|Q. Twenty-five years is quite an accomplishment, congratulations! That's an amazing tenure with Freeman. What drew you to become involved with the hospital?
A. It has been really interesting to think back and reminisce on all the changes that have occurred. It's funny how things happen. A friend actually called me out of the blue and said there was an opening on Freeman's board. Both of my sons were born at Freeman, so I’ve always had a connection there, but at the time I didn’t know much about the internal operations of the hospital. I’m glad he thought of me and called. It’s been a gratifying experience and an honor to serve.
I accepted the board position in 1988 and became chairman in 1992. The tough part of the strategy at Freeman was, “Do we always want to remain a baby hospital, or do we want to bring somebody in who can shake things up and try to get us to the next level?” And we did. We brought Kelby Krabbenhoft in as CEO, and he was really a change agent. He rattled the status quo, helped us get our Certificate of Need for hearts and recruited lots of doctors. He changed the model by being doctor-friendly and partnering with physicians, which was unheard of at the time.
His tenure came to an end in 1996 and Gary Duncan came in and really took the vision of the board and implemented a lot of that for us. Gary left in 2011 and now Paula Baker has done great work as CEO since taking over the beginning of 2011.
Q. What have you found to be the most rewarding part of your role as Chairman of the Board?
A. Like so many things in life, it's the people — the physicians, the administration, the nurses — all the people in the system. Our people possess an amazingly complex set of skills and it’s inspiring to see how it all functions together. I was not really aware of the depth and breadth and kind of quality we had here until I joined the board. That realization helped me set the tone on the board, because one of the things that happened in the past was a lot of hospital boards were not focused on strategy. One of the things I tried to do immediately was shift the focus, saying “Let’s stay resolute as a board, let’s stay positive and let’s keep moving forward and only look at the strategy”. Not getting into the micro-management of the hospital was a big culture shift for the board.
Q. What would you say is one of your greatest accomplishments as Chairman of the Board?
A. Although Paula is giving me a lot of credit, it's really been the work of a lot of people — a lot of dedicated board members and dedicated folks. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time with these individuals. The Freeman story is written large over thousands of people — the great administration, great staff, and great doctors. That's the part that should be highlighted. Those are the people who are heroes and make a difference every day.
It’s because of their dedication we’ve been able to accomplish so much and really improve healthcare for Joplin and the Four States; providing services people never expected to receive in Joplin. These are things that in the past they'd have to go to larger facilities in Springfield, Kansas City, Little Rock, or Tulsa to receive. It’s been gratifying to see that progression over the last 25 years.
Q. Freeman is a major part of Joplin and the surrounding area. How has Freeman built healthier communities?
A. Because we're locally owned and locally governed, we're able to assess the needs of the community and act on them. We don't need any outside corporate approval. We don't have to go to St. Louis for answers. For example, when we knew we needed to open a heart center, we got focused on that and got the Certificate of Need in Jefferson City. When we wanted to expand our women's center, we built the building. That agility — being able to focus on initiatives the board and administration identify as priorities and act on them — leads to healthier communities.
Q. Speaking of community and being locally owned and locally governed — how do you feel this sets Freeman apart?
A. I've touched on it with the priorities that we're able to shape locally, but I also think it’s in the network we’ve created. Many of the rural hospitals struggle in certain areas. They look to Freeman for partnership and sharing services. Freeman's connections and affiliations with those local hospitals help provide the network residents need within a 150- to 200-mile radius of Joplin. We’re proud of those affiliations. We're not interested in expanding or taking over hospitals. We're interested in networking and utilizing our 180 physicians who are part of the employment structure at Freeman. That really does set us apart, because our physicians have a vested interest in the success of the hospital and providing those services throughout the Four States.
Q. Freeman clearly has a rich history. What are some of the exciting things happening now?
A. One of Paula’s first initiatives as CEO was to highlight five main strategic focus areas. One is physician partnership and empowerment, to try to give our physicians all the tools they need to be successful. Two, we want to look at growth and regional expansion where it makes sense. Three, we want to be the hospital of choice in the Four States, to continue to grow our operational excellence or “centers of excellence.” Fourth, focusing on quality and care model designs — we’ve really looked at finding ways to increase patient satisfaction. And then, lastly, is always seeking out talented people and growing the people we have in the organization.
So I would say in a short 12 months, Paula Baker has made great strides in the strategic priority process. I’m proud of that, and happy for her — she's really one of a kind. Freeman's going places with Paula Baker, let’s put it that way.
Q. What have you and the board identified as your greatest challenge in the coming year?
A. As a board, we try to watch the trends going forward in 2013. Obviously, costs are going to continue to grow at a rate faster than payments increase, so that’s always a concern.
In many ways it's a guessing game as to how we can figure out the income stream, because Freeman treats all people regardless of ability to pay. So we have Medicare, Medicaid, payers, non-payers, and we continue to write off more and more every year. Nobody wants to close doors — some rural hospitals will encounter obstacles and may not be able to keep their doors open — and we have to keep our eyes open to the challenges we face as a board. Again, this is an advantage in the way our board is setup. It's part of the planning process and vision our board has to discuss and formulate strategy around these challenges.
Obviously transparency is going to become huge in healthcare going forward. Hospital results are going to get posted. Doctor's results are going to get posted. The consumer is going to know a lot more than they've ever known about healthcare providers. Those challenges will certainly be out there and we will have to use information technology and every means possible to provide the best care.
And one other thing — retention of staff is always something we look at. We don't want good people to leave, but in healthcare the turnover rate is relatively high so you try to diminish that as much as possible.
Those are some of the big challenges going forward, but we're up for the task.
Q. Freeman has had great success in recruiting high-caliber physicians to the system. What do you attribute that success to?
A. More than just us telling prospective doctors we're physician driven, they talk to our physicians — the people who are the heart and soul of the institution — allowing them to hear firsthand we actually do listen to our physicians.
We try to align our incentives between the doctors, the administration and the board. I think people who have been here see that and people who are joining us hear that. And I think that's our greatest strength.
Q. How do you respond to someone that is not necessarily familiar with the Freeman of today, and is basing healthcare decisions on a past perception?
A. I think all institutions change over time. It is harder to change people's perceptions if they haven't been here in a while, and they have a strong image welded in their mind. Obviously, we’re engaging in strategic marketing and communications to inform the market of our capabilities. But the reality is more and more people have had a good experience and outnumber those that may still harbor some ill or less than satisfactory experiences. As you know, you can have a good experience and a bad outcome — people never forget that either. I think you just have to work at it every day and that is something that comes with the territory of healthcare. Every interaction we have with the community, patients and extended family is an opportunity to leave a positive impression. I think that's the only way to counteract it. You can't change it, but you can certainly try to overcome it.
Q. If you were creating a Facebook timeline for the organization, what is one thing that has not happened yet that you're looking forward to "posting" the most?
A. I look forward to the day when all of our services are highlighted as nationally acclaimed. I think that day is coming and we're partway there. So that would be the next posting I look forward to seeing.