Plietz's accomplishments thus far at Mills-Peninsula, along with those during a series of executive roles at Sutter-affiliated, 798-bed California Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco, have earned the 34-year-old the 2010 Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award for Young Healthcare Executive of the Year from the American College of Healthcare Executives.
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“Carrie is extremely bright, very focused and very direct,” says Bob Merwin, CEO of both Mills-Peninsula and the Sutter Health Peninsula Coastal Region hospitals. “She brings the right people to the table and allows full participation, but she's not at all shy about making a decision. … She has the intellect to understand the industry, the passion for the organization and the stomach to make the hard choices.”
Plietz sees the new EHR system as the most significant step for Mills-Peninsula since her arrival. She notes the facility is one of 55 to reach Stage 6 certification on the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's scale measuring degrees of EHR adoption; only 15 hospitals have reached Stage 7, which delineates full adoption of an EHR, HIMSS' highest ranking. And the Mills-Peninsula system achieved 85% compliance within a month's time, she says. “The organization made a very strong commitment,” Plietz says. “I had a great team. … We achieved almost everything we had set out to do.”
The new facility, which is expected to be mostly complete by August and scheduled to open in November, will replace a structure that's more than a half-century old. Rooms will be private with a space for one family member to spend the night; a patient lift will allow movement throughout the room; there will be no recirculated air; and the building will be able to withstand an 8.0-magnitude earthquake and keep operating, Plietz says.
“It's coming along really nicely,” she says. “The new rooms will be built around the ease of practice of the nursing staff, as well as being patient- and family-centered.”
Patient satisfaction has bloomed even before the new facility opens, rising 40% between the second and fourth quarters of 2008. Plietz attributes that partly to weekly “voice of the patient” meetings in which departments compare notes on patient feedback to keep tabs and keep everyone on the same page. “It's the one meeting that nobody misses, nobody cancels,” she says. “It's on Monday, and if there's a holiday, we move it to Tuesday.” Secondly, she believes the rise in satisfaction came about because of “a renewed focus of the team that it's not just a score—that it's truly why we're here, connecting back to the purpose of why people got into healthcare in the first place.”
The patient-satisfaction rate dipped a bit after the April 2009 introduction of EHRs because in spite of “extensive training” for employees, starting any new system leads to bumps in the road, Plietz says. “You're changing the fundamentals of how people have operated,” she says.
A combination of the EHR launch and the overall economy left Mills-Peninsula looking at a potential $9 million operating deficit for 2009, but the facility pulled together a “patient affordability team” that looked at ways to change the cost structure—and they ended the year $8 million ahead of budget, Plietz says. She says that there was not any one or two major sweeping changes in the budget that brought it about, although she believes Mills-Peninsula has gained “a renewed focus around length of stay, making sure patients get the right services at the right time, that they're treated at the most appropriate level of care, and then we make sure they get back home.”
Before her arrival at Mills-Peninsula in August 2008, Plietz spent nine years at California Pacific in San Francisco, first as an administrative resident before moving on to assistant administrator, compliance officer, vice president of clinical services, and ultimately a combined role as chief administrative officer for the Pacific Campus and vice president of operations for specialty services.
“It became apparent to us when she was with us as an administrative resident that this was someone with unique skills,” says Martin Brotman, former president and CEO of California Pacific. “She had maturity far beyond her years. She was a quick study. She was a self-starter. She immediately grasped the added value of work she was asked to do. … She probably made vice president faster than anybody I've ever seen because of the recognition of those skills.”
Within her role as vice president of operations, Plietz was responsible for ensuring common quality standards for cardiac oncology, digestive diseases and transplants at all four California Pacific campuses. The facility opened a $27 million cancer center and a $22 million cardiac center during her time there, and she worked to bring together physicians and management in the transplant department to plan strategically to a greater extent than in the past.
Plietz joined the ACHE as an undergraduate at James Madison University. She has served on the Northern and Central California Regents Advisory Council since 2001, the Early Careerist Committee since 2008 and Governance Task Force starting this year. The California chapter is the nation's third-largest, which “means we have a lot to live up to,” she says. “Californians aren't shy about what they need.” The Early Careerist Committee helps to build contacts and instill ethics in young administrators.
The bent toward healthcare administration hit Plietz early in life, since both parents both worked in the field—her father as a medical-device salesman and her mother as an office manager for a pediatric practice.
“I needed to do something that was more than sitting in an office and helping a corporation grow profits,” she says. “We're given a gift as hospital administrators to be involved in such an intimate time in people's lives. … It's not an easy job, but you're truly making a difference in the lives of people you touch every day.”