Gentry targets rural top 20 for hospital; leadership shifting from authoritarian to participatory
A passion for healthcare and appreciation for Cortez’s milder winter attracted new Southwest Health System CEO Jeanine Gentry.
Gentry was hired by Community Hospital Corp. this year to run Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez. She sat down with The newspaper August 24 to provide an update on hospital operations and plans.
Gentry has decades of experience in healthcare. She most recently served as CEO of Steele Memorial Medical Center in Salmon, Idaho, from 2016 to 2021. She led all operations for the county-owned, 18-bed hospital, which was ranked among the top 20 hospitals in critical access for three consecutive years. speak Chartis Group hospital evaluation group.
“My goal is to bring this hospital into the top 20 rural intensive care hospitals. We can do it,” she said. “I want people to recognize what an excellent medical facility this is. We have a lot to offer that many small towns don’t.
The rating focuses on the key pillars of quality of care, service, financial health, growth and people.
Southwest Memorial overcame the back-to-back challenges of a financial crisis in 2018 and the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
“We take a deep breath and get back to normal. We are in good financial health,” Gentry said. “The stress of the pandemic has had a significant impact on hospital staff.”
The current objectives of the management team are to improve patient access to care and to recruit doctors.
“One complaint we hear is about people having trouble getting timely appointments with doctors. If they wait too long, they go to another hospital,” Gentry said. “We want to make sure we’re adding enough capacity to open up access. I pay particular attention to patient complaints.
Areas that need more access are cardiology, urology and oncology, she said. For example, a cardiologist is only available at Southwest two to three times a month, which is not sufficient for patient demand.
The sales tax initiative is accepted
In May, voters approved a tax referendum for the hospital that removes a sunset provision on the district’s 0.04% sales tax in exchange for a hospital district property tax levy of 25% to 0 .7445 mils versus 0.994 mils. The tax was due to expire in 2030.
Long-term tax revenue will help secure operations and could fund upgrades, but Gentry is cautious about embarking on big projects.
“Building would involve more debt, I’m allergic to debt right now,” she said. “We want to pay off the debt we already have.”
In 2018, the hospital completed a $32 million upgrade funded by bonds and district sales tax. It reduced its backlog maintenance costs to $5 million from $10 million in 2018, Gentry said.
The Southwest Health System and Montezuma County Hospital District boards are developing a five-year strategic plan, rather than relying solely on annual plans, which have been the norm.
“We all know that parts of the building are new and very beautiful. Then there are other parts of the building that need improvement, so we need to have a plan to fix the aging infrastructure,” Gentry said.
The two councils develop lists of priorities for the hospital. Projects agreed by the councils will be considered for implementation, she said.
An independent consultant was hired to interview hospital staff on the needs of the facility in order to provide a neutral summary of the projects.
Stabilized financial health
In 2018, a financial crisis nearly caused the hospital to close. Surety covenants, including cash-out days, were non-compliant, and a forbearance agreement from the lenders detailed the corrective actions required. Forty employees were laid off.
New leaders were hired to implement changes to reverse the fall, which was ultimately successful.
A key indicator of financial health is the number of days of cash available. SHS complies with the 80-day minimum, but Gentry wants to see it go higher. In 2020 and 2021, SHS broke even and made small profits, she said.
Transparency a priority
Lack of transparency over the hospital’s financial health led to the 2018 financial crisis, officials said.
Gentry said the hospital now has “much stricter internal accounting procedures.”
A new audit firm, Why Blu, has been recruited to oversee the finances, she said.
“They are extremely picky. For 2020 and 2021, we got a clean audit,” Gentry said. “There were no warnings or issues. I’m very confident that the accounting processes have been cleaned up.
Besides annual audits, the hospital’s management company, CHC, also oversees finances.
“We meet with them every month and review all the reports. They’re grilling us,” Gentry said.
When it comes to leadership styles, Gentry said she is changing the staff culture from “authoritarian to participatory.”
Each week there is an employee forum, and staff are encouraged to raise any questions with senior management without fear of reprisal.
“Everyone who works here is key to our success and they deserve to know what’s going on,” she said. “I hope our caregivers feel like there are no more secrets.”
The hospital has 450 employees.
Helping people and saving lives is Gentry’s motivation at leading hospitals.
“I’m a very caring person and I’m lucky enough to show love to the patients and the people who work here,” she said. “Love is not a principle taught in business schools, but it is something people crave.”
On a personal note, Gentry said she hit the fertility jackpot and had triplets, two boys and a girl. They all recently turned 21 and she attended their birthday party in the North West.
She added that the advantage of landing in the Four Corners is that it’s close to family in Arizona and the snow removal duties are light compared to the northwest.
“I try to shovel a lot of snow,” she said.
The Southwest Health System Board is seeking to fill three vacant positions. Current board members are President Dan Valverde, Vice President Susan Hodgdon, Secretary/Treasurer Shirley Jones and Director Sean Killoy. The Southwest Health System Board of Directors typically meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month at 5 p.m. in the Kiva Room at the entrance to the hospital. The next meeting is September 28.
Members of the Montezuma County Hospital District Board of Directors are President Dean Matthews, Vice President Bill Thompson, Secretary/Treasurer Rob Dobry, Fred DeWitt and Gala Pock. Meetings are held the second Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the EMS Training Center on the north side of the hospital campus. The next meeting is September 14 at 6 p.m.
For more information, visit the SHS website swhealth.org.