A plan to build a 300,000-square-foot home for outpatient services at Houston's Methodist Hospital is going better than expected-particularly considering the upheaval caused by Baylor College of Medicine's decision this year to sever long-standing ties with Methodist.
Executives credit Cathy Easter, 37, Methodist's vice president of operations, with keeping the outpatient project on schedule to open in 2008. "She is an optimist. No matter how bad it is, she is always able to think of some way to lighten it up," says Lynn Schroth, executive vice president at 896-bed Methodist, the flagship of four-hospital Methodist Health Care System.
Easter says the break with Baylor has made projecting patient volumes "a little more complicated," but she quickly adds that physicians still are eager to help plan the project.
Easter thinks creatively, Schroth says. With the outpatient center, for example, Easter has pushed the design team "to think not about what services we are going to provide in that building but what experience our patients are going to have in that building," she says.
Says Easter, "I think we have often viewed outpatients ... as an afterthought or we intermingle them with inpatients, giving them a longer and less pleasant experience than they could have had."
In addition to outpatient strategy, Easter manages a myriad of services, including endovascular services (specialized procedures to reinforce weakened artery walls in the abdominal area), ophthalmology, orthopedics, otolaryngology and radiology. She also oversees wellness services and international medicine as well as charity care and community grants.
She holds two degrees from Baylor University in Waco, Texas: a master's of science degree in public and community health and a bachelor of science in computer science education and health.
Executives say Easter has brought ambition, optimism and innovation to each assignment she's tackled at Methodist, where she began her career in 1991.
Easter oversaw a turnaround at the hospital's wellness program when she took over as manager in 1993. Under her leadership, the wellness program went from losing $780,000 in 1993 to earning $1.1 million in 2003. Wellness earned its first profit-$16,429-in 1996.
To turn the program around, Easter eliminated 13 of 56 staff positions in 1993. She also reorganized the sales staff and commission structure, spurring sales of contracts to Houston's corporations for services such as executive physicals and weight management. The institute includes a fitness center.
Easter also developed the hospital's formal program to award grants to community agencies. Since she launched the program, it has grown from 10 charities receiving a total of $2.9 million in 1993 to 22 charities receiving $7 million in 2003. "Agencies that we started working with 10 years ago are now on their feet to the point where they can attract federal dollars," Easter says. "That is very exciting."