New leader of Springfield hospital to focus on patients

Matthew Caldwell has taken over as CEO of Community Mercy Health Partners, the largest employer in Clark County.

A sharp focus on patient interaction will be key as Community Mercy Health Partners weathers challenges that range from more competition to a rapidly changing health care industry, the company’s new leader said.

Matthew Caldwell is still learning the challenges Community Mercy faces just a few weeks after he stepped into the role as president and CEO of the largest employer in Clark County. He replaced Paul Hiltz, who retired late last year after a 30-year career at Mercy Health.

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“We touch a lot of people’s lives,” Caldwell said during an interview with the Springfield News-Sun at CMHP’s Springfield Regional Medical Center. “We have 70,000 emergency room visits in this campus alone. When you touch that many people’s lives throughout the course of a year, that’s amazing you can have that kind of an impact.”

Community Mercy is a regional health-care system with more than 2,600 workers that serves Clark and Champaign counties and the surrounding communities. It’s also part of the Mercy Health chain, the largest nonprofit health system in Ohio and the fourth-largest employer in the state.

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Caldwell wants to make sure the medical center and its related facilities are a destination for patients seeking quality care. That will lead to better patient satisfaction ratings, he said.

It also must deal with competition from other regional health-care providers and uncertainty as lawmakers fight over the future of the Affordable Care Act.

Local business and elected leaders in Springfield have made a major bet that the hospital will be the centerpiece in efforts to revitalize the city's core. It's one of only a few communities of its size to build a new hospital in a densely populated urban downtown.

“Obviously the hospital itself is extremely important to this community, but to downtown as well,” said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of economic development for Springfield. “It was the catalytic project that really has allowed everything else to happen, or at least gave energy to the things that have happened since.”

‘Beacon of quality’

The organization operates Springfield Regional Medical Center and Springfield Regional Cancer Center in downtown Springfield, as well as Mercy Memorial Hospital in Urbana. It also runs senior health and housing facilities, and a variety of outpatient and outreach services.

Caldwell was interested in the job because of relationships he had with the organization and the chance to promote its ministry. He noted Mercy Health provides about $1 million a day in health care or other services to benefit the communities where it operates and it’s important to ensure residents are aware.

“It’s unusual to have this nice of a facility in a region this small, but Springfield should be very proud of that and it’s an economic engine for the community,” Caldwell said. “Our end goal is to extend the ministry and quality, one patient at a time.”

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Caldwell said his previous experience at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas proves location isn’t a barrier to success.

The decades-old hospital there is best known as the place where former President John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead after his assassination. Despite its age, the site was renowned for specializing in areas like trauma care. With a new campus, Caldwell argued Springfield can also develop its own reputation and attract patients throughout the region.

“If you give good-quality care, people will seek you out regardless of if you’re downtown or on the highway,” Caldwell said. “What we need to be is a beacon of quality, where people know this is a destination and they’re not just passing through.”

Both Springfield Regional and Mercy Memorial received an overall rating of three out of a possible five stars in the federal government’s Hospital Compare website. The ratings are based on patient satisfaction surveys that cover factors such as how well pain was addressed, physicians and nurses communicated with patients and medicines were explained.

The most recent information available on the federal site shows Springfield Regional lagged both Ohio and national averages in patient surveys.

Hospital leaders have noted the rating is based on older data and that the hospital monitors its own patient satisfaction scores regularly.

Numerous metrics are available to measure quality, Caldwell said, and Springfield Regional’s overall score on the Hospital Compare website is good. However, he cautioned against focusing solely on those kinds of ratings when evaluating the impact on patients and the community.

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“We should’t chase initiatives,” Caldwell said. “What we should do is make sure we give the best quality care. That will then come out in the star ratings. If we work at our very best for pulmonary diseases or cardiac diseases or general medicine and we treat the patient to our best ability, those types of metrics will follow.”

Caldwell, whose background is in nursing, said improvement can come from something as simple as talking to patients about their experience on a regular basis. He personally tries to do rounds with nurses at least a few times per week.

“It’s very easy to take a look at metrics when you’re in administration but for the person that comes in, it’s always a personal interaction,” he said.

Other challenges

The organization also needs to remain competitive as consumers become more savvy about selecting their health care provider, Caldwell said.

“We have to make sure people choose us for health care regardless of whether it’s in the clinics or in the hospital or if it’s outpatient therapy,” Caldwell said. “If we have patient care as the No. 1 goal, a lot of those things work themselves out.”

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Community Mercy also needs to recruit nurses, specialists and primary care physicians to the region, he said, and can improve in more subtle ways. That includes working more closely with vendors to seek savings and improve efficiency when purchasing supplies.

And he said it will be important to ensure residents in Champaign County continue to receive quality health care.

“We need to make sure we support those physicians and that community and staff,” Caldwell said. “We will have some strategies around that community. It’s a good hospital and we need to do a good job making sure we support Urbana.”

Community Mercy isn’t alone in dealing with those problems, said Bryan Bucklew, president and CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association. Along with staffing challenges, the industry is bracing for lawmakers to battle over the future of health care in the U.S. and how it should be paid for.

“Everybody agrees that whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat in the presidency, there are going to have to be some changes to the Affordable Care Act,” Bucklew said. “The big unknown is what are going to be the exact changes and what’s the time frame of those changes. That impacts strategy, that impacts business plans and it adds to the uncertainty.”

Caldwell also believes Community Mercy has a critical role in fighting drug addition in Clark and Champaign counties.

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In recent weeks, area health experts expressed alarm at a rash of overdoses related to fentanyl. Local health experts said it’s not unusual to see as many as six drug-related deaths per month, and nearly 70 people died of drug overdoses in Clark County from January to November last year.

The hospital should work with the Clark County Combined Health District, primary care physicians and other experts to develop a plan to combat the issue, Caldwell said.

“We want to make sure we do the best we can to stem that issue,” he said.

Community involvement

The Springfield Regional Medical Center, which opened in 2011, has been key to reviving downtown, said Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Chamber of Greater Springfield.

He credited former Community Mercy CEO Paul Hiltz for his involvement in organizations like SpringForward, a new nonprofit focused on targeting investments on existing properties to revitalize the city's urban center. Mercy Health has committed $1 million over five years to SpringForward and Caldwell will remain involved in those efforts.

However Caldwell also said the medical center will remain focused on its primary mission of patient care.

“We are glad to be a part of SpringForward,” Caldwell said. “We are glad to be a part of the revitalization downtown. But at the end of the day, we get to help people and that’s what drives our motor.”

McDorman’s glad Caldwell has pledged to promote downtown Springfield and stay involved in organizations like SpringForward.

“From a community standpoint, we need the hospital to be successful here,” McDorman said. “We need quality health care to continue to attract and retain a good jobs base. The hospital’s worked hard at that every day and I’m sure Matt will continue that effort.”

Community Mercy already provides excellent care, Caldwell said, but it will be important to spread that message.

“A lot of people, especially those new to the community, don’t know of all the expertise we give here,” he said. “And we have some fabulous physicians and some of the greatest care you would find not only in this region but in the state and sometimes in the nation. We need to do a good job marketing that and making sure our community knows that.”

In-depth coverage

The Springfield News-Sun provides unmatched coverage of important stories about health care in Clark and Champaign counties, including coverage digging into the Springfield Regional Medical Center’s quality of care and efforts to fight an overdose epidemic.

By the numbers:

2,600 — Approximate employees at Community Mercy Health Partners

$1 million — Mercy Health commitment to SpringForward over the next five years

2011 — Year the Springfield Regional Medical Center opened in downtown

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