New surgeon kick-starts hospital collaboration
|“The goal is working together to the mutual benefit of both hospitals. This is best for the patients in our county. It’s the difference between seeing someone as a competitor rather than a friend and an ally. The repertoire of specialists and facilities just expands the opportunities for patients. It gives patients more opportunities and choices.”
Dr. Jeff Kepple
Plumas District Hospital CEO
Williams is a USC Medical School trained, board-certified general surgeon with medical school honors in general surgery, urology and plastic surgery. He received an Outstanding Surgery Resident Award, and he has also taught, researched and published extensively.
Why is he coming to Plumas County? Because, he said, he has lived all over the country and the world, and he’s ready to settle down. “I know all these different places,” he said, “and the mountains are what I like best.” In addition, he “wants to be a part of a community and help that community.”
He’s also tired of city stress and embraces the idea of working in small, rural communities. “Rural surgery is true general surgery,” he said. “I get to see a true variety — from toddlers to geriatric. Doing the same thing all the time bores me.” Williams grew up in a small town where his father was the one general surgeon, so he has intimate experience with this scenario.
Williams is also well aware of the importance of the collaboration between hospitals that brought him here. He’ll work 75 percent of the time at PDH and 25 percent of the time at EPHC, initially. “Working at both hospitals allows me and the hospitals to serve a wider segment of the county’s communities. It gives patients more options,” he said, explaining that one hospital might be a better resource than the other, depending on the type of surgery and other services available.
|In a symbol of collaboration, CEOs Tom Hayes from Eastern Plumas Health Care (left) and Dr. Jeff Kepple from Plumas District Hospital (right) meet in the middle — at the Blairsden Bakery partway between the two hospitals — with Dr. Mark Williams, the new board-certified general surgeon whose services the two hospitals will share. Photo courtesy Eastern Plumas Health Care|
He’s also cognizant of how difficult it is for many patients to travel to Reno, Chico or beyond for surgery. The safety net of family and friends provides an emotional component to healing that is missing when small-town patients have to travel a distance to a large urban center for care. His task, he said, is to determine who he can treat here, and who needs the care offered by a larger urban hospital. “The biggest challenge for a rural surgeon is who do you send, and who can you handle here. It’s a huge judgment call.”
Given that he’s new to Plumas County, he is aware of and outspoken on the key issues facing the two hospitals as they move forward in this collaborative venture. “I hope that all enmity and antipathy will boil down to high school sports — that should be the only place it is.”
Behind the scenes, PDH’s new CEO and much-loved physician, Dr. Jeff Kepple, has been working with EPHC’s CEO Tom Hayes to set the stage for this and other acts of collaboration. According to Kepple, “This represents our first real concrete step towards an ongoing collaboration.” But he notes that they’ve set the stage by sending staff from each facility to the other to “share best practices,” and both organizations have learned from that process. “This has improved communication significantly. This (working together) doesn’t just happen. It takes a committed relationship from both sides.”
Hayes, who has been CEO at EPHC for the past five years, has been the catalyst for change within the organization, which has resulted in a much better relationship with the community and a concomitant increase in quality and reputation. He worked to collaborate with PDH and other hospitals from the time he first came on board, but was frustrated at the perceived lack of interest.
With Kepple taking the helm at PDH, however, his positive attitude and different perspective has meant collaboration that benefits both hospitals and patients from one end of the county to the other can begin to take hold.
Both CEOs lead by example; their positive exchanges, willingness to work together to the benefit of both organizations and insistence that their staff members do the same, is a game changer. “It really starts with the two CEOs getting together and making it happen,” said Kepple. “A change in attitude makes all the difference.”
According to Hayes, “This has been something I’ve been talking about for quite some time. It’s great that we can finally get some traction … bringing a new physician to town was the perfect opportunity to work together.”
To the credit of the two CEOs, they both seem focused on what is best, not only for their organizations, but for their patients. “The goal is working together to the mutual benefit of both hospitals,” concluded Kepple. “This is best for the patients in our county. It’s the difference between seeing someone as a competitor rather than a friend and an ally. The repertoire of specialists and facilities just expands the opportunities for patients. It gives patients more opportunities and choices.”
Since both Hayes and Kepple see this as the first step on the road to increased collaboration, it appears that Plumas County can begin to look forward to a stronger, more robust health care system for the entire county.