A timeless classic comes to life as never before …
OK, few would call the TV show "Doogie Howser, M.D." a "timeless classic," but when Michael Lauf, 36, was named an Up & Comer in 2004 at 33, he was described as having had to live down an image of being compared with the wet-behind-the-ears teenage doctor. Not only was Lauf the youngest hospital chief executive officer in Pennsylvania when he became the 30-year-old president and CEO of Miners Medical Center, in Hastings, Pa., but he looked even younger than his years, colleagues said. But looks can be deceiving. Behind the youthful exterior was a seasoned professional, says Richard Salluzzo, who at the time was CEO and chief medical officer of Miners' parent, Conemaugh Health System, Johnstown, Pa.
"Mike has always been extremely mature," Salluzzo says. Lauf, having worked as a community and economic development specialist for U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), "knew how to handle himself around presidents, senators, and other congressmen," Salluzzo said. At Miners, Lauf helped turn around a $4 million loss, was able to negotiate a new contract with the hospital's union and was able to bring physicians onboard, Salluzzo says. "It was like night and day," he says. "It was unbelievable the job he did there."
When Salluzzo left Pennsylvania to become president and CEO of Wellmont Health System in Tennessee in 2004, he did not think he would cross career paths again with Lauf, whose family was in Pennsylvania. But when Lauf—by that time vice president for business development at Conemaugh—called him up asking whether Salluzzo had any job opportunities available, Salluzzo didn't hesitate to consider him for the chief operating officer position at 348-bed Bristol (Tenn.) Regional Medical Center.
It's been nearly a year and a half since Lauf accepted the position, and already he has made a mark on the hospital, Salluzzo says.
He has introduced a culture of process improvement at Bristol Regional, creating a manual on the subject and leading the training of 1,500 employees. He has developed a hospital performance score card with quantifiable goals, and he has cultivated service improvement initiatives that have dramatically increased hospital patient satisfaction and physician satisfaction scores, Salluzzo says.
"I think he stepped right up to it in a seamless way and had an impact almost immediately," Salluzzo says. "The place got cleaner, and (patient satisfaction) scores improved."
Lauf has also worked with physician partners to create a rehabilitative medicine program, an outpatient diagnostic imaging center and multiple surgery centers. Although he has helped build upon a recent financial turnaround at Bristol Regional, Lauf adheres to the philosophy that patient care is at the heart of what a hospital does. "It's a culture of service," Salluzzo explains. "He says we need to be like Disney, onstage 24-7. Only your imagination can prevent you from doing even better things for your patient."