A check in every hand

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 9, 2004

DEMOPOLIS – It was better than Oprah Winfrey’s car give-away.

At least for the 300-plus employees at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital, the $1,000 bonuses was a welcomed surprise.

The announcement – and the checks – were announced at noon during an employee picnic on the hospital’s front lawn. Full-time

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employees received $1,000 and part-timer with at least 192 hours in the past year received $500.

Mike Marshall, the hospital’s chief executive officer and administrator, said the $300,000-plus bonus was a way to reward members of his team who have contributed to the hospitals overall success.

“We always ask the employees to share the pain when we have to buckle down and get the job done, now we’re sharing the fruits of that hard work. This is something that the management team and I felt was important and when we asked the board for approval of this they agreed whole heartedly,” he said.

The reason the THA’s board of directors agreed so readily is because the hospital’s employees have taken a front-line stance on improving the hospital, and that philosophy has translated into a better bottom-line for Bryan Whitfield, a public-sector agency.

“We wanted to recognize good performance and Mike thought it was only right to reward those most responsible for the hospital’s overall performance,” said Jay Shows, a board member and president of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce. “Those most responsible are the employees.”

Shows points to a number of factors that have contributed to the overall increase in the hospital’s bottom line, including about $1 million in capital improvements this year.

“Mike has been highly successful in recruiting new physicians and specialists to come in. That’s increased the surgical volume, but he’s also been able to motivate the employees and motivate the community to use the hospital,” Shows said.

That motivation hasn’t been just shooting in the dark, but the accomplishment of specific goals that Marshall said were the key elements to this fiscal year’s successes.

“Last year we sat down and developed goals in four basic areas,” he said.

Those areas include meeting volume targets in areas such as in-patient admissions, outpatient services and home health calls; clinical targets such as length of stay, infection rates, C-section rates, mortality rates and other clinical indicators of performance; morale indicators such as employee turnover, employee satisfaction, patient satisfaction and physician satisfaction; and financial targets.

“I believe if we focused on the first three, then the fourth – financial and the bottom line – would fall into place,” he said.

That’s why the hospital’s administration focused in on two specific goals – increasing morale among the employees and increasing the community’s perception of the hospital.

“We have direct control over both those areas through the competence of our staff and how well we do our jobs,” Marshall said. “Our thing was to grow not just surgery, but outpatient and inpatient volume and we felt we had a lot of people leaving town for surgery and other procedures because their specialists were out-of-town.”

“If you provide those things and bring specialists in, then you’re going to get more walk-in business because the service is here and the quality is good, and you’ll also see an increase in referrals because the physicians are here as well,” he said.

Granted, BWWMH isn’t performing brain surgeries or complicated heart surgeries yet, but Marshall was confident of the hospital’s ability to meet the needs of the citizens in Demopolis, Marengo County and the surrounding counties.

“It’s more about people being comfortable [with the hospital and its services],” he said. “We can provide any service with the exception of brain surgery and heart surgery.”

Marshall the hospital’s services and capabilities would continue to expand in the new fiscal year that started Oct. 1, but that in many senses, the slate of accomplishment has been wiped clean with the bonuses.

“We still have areas we need to work on. This year we’ll set higher goals than we had this year,” he said.

Future bonuses will be tied to the how well the staff manages to achieve a new set of goals.

“This check was strictly based on performance in ’04. The slate is wiped clean from that point and we’ll go forward to continue to improve,” he said.

The hospital’s future improvement is as vital to the city economy as it will be for employees’ pocketbooks.

With an $11 million payroll, BWWMH is a large employer for the area, and added 32 new positions during the past fiscal year, amounting to an increase of $680,000 in payroll with 80 percent of those new jobs directly related to patient care.

“The population [growth] of the city and county is relatively flat. What we’re trying to do is make sure growth still happens,” said Marshall, noting a 27 percent increase in admissions during the past fiscal year.

The hospital’s overall economic impact is about $77 million.

“We’re looking for ways to better market our services and provide health care closer to home for people in the surrounding counties,” he said.

That could entail expansion into what Marshall terms “a physical presence” in Perry, Greene, Hale, Sumter and Clarke counties where the hospital already delivers home health services.

“And we try to do a lot of things for the community that goes beyond the medical care and the salaries,” he said, noting such community education programs as today’s KidSafe program, employee scholarship programs, and the hospitals auxiliary that “does a tremendous amount of work in the community and is important to the success of the hospital.”