New Blue Hill CEO sees hospital turnaround

Posted Jan. 09, 2011, at 9:21 p.m.

BLUE HILL, Maine — After years of bleeding red ink, Blue Hill Memorial Hospital finally is on the plus side of the ledger, finishing its last fiscal year in the black and maintaining positive margins since then.

But the hospital’s new CEO said recently that the facility still has work to do in order to ensure its future.

“We haven’t turned the corner yet,” Gregory Roraff said in a recent conversation. “But we’re peeking around the corner. There’s a major cultural change taking place at the hospital. We’re not there yet, but I think we’re going to get there.”

Roraff took the reins of the hospital last summer, replacing Dr. Erik Steele of Eastern Maine Health Systems, who had served as interim CEO since 2008, shortly after BHMH became an EMHS affiliate. That affiliation, Roraff said, has allowed the hospital to right itself financially, but it still needs to become self-sufficient, he said. And that, he said, will require a change in attitude.

“We need to establish a culture of accountability,” he said. “In the past, I think, we have not been held to task financially. There was an attitude that took the hospital for granted, that said the hospital was here and will always be here and that expected that the endowment would bail us out. As a result, we were not accountable to one another; we weren’t accountable to the board or to the community.”

That already has begun to change, Roraff said, and will continue to change as the hospital develops a culture of accountability from the top down.

“This board has been asking the hard questions,” he said. “They are paying attention to the finances. We have a lot of talented people in the hospital. The board is going to hold everyone accountable.”

BHMH faces many of the same challenges other hospitals are facing today, including the rapidly changing health care landscape and a shortfall of state reimbursements. While BHMH will have to respond to those challenges, Roraff focused on the internal factors that the hospital can control itself. If there needs to be an atmos-phere of accountability, he said, there also needs to be one of quality.

“If we’re going to continue as a hospital, we’re going to have to ensure that our service is outstanding and our quality is outstanding,” he said.

Backed by EMHS, the hospital in recent months has made strides to improve patient care and the services offered at BHMH. They have converted the hospital and its four family practice centers in Castine, Blue Hill, Stonington and Bucksport to an electronic medical records system, added new endoscopy equipment, and hired a full-time general surgeon and family practice physicians, with two new resident physicians set to come on board later this year.

Roraff said BHMH is working to improve patient access to services, particularly at the family practices, which he acknowledged has been a problem in the past.

Improving patient services is a key to the hospital becoming self-sufficient, according to Roraff. BHMH already has cut costs as much as it can, he said, and now needs to focus on increasing revenues by providing new and different services for area patients.

Roraff has met informally with local groups and said he is beginning to get a sense of what the community wants to have in their community hospital.

“Community health is a major concern,” he said. “People need access; they need to be able to see their providers. And there is a lot of interest in a center for fitness.”

That could open opportunities for the hospital to combine patient services such as physical therapy with a community fitness center.

“People would like to see more of that and to have the hospital play a role in it,” he said.

Many of these issues likely will be discussed as the hospital develops a vision of what it wants to be as it adapts to the coming changes in health care. Part of that discussion, Roraff said, likely will require the hospital to develop a master facilities plan.

“That has a lot to do with improving patient services and making health care available,” he said. “I’d like us to look to the future and improve those facilities. I’m anxious to do that.”

Any facilities study likely will be a long-term project that would include looking at the existing campus, which Roraff admitted has its limitations, as well as facilities and services that could be developed off-campus.

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