Despite the dire news for Florida's housing market and overall economy, Doctors Hospital of Sarasota saw patient volume rise 13% from 2006 to 2008—but it wasn't all good news for the financial bottom line. Charity care jumped 30% from 2007 to 2008 alone at the 168-bed facility, to nearly $4.3 million annually.
Doctors Hospital of Sarasota keeps the conversation going
“We've had a lot of challenges over the last couple of years with the economic situation,” says CEO Bob Meade. “We see a lot of people come into the emergency room who don't have insurance, who did a couple years ago. The good news for us is we've continued to pick up market share in our area. We've focused a lot of time and effort on improving efficiencies at the hospital.”
The hospital's ability to meet its challenges have placed it No. 2 on Modern Healthcare's Best Places to Work in Healthcare ranking, and No. 1 among healthcare providers in the hospital's first entry into the competition.
“Last year, when we saw the article come out, we all decided at our administrative meeting that it would be something we would be interested in participating in the following year,” Meade says. “We've been anxiously awaiting the opportunity.”
Marketing director Lyn Cassan declined to share the hospital's recent financial figures but noted that the “huge uptick in indigent care” has had a significant impact on the bottom line. “It's not really a good number,” she says. “I don't think we're unique in that.”
Employee morale has remained high, as measured by a 5.8% vacancy rate and 7.3% voluntary turnover rate during the past year among a total workforce of 420, says Theresa Levering, director of human resources.
“We've had a lot of long-term people who are happy here,” Meade says. “If you don't have happy employees, you're not going to have happy patients. We've focused on our physician-satisfaction scores. Having the same faces coming to the hospital is good for the continuity of care for our patients, and we can communicate better because we know what to expect of each other. It not only creates a better place to work and a good quality outcome, but it also helps us grow volume.”
The relative success of Doctors Hospital has not put any competitors out of business, he adds, “but we've seen some increase in market share, obviously at the expense of some other facilities.” As a result, “We haven't had a layoff here in years.”
Meade says the facility has carried forward thanks to a combination of methods and programs: “I don't think there's a silver bullet here, at all.”
“We flex up and flex down. We try to make sure there's an expectation with the employee, coming in, that there will be flexing,” he says. “We staff to our lowest census number, with full-time folks, so we make sure they get their hours. In the wintertime, we do contracts with people who want to get extra hours.”
Those at the 0.8 or 0.9 FTE classifications receive the same benefits as full-timers, Levering says, and Cassan adds that they're paid on the same scale, just for fewer hours.
Senior management and board members work to communicate with employees beyond smiling and saying hello when they pass in the hallway, Meade says. New employees are invited to an afternoon tea after their first 60 days to talk about their experiences thus far, and that conversation continues during monthly lunches for employees whose birthdays fall during that month, Cassan says.
“It gives us an opportunity to figure out things they encounter,” Meade says. “They get to know us a little better.”
Executives at Doctors Hospital try to be “methodical” about making the rounds to different departments to check in with employees and find out what's on their minds, Meade says. For example, he had just spent 20 minutes talking to staff in the laboratory department and answering questions. “I talked about some of the things that are challenging for the hospital and asked specific questions about their role and things they would like to see improve,” he says. “We had some good dialogue.”
An employee advisory group started in 2006 that includes Meade, Levering and other board members provides “a forum where employees can bring ideas and issues and whatever may be on their mind,” Levering says. Among the group's activities have been community projects, including a recent school supply fundraising drive and an upcoming charity gift program for the holidays that Cassan notes will target employees in need in addition to the broader community.
Further board-employee communication has come through a joint annual retreat with vice presidents and department directors, which Cassan says may not happen this year, as well as monthly departmental lunches with board members.
“They get a better feel for what each of the employees do,” Meade says.
Another employee group that's gained participation and notice has been the “Green Team,” formed when the chief operating officer and director of environmental services researched an apparent increase in linen use. They undertook process changes to reduce that use, and “that evolved into a much greater group that started looking at all sorts of issues” related to the environment, Levering says.
As for salary and benefits, Doctors Hospital pays exempt employees an average of $77,979 and nonexempt an average of $51,480, with health costs jointly covered. The hospital matches employee contributions to retirement up to 3% of salary upon hire, rising to 9% by the end of six years, a policy put in place last year, Levering says. “It was really a way to incentivize the employees to participate in retirement,” she says.
With the down economy, Levering says that Doctors Hospital has definitely seen an increase in the tuition-reimbursement benefit and has boosted the maximum amount to $5,250 per year. “We've had several people going back to school, several CNAs and LPNs going back to school to become” registered nurses, she says.
The hospital offers other benefits as well, such as free monthly 10-minute massage “stress breaks,” a dry-cleaning service that comes in twice per week, and free delivery of take-out meals from local restaurants.
“We're one of the larger employers in Sarasota County,” Meade says. “That affords us the opportunity to create unique partnerships and pass those savings along to our employees.”
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