On May 1, 2000, about a month before a federal judge dissolved a joint operating agreement between Richard Henley's hospital and the only other one in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a commentary by Henley was published in Modern Healthcare imploring his colleagues to help restore faith in the industry by leading their hospitals with integrity.
"Our organizations and peers are under scrutiny for everything from suspected fraud and abuse to shortchanging patient care to save a few dollars," he wrote. "The need to restore public faith in our organizations and the healthcare system as a whole is greater than ever."
At the time, Henley was executive vice president of Vassar Bros. Medical Center in Poughkeepsie and the national chairman of the Healthcare Financial Management Association. A judge in White Plains, N.Y., ultimately ruled that the joint venture was anticompetitive and had allowed the two hospitals to fix prices.
Fortunately for Henley, 51, who was named an Up & Comer in 1993 at the age of 37, the ultimate demise of Mid-Hudson Health, the eight-year "virtual merger" between Vassar Bros. and its neighbor, St. Francis Hospital, didn't slow down his career advancement. After having served in top financial and operational roles at Vassar Bros., Henley was named president and chief executive officer of Pocono Health System, a community hospital in East Stroudsburg, Pa., in 2005. In the short time he has been there, he has made quite an impression, says the current chairman of the hospital's board, who also chaired the search committee that offered Henley the top job.
"When we interviewed different candidates, we were interested in someone that would have a vision to grow our organization from a smaller community hospital to a regional-based medical center," recalls Darell Covington, the board chairman and also a colorectal surgeon at the hospital. "When we interviewed all the candidates, Richard was clearly the person who had the best combination of all these things."
Among Henley's accomplishments at Pocono Health System are improving its Standard & Poor's bond rating (from junk status to B+), achieving roughly a 5.5% profit margin and doubling the size of the hospital's growing hospitalist program, Covington says.
One of the challenges the hospital faces is luring and keeping physicians in a state known for its low reimbursement levels and high malpractice insurance rates. So attracting high-quality doctors has been one of Henley's priorities, Covington says.
"We've designed a physician-retention program," Covington says. "Not just recruitment, but how do you retain them in the area?"
Under Henley's direction, the hospital also opened a cardiovascular institute in February. With no previous program in open-heart surgery, the hospital immediately had to get up to speed because it competes with two other facilities that are designated as 100 Top hospitals for cardiovascular services, according to Covington. "There couldn't be a ramp-up in terms of the quality piece," he says.
In its first four months, the heart program did about 100 heart surgeries; that made its operative mortality rate less than 1%, Covington says. The system is now planning to open a third open-heart-surgery room.
But that's not good enough for Henley, Covington adds. The ultimate goal is to have the program listed as one of the nation's top cardiovascular programs within five years.