With change comes uncertainty, loss of security and shock but it can also bring about progression and hope. FYN sat down with the new CEO of North Georgia Medical Center, Earl Whiteley, who expressed concern and his stated dedication to betterment of the hospital for the community it serves.
The former CEO, Jeff Dunn, was “involuntarily” released from duties last Friday and Whiteley was brought in, seemingly because of his vast administration experience.
Whiteley has been in hospital administration at 13 facilities, most recently as CEO of Calhoun Memorial Hospital which closed its doors earlier this year. Most notably for local concerns, he was CEO of Mountainside Hospital in Jasper at its inception until it’s sale to Piedmont was finalized in 2004. He had served as a hospital consultant in areas of operating procedures before accepting the position in Calhoun but he’s been a resident of Jasper since 1998.
Concern has been expressed about the departure of the former CEO and when asked about the circumstances surrounding last Friday’s events, Whiteley related,
”The performance of the hospital has not met expectations as it relates to providing to the community. Management felt it was time for a change. I’m not going to say anything bad about Jeff. He’d been here a long time, he did some good things.”
The shadow of the closing of the Calhoun hospital looms over Whiteley but he explained there were four critical access hospitals in the immediate area, it was a small agricultural community, government Medicaid cuts and rising costs meant they were unable to sustain it. He further said that every year starting in the 1970’s there have been rumors of cuts or cuts to hospital reimbursement for Medicaid which severely affects a hospital’s ability to operate with success.
FYN’s own research shows statistical analysis of those critical access hospitals has a history of being unable to sustain efficiency whereas those hospitals not following that criteria have a better performance record. North Georgia Medical Center is one such hospital and Whiteley hopes to use this to his advantage.
He admits the hospital has lost business to other healthcare facilities.
“We are going to have to learn to compete. It relates to quality of care and the perception of the community. We’re up for the challenge. It’s our job and our responsibility to the community to prove to them that we’re just as good.”
The new CEO has a good base to start with: emergency room renovation and the nursing home are assets but other renovations are necessary to move toward the future. Earlier this year, Whiteley states, they bought the medical office building as a means of consolidating labor for doctors to come in so that
“if we have 12 doctors we don’t have 12 office managers, you don’t have 12 people doing the billing, you don’t have 12 people doing scheduling. It’s a synergy of efficiency and we felt it would be beneficial to the community to have a ‘one-stop shop’ location for pharmacy as well as seeing a physician or seeing a (specialist).”
He stated he is unaware that Sunlink, the parent company of the hospital, purchased thousands of common shares in an effort to privatize or what that could mean for the Ellijay site. Regarding rumors of the hospital being sold he reported,
“I am not aware of any action involving the sale of this hospital to anybody. Down the road I don’t know what (will) be going on and what’s past is past, I’m just saying right now I’m not aware of any (plans) to sell this hospital.”
Reviewing contracts, positions, seeing if avenues of efficiency are available through the hospital’s vendors are a few areas he and the administration will examine to bring the hospital to its potential. FYN asked directly about staff cuts and received this answer:
“I don’t anticipate a large-scale reduction in force. There might be a few here and a few there but I’m only speculating.”
He further said it will depend on the areas that are shown to need improvement.
In closing, Whiteley stated his vision is to improve the quality of care and renovate this facility.
“You have to maintain operational skills as well as equipment to meet the ever-changing continuum of care. We owe a debt to the community to provide quality of service. It’s about trust but we have to earn it. ”