Kettering Health moving on after year of controversy to focus on staff, clinical outcomes

It has been a little more than a year since anonymous allegations of misuse of business-related funds at Kettering Health became public, and little more is known about an internal investigation beyond that evidence of wrong doing was uncovered.

If further details are going to be brought to light, it is in the hands of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, as Kettering Health CEO Mike Gentry said they are moving on to focus on the future.

Like other health care systems in the area, the future includes a workforce that’s the linchpin for its other goals of enhancing clinical outcomes, reducing patient wait times and boosting innovation. In a recent interview with the Dayton Daily News, Gentry emphasized the need for gratitude for health care workers, both in and out of their system.

Kettering Health boasts one of the region’s largest workforces with more than 14,000 employees, and Gentry aims for all of their employees to feel they are part of a shared mission of caring for patients, he told this newspaper.

Changes may yet still be in store for some of Kettering Health’s facilities, particularly as 2024 is the last year for collection of Greene County’s last .5-mill hospital levy for Kettering Health Greene Memorial. Kettering Health has already closed one of its emergency rooms earlier this year in Miami County.

Kettering Health has 14 area medical centers and more than 120 outpatient locations throughout Western Ohio, as well as Kettering Physician Network, which includes more than 700 board-certified providers.

Gentry recently sat down with the Dayton Daily News to speak about long-term priorities for Kettering Health. Some of the answers were edited for length.

What are some of the things that the health system as a whole has seen come to fruition?

I would say, at least for me in the past six-seven months that I’ve been here, probably some of our most notable improvements have been getting better clinically. And so the clinical outcomes, a reduction in patient harm or what we call serious safety events and so keeping people safe while they’re undergoing procedure surgeries, etc., they’ve been getting better. Reducing infections related to hospitalizations.

And then the overall clinical outcomes you look at when someone has a need. Someone’s here because something’s wrong. And so when someone has a need to what extent are we able to facilitate the individual getting back to their health status prior to an acute event, and those are the areas we’re getting better in.

To me, that’s a tribute, it’s not so much anything I did, but it’s really a tribute to the clinical focus of the people that are here and the energy and thinking about how we provide great care for the community.

What are some of your goals for 2024 and beyond?

Probably top of the list is to reinforce to the team members here how much we appreciate them and to have a work environment that individuals know how to come to work and make a contribution. And so when you go home, you understand how your work connects to fulfilling the mission of the organization, whether it’s the educational component or the health component.

So for instance (using the example of being someone) in environmental services, and what I do is clean rooms between patients are discharged and somebody’s admitted. And so recognizing that when I do that well, the likelihood of the next patient getting an infection goes down. When I do it very effectively, we can care for the next patient earlier, so they’re not waiting in the ER. And so that every task in every position, people understand how that ties to something that’s really meaningful and helpful in terms of how we serve the community and so spending energy there.

One of the other areas where Kettering really improved last year was our turnover rate. So there’s a national percentage...turnover specifically around nursing and in many parts of the country that continue to be challenging in 2023. And Kettering actually got better and lowered the turnover rate. And so that tells me that people are aware, if you’re working here, you’re aware of the energy in terms of managers and directors that want to affirm good work and show appreciation for it.

Health care is challenging. I’m not saying that the jobs are going to become easy, and I don’t want to give that implication. Work is work. And we’re not ashamed to work hard, but we do want to make sure that our efforts are tied to fulfilling the mission of the organization and helping the community. So that component we really did well in last year, and I’m very appreciative of people here.

Are there opportunities for expansion or maybe new programs?

I would say first that one of the challenges that we have not solved is we really want to go after reducing the waits that people have to receive care. And so how long it takes to get into a specialist or from the time that you have a diagnosis, how long until we can get the plan of care underway. And so I would say that’s first and foremost in terms of caring in a really thoughtful way for the individuals who are seeking care from Kettering Health today.

Then secondly, we do look at expansion...We are actually looking at building some more ambulatory campuses similar to the ones we have already built in the past.

Then there’s some technology investments that we’re evaluating. We’re going to reopen Ridgeleigh Terrace as the Center of Clinical Innovation.

We’re really going to invest in (innovation). You think about what’s happening in Ohio with all the innovation coming here, and I’m thinking about the chips fabrication going on there, Columbus, as well as the LG Honda Investment that’s not so far away from Xenia.

And to think about machine learning―and how do we implement robotic processing automation in health care in what are essentially the back office components of health care not dealing directly with patients but (are) the areas where we support clinical activities―how can we automate those better and lower the cost of health care. So that’s that’s an area of focus for us.

Kettering Health has been at the center of controversy with the allegations of financial impropriety. Are there any additional details that you can share with the public at this time, and then what are your hopes moving forward or what would you want the public to know?

We finished the investigation a couple of months ago, and so from that, I’m very thankful that we finished our work, and we shared there was certainly some inappropriate activity that occurred. We shared that with the appropriate government entities.

And so what we’ve pivoted to is, if we need to cooperate any further, we’re more than willing to do that, but we’ve really moved to, we’re moving on, and we don’t have anyone in management or on the board that was involved.

And so we’re just in a very forward-looking mindset. And whatever happens from a regulatory standpoint, we will let the authorities or the appropriate government entity handle that.

And when you say the government, would that be the Attorney General’s Office?

Yes, that’s right.

(In reference to) Kettering Health Greene Memorial. When those levies expire, does Kettering Health plan to continue operating the hospital as they are or is that still under consideration?

We are going to have clinical assets in Greene County. And we have not made a decision. Certainly that’s an older building, and so we haven’t made a decision, a final recommendation, but we are going to take a proposal to the Kettering Health Board later in the year about making an investment in Greene County.

We’ll have an announcement at that time, but we don’t have anything to announce today.

Then moving forward out of the pandemic. What are some of the the biggest lessons learned from from COVID and maybe how has the pandemic changed health care moving forward?

That’s a societal question, and so I would start there...It was a very difficult position for decision makers to be in.

If you go back in time and think, because the virus wasn’t understood and yet people were trying to figure out how do you make decisions to keep people safe when the magnitude of the issue and who would be impacted really was not understood.

So maybe a lesson for all of us in society is to stay open to learning throughout life, because what we understand about COVID today and who was at very different from what we knew in the spring of 2020.

Then maybe a second core layer to that is―and I’m thankful that happened here at Kettering Health, and I think it happened in almost every health care organization in the country―that you had a group of individuals, clinicians, who were willing to go home and sleep in the garage out of fear that they didn’t want to harm anyone at home, and yet they were willing to come in to work and to care for the individuals in the community.

I think that’s a testament to the type of people in health care, and so maybe the other lesson is that gratitude can be too fleeting...It just doesn’t last long enough because that was really, really difficult for people for a long period of time, and we need to be grateful to them. Just like we need to be grateful to the military, folks in the military.

Gratitude is something that we probably need to think about a little more often because there are many, many wonderful people in our society, whether it’s police, fire, health care workers, but there are people whose roles are service centric to helping all the rest of us in society...Maybe a walk away is to have to have a a spirit of gratitude on an ongoing basis.

What are some of the biggest costs to the health system right now and how do you balance those costs with patient care?

The cost that’s moving up the most rapidly is related to pharmaceuticals.

If you think about insurance in America and if you have health insurance, whether it’s government sponsored Medicare, Medicaid, or commercial insurance, it wasn’t that many years ago, probably 15 years ago that pharmacy was less than 10% of the cost of the premium dollar that you pay every month, or that we all contribute every month, and today that’s moved up to over 20%.

There isn’t anything that’s rising faster.

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