Beebe nearing new chief; quality, safety focus bearing fruit

November 29, 2019

Beebe Healthcare has narrowed its search for a new chief executive officer to three candidates. In an interview last week, Board Chairman Dave Herbert said the three finalists are being interviewed locally for a second round and to give them a closer look at Beebe’s operation. “We’re shooting to have a new person hired by the end of this year,” said Herbert.

That person will fill the shoes left by the departure of Jeff Fried as president and CEO last spring. Fried had led Beebe for 24 years before Herbert and the board decided the time had come for new leadership.

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Schaffner has been serving as interim CEO and had been a candidate for the permanent CEO position. He said he is not among the finalists but plans to continue in his role as vice president and COO.

In the past several months, Beebe has continued moving forward with plans set in motion by the organization’s executive team before Fried’s departure, including an approximately $200 million expansion project.

That plan includes many components, the largest of which are a new cancer treatment center and emergency center being constructed in Millville to serve southeastern Sussex County, and a free-standing specialty surgical center at Beebe’s Rehoboth Beach campus on Route 24. Herbert said all of the projects in the expansion plan are on time and within budget.

Schaffner said Beebe is looking at expanding its Georgetown and Rehoboth Beach walk-in clinics: “We’re also looking at adding more walk-in clinics. Our goal is to be within 20 minutes of 90 percent of Sussex County’s population.”

Herbert said in the fiscal year ended June 30, Beebe registered approximately 50,000 visits to its walk-in clinics. “We had more people who went to our walk-in clinics than to our emergency room,” said Herbert. “That’s a much more cost-effective way to get healthcare. The problem is we don’t get reimbursed for those clinics by state or federal programs. We’re losing money on them, but we do it because it’s the right thing to do. We have to work with our legislators at the state and federal levels on that problem. We’re putting a lot of energy and money into providing access.”

Herbert said Beebe continues to focus on reducing readmissions to the main campus in Lewes with an aggressive home healthcare initiative. “Everyone wants to be at home and if they can be, it’s more cost effective. More people are spending more time at home and ill instead of in the hospital. There are days when we’re treating more people at home than in the hospital. That’s way cool.”

Using 115 telehealth units that include weight scales, heart monitors, blood pressure cuffs and tablets for Skype visits or phone calls, the medical team can keep track of patients’ vital signs. Coupled with periodic home visits, it all adds up to staying ahead of problems and keeping people from having to come back into the hospital after incidents such as congestive heart failure and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

“For example,” said Schaffner, “weight gain from congestive heart failure (CHF) can be a sign of a worsening condition needing attention.” Using systems like these, Schaffner said Beebe in the past 18 months has reduced the number of CHF readmissions from more than 20% to less than 16%. “We’re striving for far less than that, too,” he said.

“It’s all part of care coordination,” said Herbert, “to help people stay healthier and dramatically reduce costs.”

Schaffner noted that Beebe was the first in Delaware to earn the national Home Health Elite designation, an award it has now earned for several years.

Focus on quality and safety

Herbert said Beebe is laser focused on quality and safety, his area of expertise when he worked for the DuPont company. “We’re getting to be world class in preventing conditions acquired while people are in the hospital, such as surgical complications and infections.” He said the composite of all hospital-acquired conditions has been reduced by 90 percent over the last couple of years.

Herbert and Schaffner pointed to team approaches for diagnosing and successfully treating heart conditions, and team approaches for early detection of lung problems that can lead to cancer. “The volume of cardiac issues we’re treating is growing dramatically,” said Herbert. “By testing rhythmic disorders which can lead to clots and strokes, we’re able to help people get off meds like blood thinners and their complications, make them less prone to congestive heart failure, and give them a more predictable lifestyle.”

Regarding lung health, Schaffner said a pulmonary nodule clinic is combining low-dose screening with robotic surgery techniques to great effect: “Nodules can become a lung tumor.  Since we started the program a year or so ago, we have discovered and treated many low-size tumors. Undetected and treated, many would have gone on to a higher stage of cancer. Combined with a comprehensive lung cancer program, the three approaches have led to exponential growth in the number of lung cancers we’ve been able to treat.”

“It’s saving lives big time,” said Herbert.

The men spoke glowingly about the one-year-old palliative care program under the direction of Dr. Katie Johnson. Whether dealing with chronic or potentially terminal conditions, palliative care focuses on keeping patients as symptom-free and pain-free as possible. “Palliative care is all about creating a plan for how people want to live their lives and deciding what their goals are, whatever the circumstances,” said Schaffner.

Schaffner said Beebe’s goal when it started the program was to realize 25 palliative care contacts per month. “We’re experiencing a huge uptick, through medical staff awareness, nursing staff awareness and getting the word out. We're already up to averaging 47 consults per month.”

Herbert said the goal is still excellence. “We want to never give up on that path. We want to reduce infections, readmissions, all problem areas to zero. Our goal is to have Beebe be the best healthcare organization, period.”

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