Employees call for leadership with 3rd UMC CEO in a year

Clark County and University Medical Center officials are under additional pressure to lock a leadership team into place after the selection Friday of the public hospital’s third chief executive in less than a year.

As expected, the UMC governing board selected Mason VanHouweling as CEO, choosing a career health care administrator charged with balancing patient needs with fiscal responsibility in a facility that historically has registered big deficits.

Before the unanimous vote, board Chairman John O’Reilly said the next priority will be negotiating a contract that will keep VanHouweling in his position for the long term.

UMC Chief of Staff Dr. Dale Carrison urged the board to build the compensation package necessary to end the turnover in the executive offices, a recent series of changes he equated to a game of musical chairs.

“We need the continuity,” Carrison said. “We have the team in place.”

After the meeting, two chief stewards for Service Employees International Union Nevada said their members are concerned about stability in the management team. Deetra Revels and Patricia Greaux of the ancillary and ambulatory workers, respectively, said union members would be unfazed if VanHouweling’s compensation is higher than those who have had his position in the past.

“They’re still worried about the future of UMC,” Greaux said. “We need solid, steady leadership. It’s up to our board to make sure (VanHouweling) gets a contract, and it’s up to the county commissioners to make that happen.”

Commissioners have said the financial realities of running a public hospital present a barrier to raising the CEO’s compensation significantly.

O’Reilly has said the board never offered VanHouweling’s predecessor, Larry Barnard, a contract last year because layoffs loomed and awarding a sizable deal to the CEO during a downsizing would have been untenable.

VanHouweling, UMC’s chief operating officer since April, will take charge of the 541-bed facility next month when Barnard leaves to head St. Rose Dominican Hospital — San Martin campus, one of three Dignity Health acute care facilities in Southern Nevada. Barnard took the helm of UMC in January after then-CEO Brian Brannman also left for Dignity Health, where he’s now vice president of operations and CEO of St. Rose Dominican Hospitals — Siena campus.

“This is a very complex hospital, but there is so much upside to UMC,” VanHouweling said. “There’s no bigger job in the state of Nevada than running UMC.”

Increasing services, ensuring the collection of all payments from insurers and agencies, and better attending to the needs of doctors and patients will help UMC improve the bottom line. VanHouweling said he is committed to reversing perceived slights of the hospital from a financial and public image perspective.

“I absolutely feel that we can achieve our budget,” VanHouweling said. “It’s going to take some time and energy, but we have an energized team that’s up to the challenge. UMC has its challenges, but nothing we can’t overcome.”

Attracting more doctors to bring cases to UMC is a key component of VanHouweling’s financial strategy. In the past year, more procedures have been performed at the hospital, and VanHouweling wants doctors and patients to know that outcomes at his hospital rival any facility in Southern Nevada.

“This board is looking for results. We’ve done some cost-cutting measures the past year, but we’re not going to be able to cut our way to success here at UMC,” he said. “We’ve got to grow the top line. We’ve got to grow the business, target very specific, strategic service lines, and we’ve got a plan to do that.”

One such option about to be launched at UMC is the da Vinci Surgical System, which allows surgeons to operate with better vision, precision, dexterity and control through a few small incisions. MountainView Hospital last month became the first facility in Nevada to use the robotic system when Dr. Arnold Chung, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, performed a thymectomy, the removal of the thymus near the base of the neck. The thymus is an organ needed early in life but much less so during adulthood.

“UMC is going to be bold. We’re going to take risks, invest in service lines that can offset some of our expense structure,” VanHouweling said. “My goal is for us to compete with any other hospital in town.”

As cases increase and profits rise with new service lines to offset costs, UMC can ease the burden on taxpayers, he said. In the emergency room, efficiencies can be achieved to provide care faster without sacrificing safety. Shortening the length of time patients wait to see a doctor and reducing the number of people who simply walk out reflect how well the hospital is performing.

Patients are more knowledgeable about health care because of the wealth of medical information available on the Internet and through other media. For example, robotic surgery, and specifically the da Vinci system, are being requested by people who know how minimally invasive the procedures can be, less stress to the patient and a smaller scar in the end.

“People are educating themselves, and they’re seeking out that technology,” he said.

Another goal is getting patients to seek preventive and primary care in physicians’ offices or clinics in their neighborhoods instead of the UMC emergency room, which historically has been a place many people turn to when they have limited options for health care. With the Affordable Care Act in place, some of those patients might have other options and access to insurance unavailable until now.

“We do a lot of work to help them navigate that process,” VanHouweling said. “We help them get qualified or select plans so they do have choices to go to quick care or primary care, which is more appropriate for their level of service versus always relying on the (emergency room).”

The 44-year-old VanHouweling is a year ahead of his career goal of being the CEO of a hospital by age 45. The University of South Florida graduate and 19-year member of the Air Force reserves also worked at Valley and Spring Valley hospitals in Las Vegas before joining UMC.

“This is a very complex hospital,” VanHouweling said about UMC. “This is kind of the pinnacle of health care with academic medicine, all the complex services we offer from trauma to transplants.”

His focus in the coming months will be spreading the word that good things are happening and will continue at UMC.

“We want patients to choose UMC over any other hospital because it is their hospital. We need their support,” he said. “We have a plan to reach out a lot better and align with our community.”

Contact Steven Moore at 702-380-4563 or smoore@reviewjournal.com.

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