Last week, the Mineral Community Hospital Board of Directors extended hospital CEO Steve McNeece’s contract for another two years. They also extended CAH Solutions Group, Laura Austin, for two years. Both McNeece and Austin have been working on a number of improvements to the hospital since June. Austin’s focus is on the finances while McNeece has been working with the hospital board, employees and department directors to define and work toward priorities and goals for the hospital.
“We have a fantastic team here and all the elements to make this a very successful rural hospital,” McNeece said. “It’s the right team, in the right community, at the right time.”
His company stepped in July 2018 after CEO, Ron Gleason resigned. For nearly 20 years he was the CEO of the Community Hospital of Anaconda. After that he had started his own company, CAH Solutions Group (Critical Access Hospital). The company signed an eight-month contract with Mineral Community Hospital to continue to provide quality care for patients and have a cohesive hospital team.
All parties involved have worked collaboratively to define four core priorities he said during a recent interview with the Mineral Independent. Those priorities being patients; relationships with employees; relationships within the community; and fiscal responsibilities.
With patients, hospital staff have started to adhere to the National Standards of Care. With these standards, staff and administrators use standard procedures and also document those procedures.
“Prior to this, standards and measures were not in place,” he said. “Once they became policy and are to be done every time, as well as documented, we now have measured results.”
For example, if a patient comes into the emergency room with chest pain, that patient is automatically given an aspirin. According to their records from July through November, only 50 percent of the patients received an aspirin; now it’s 100 percent. Patients with chest pain also must have an ECG within 10 minutes of arrival to the hospital. In July, only 37.5 percent of the patients were documented as receiving an ECG; now that number is 100 percent.
“It’s not that it wasn’t being done before,” he explains. “But it wasn’t being tracked and so there was no way of knowing for sure. Now it’s measured and we can track our progress. We know our patients are getting the best care.”
McNeece is also trying to dispel a myth that the hospital is downsizing its staff. “Just the opposite is true. We have actually hired five full-time nurses since July, plus a full-time physical therapist and a full-time physical therapist assistant and three providers,” he said.
Current employees are also seeing their benefits improve. A 3-percent pension contribution, which had been stopped years ago, has been reinstated. Also, their health insurance rates have increased by $61, and the hospital will pick up $51 of the tab. Staff members will also be receiving a $50 gift card — just in time for the holidays, compliments of McNeece and Austin.
“We (McNeece and Austin) know the hospital doesn’t have the funds and we wanted to do something for the employees and so we paid for the gift cards out of our own pockets,” he said.
Other employee perks include free flu shots, workout circuit stations in the basement, and grief counseling. Employee training is also a priority. Though nurse aides are not required to be certified, the hospital offers certification training, along with a wage increase once it’s completed.
There is also a SIMS truck, which provides simulation training for employees which will be coming back in January.
“It can be hard to change the culture of an organization,” McNeece said of his relatively new position. “It can be hard for an organization to have a new person come in with a different leadership style and focus, but our team has done a great job.”
Other improvements for patient care include an array of telemedicine, including pediatric neurology; pediatric endocrinology, tele-cardiology; and tele-psychiatry. Which provides patients with the opportunity to meet with specialists via computers from the hospital to other locations like Missoula or Kalispell. Alleviating the need for additional travel time.
The hospital has recruited three new providers and have entered into long-term contracts with them in order to stabilize their provider base. All of this is in addition to the opening of the new Mineral Community Clinic on Jan. 2. McNeece also pointed out that the hospital is on better financial footing. “There was a $300,000 loss last year. But this year we are showing a positive margin,” he said.
“We’ve come a long way in a short period of time,” McNeece said. “But the hospital is on the right trajectory. We are focusing on our patients, our staff, the community and we are being fiscally responsible. Everyone is committed to these goals.”