Improvements to services and operations at Regional Medical Center at Memphis were showcased in the Commercial Appeal on Sunday, July 29, 2012.
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By Toby Sells
Sunday, July 29, 2012
A C Wharton asked the committee he assembled to stop being polite.
The Regional Medical Center at Memphis was failing financially. As the mayor of Shelby County at the time, Wharton was among those responsible for overseeing the hospital.
It was time, Wharton said to his committee, to strip the issue "buck naked." And at that naked core, he said then, the hospital had a perception problem of being a "poor folks' hospital."
Flash forward five years, through three CEOs, a "Save The Med" committee, a threat to close its emergency department, a consulting firm, layoffs, budget cuts, a new Shelby County mayor, a largely new board and a new $40 million annual revenue stream.
Today, The Med is moving past the perception and baggage of the past, pushing toward a goal of becoming a hospital that can be competitive in providing quality care to all Memphis residents.
The white-hot sparks flying from a welder's torch last week were a sign of the changes. Painters, construction crews, landscapers and more have transformed many parts of the hospital in the past couple of years, including its Jefferson Avenue-facing "front door" where there's now a formal lobby and where there will soon be a patient drop-off area thanks in part to the welder and his torch.
It's a move to make the hospital a "patient- and family-friendly" environment, a phrase Dr. Reginald Coopwood, the CEO of The Med, repeats like a mantra whether he's talking about big renovation projects or fine-tuning customer service attitudes for employees.
Many cite Coopwood and his team for the hospital's financial stabilization and new vision.
Coopwood signed a three-year contract with the hospital in January 2010. Since he and his team arrived, the hospital has operated in the black and built a financial reserve of $112 million.
In an effort to make the hospital more competitive and bring more paying customers through the door, the new team has developed a new orthopedic unit, made several semiprivate patient rooms fully private and spent $20 million in 2011 for new technology, equipment and other hospital improvements.
With the financial hole patched, the next step to becoming a "hospital of choice" — another Coopwood mantra — is the design of the The Med itself. The hospital is a patchwork of 1.2 million square feet cobbled together in six buildings built between 1947 and 1994.
It's a big building, hard to maintain and hard to move patients through it as they visit different departments for different kinds of care, hospital officials said.
Board member John Vergos said The Med's physical plant has "always been a continuing problem" and "an expensive one to correct." But it is exactly the problem the hospital's board took on with a unanimous vote last week for a $32.4 million renovation project.
The hospital plans to spend $30 million to build on three unfinished floors of the hospital's Turner Tower on Madison and a $2.4 million expansion of the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center.
Turner Tower houses the Firefighters Regional Burn Center, which would get an additional operating room.
Another floor of Turner Tower would be converted to a 24-bed unit designed to help patients move more efficiently through the hospital.
The Med's plans would also create a three-operating-room ambulatory surgery center for same-day surgery patients in Turner Tower. The hospital's 20-bed rehabilitation unit would move from the Adams Pavilion building on Jefferson to Turner Tower and be expanded to 30 beds.
Med officials will submit this plan to the Tennessee Health Services Development Agency in September for a review and an approval possible by December.
"We want to start offering people new services and have a first-class patient- and family-friendly environment in which to do it," Coopwood said.
"One that will be second to none in this whole county," he added.