Hospital Chief Financial Officer Cynthia Brandt reports on her group's results. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Hospital Chief Financial Officer Cynthia Brandt reports on her group’s results. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

As Sitka Community Hospital struggles with another year of red ink, the administration is looking to the public for solutions.

Hospital management held a town hall-style meeting Monday night (4-27-15) to try and better understand the things the hospital is doing well, and some things that it is not doing so well.

Downloadable audio.

There were about 28 people in all who attended the meeting, including many hospital staffers, and some former employees.

New CEO Rob Allen has been making the case for transparency. He believes it’s a critical part of the hospital’s turnaround.

“What we’re trying to figure out is what do we do well, what do we do poorly, what are the programs that we’re missing? We’re looking for input from as many people as possible.”

Allen said the hospital would close out its fiscal year with a $2.5-million deficit. He’s also just completed the next year’s budget, and is expecting a deficit of $500,000. While this is an improvement, Allen said it’s still not good.

He asked the audience to consider another question.

“Is Sitka Community Hospital an essential service of the City of Sitka, or should it be look at as a standalone business?”

Allen said his use of the term “standalone business” meant “covering all its expenses with revenue.” He said he was committed to the hospital’s role as a non-profit institution.

After that, meeting co-facilitator Doug Osborne divided the audience into four groups who spent the next hour in roundtable discussions of the hospital’s strengths, its areas of suggested improvement, its finances, and a vision for the future.

Sitka Community Hospital is ready to move past blame for its current woes. It was written into the ground rules of the town hall meeting. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sitka Community Hospital is ready to move past blame for its current woes. It was written into the ground rules of the town hall meeting. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Participants were asked to be succinct, respectful, and to not lay blame. Lily Herwald, a local management consultant and meeting facilitator, also steered comments toward the practical, rather than the anecdotal.

“Unfortunately, because of the timing tonight, we’re not going to get to hear a lot of stories, or perhaps your personal experiences and what may have happened to you in health care.”

And with that, the audience got to work, spending fifteen minutes in each of the four discussion areas.

Cynthia Brandt and Doug Osborne led the discussion on finances. At the conclusion of the hour, Brandt reported on their results:

“Make a balance between finances and what the community needs, or to make decisions about services with intent. To evaluate and reduce the cost base of the organization through looking at travelers, duplication of services across organizations and contracts. Third was have a better EHR (electronic health records). And lastly, and the overarching theme, to establish and drive more accountability throughout the organization, and between the organization and the community.”

EHR, by the way, is short for Electronic Health Records, which has been identified as one reason the hospital fell behind in its billing.

Not surprisingly, electronic health records were high on the list in the “needs improvement group,” facilitated by Lily Herwald and Kat Richards. Other items that came out of this table included internal and external communication, and collaboration with other providers.

The discussion about the hospital’s strengths was led by Lisa Sadleir-Hart and Ayla Stromquist. Sadleir-Hart reported that “a caring, competent, compassionate staff” topped her list, which prompted the room to burst into applause. Other strengths included the range of services and access to care.

And finally, Steve Hartford and Rob Allen facilitated the visioning group. Allen said he heard a lot of good ideas, but two in particular stood out.

“One is meeting the core basic needs of the community and cooperating with other agencies. We heard that a lot. The other one I really liked: Managed like a business, run like a well-oiled machine, and treat patients like family. Applause.

Allen said that a number of good suggestions came from SEARHC employees who attended the town hall — including one senior administrator.

Allen talked about it afterward.

KCAW – Was it helpful to have (SEARHC’s Chief Operating Officer) Dan Neumeister here? Were you expecting that?
Allen – It was helpful. I encouraged people from SEARHC to come. We were trying to get the word out to all parts of the community. I thought it was great that he showed up and participated. Like I said, he had some very cogent remarks in my group.

Ann Wilkinson was appointed two weeks ago to take over as Sitka Community Hospital Board president. She said her group during the town hall was “small, but insightful.”

Wilkinson also recognized the positive attitude toward SEARHC at the town hall.

“You know, we get a varied response about cooperation with other entities versus competition with other entities. And I think the resounding comments here were more cooperation, less competition. So that’s good to hear.”

The next step in the hospital’s collaborative process will be closed-door meetings with stakeholders, like care providers. The public will be involved twice more: through a survey, and focus groups planned for later this year.