CEO on overseeing ‘locally grown’ health-care facilities

by Clay Neely - clay@newnan.com

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As a Georgia native, Piedmont Newnan CEO Mike Robertson has seen the power of the local hospital grow firsthand.

“For the longest time, it was always said that you had to drive inside I-285 for good health care. But that’s just not the case anymore,” said Robertson.

After assuming leadership of both Piedmont Newnan and Piedmont Fayette hospitals last summer, CEO Mike Robertson has taken an almost fatherly approach to how he envisions the two facilities operating together.

“When Bass retired, Piedmont wanted to take a look at the two facilities with a focus on having them work a little closer,” said Robertson. “Both Newnan and Fayette said that they wanted to grow and suddenly they found themselves trying to expand their respected bases in each other’s backyard.”

In short, it wasn’t a practical situation for Piedmont.

“Both facilities have shared patients, staff and physicians. So where can we come up with the best practices for patients for quality, safety and service, but also how can we think a little bit differently?” That is what Piedmont is looking at, Robertson said.

“We’re a family and we have to share. You can’t treat one child more favorably than another,” he said. “New equipment and recruitment costs money so the whole ‘tit for tat’ model just doesn’t work. Now we’re asking, ‘Can we find someone that will work at both facilities?’ Instead of one surgeon that only does ten operations a month, now he’s doing twenty, which means, for the patient, a higher level of quality since they’re doing it more. They’re not rusty. It’s a different mindset we’re trying to bring.”

So far, Robertson has been impressed with how both the Newnan and Fayette centers have responded. With all the ongoing changes in health care, he stressed the need for both hospitals to be able to work together.

Robertson is a living embodiment of this new approach that Piedmont is taking: overseeing both the Fayette and Coweta operations while still being an officer of the company that requires him to be in Atlanta once or twice a week.

“I’m probably in Coweta more often than Fayette,” said Robertson. “It’s all dependant on the need.”

When posed with the topic of the behavioral hospital recently proposed for Newnan, Robertson made his position clear. The hospital is planned for the former Piedmont location on Hospital Road and is currently appealing its application to the state for a Certificate of Need.

“I’m for it,” said Robertson. “We get backed up a lot on behavioral health, and beds are at a premium. When US HealthVest came to us about the old hospital, it really made sense. It’s a great way to repurpose a building while also providing something we frankly don’t have much of.”

“Even when the news that opposition came through, we had patients in our ER that we couldn’t get placed and we’re like, ‘What? You’re telling us it got opposed?’ So we view it as a way to help our community because the need is definitely there,” said Robertson.

“In this day and age, if we can get care closer to home, we have a right to figure out how to do that. It’s not right for patients to have to drive all the way to Atlanta. We don’t have very many facilities at all. We’ve worked with local folks that do have on-site facilities, but they’re full most of the time,” said Robertson.

The aspect of a behavioral facility in the Newnan area is certainly appealing to Robertson in regards to Piedmont’s ability to help alleviate the heavy backlog of patients who visit the ER for psychological reasons.

“The most negative feedback I get is in regards to the ‘wait times’ in the ER. People get frustrated,” said Robertson. “The national average wait time for the ER is six hours. We don’t want to go around and brag that we’re only four hours, but the fact is, we have more patients who are choosing the ER for care.”

“However, around 60 percent of these patients are considered ‘non-urgent.’ They’re in the ER because they believed their situation to be life threatening. We’re here to take care of them but obviously we have to prioritize each individual’s situation,” said Robertson.

“It’s really been over the last 20 years as health care got more complicated that we’ve seen the ER wait times begin to rise to the levels we see today. Before that, it was a fee for service,” he said. “Recently, the economy had people losing jobs and benefits so now they’re choosing the ER instead of going to the doctor.”

Robertson’s long-term vision is deeply rooted in the positive change that happens when a community and its hospital are connected.

“We want to keep growing relationships with public services — ambulances, sheriffs, the police department. The more familiar you are with each other, the less awkward things are. We want to foster a genuine familiarity built up through continuous communication. When they have a problem, we can help them and vice versa,” said Robertson.

According to Robertson, the “preventive care” model is a particularly tough nut to crack in terms of getting the public on board with its philosophy.

“Our biggest question is, ‘How can we empower someone to take care of themselves?’ I know I need to exercise. We know that’s what we need to be doing. I am definitely not a proponent of the government telling us what we can and can’t eat but there has to be some kind of common ground in the middle. What we have to do is figure out how to provide these resources to keep them out of the hospital. It makes good sense, both physically and fiscally.”

Robertson’s personal goal is to become an employer of choice for the health care region.

“We have the CTCA, the rehab hospital coming in and the possibility of the behavioral health facility is exciting as well,” said Robertson. “In my opinion, Newnan could be a mecca for health care.”

While he acknowledges that the scenario could cause some recruitment challenges, Robertson maintains that it all boils down to creating an environment where people come to work and provide very good care.

“The beauty of Newnan is that you have a lot of nurses and doctors who have worked in the big hospitals in Atlanta who, frankly, have had enough. They want something where they can bond with a patient which makes a facility like ours so appealing,” he said.

“We have a lot of experienced folks who are choosing to work for us now. It’s good for the patients.” “We have a good start but we want to get better,” said Robertson.



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