's health encyclopedia.
Physicians at Valley Baptist also benefit from the improved technology system. They can now schedule outpatient procedures without leaving their offices and better communicate with patients and staff.
Last year, Valley Baptist had already seen some quantifiable data showing that patients were more satisfied with their experiences at the healthcare system. The Six Sigma program, which was officially launched in May 2002, factored into the improvements, Springfield says.
An internal study showed the average waiting time in the emergency room declined 15% from 2002 to 2003. During the same period, a Professional Research Consultants study showed that the percentage of patients who said the service they received rated "excellent" at 396-bed Valley Baptist Medical Center improved to 95% from 55%.
The push for more information technology shouldn't be a surprise because of Springfield's background. Before joining Valley Baptist he was CEO of the now-defunct e-DOCS.MD, a Houston-based healthcare information company, from October 2000 to April 2001. Springfield had high hopes for the Internet company, but they didn't come to fruition. The company was a subsidiary of e-DOCS Physician Network and transcribed medical records to electronic documents.
"It was the end of the dot-com boom," he says.
Springfield doesn't regret the experience of leading a failed organization and says it was a "tremendous experience" that has helped make him a better leader. He says he now tries to make new initiatives simple and narrowly focused.
Before going to e-DOCS.MD, Springfield worked in various positions within the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, Houston, from 1988 to 2000. Two of the top positions Springfield held while working for Memorial Hermann was COO of Memorial Hermann Hospital, the 683-bed flagship of the system, and CEO of 150-bed Memorial Hermann Children's Hospital, also in Houston.
"I grew up there," Springfield says.