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Claudia Eisenmann, Wilbarger General CEO, Named Game Changer for 2016

January 10, 2017

(Published in the Jan. 1, 2017 edition of The Vernon Daily Record)

Vernon has been through some difficult times of late. The area went through a five-year drought, the city had to buckle down financially to make difficult budget decision and still has a multi-million dollar water pipeline to replace, and two years ago Wilbarger General Hospital was on life support and in danger of closing if drastic measures were not taken.

Eighteen months ago Claudia Eisenmann was introduced as the new CEO of Wilbarger General Hospital. Her tenacious and upbeat, never-quit attitude, was the injection that Vernon needed. These achievements which brought the hospital back from the edge of bankruptcy to again becoming a vital part of the community earned Eisenmann a nomination as a Game Changer for 2016.

Eisenmann said that she hoped to hit the ground running when she arrived. She said she had two main goals to start with. “There are a couple of key things we need to do to maintain and sustain into the future. Sustainability is the keyword,” Eisenmann said.

She said that the Affordable Care Act shifted emphasis on encouraging population wellness.

 “The way to do that is through an Accountable Care Organization,” she said.

The second thing she said needed to happen was more doctors needed to be recruited.

“It’s hard to treat patients without physicians. A big, big part of what I want to do is lead the recruitment of physicians and providers,” she said.

With physicians in mind, Eisenmann has brought in Dr. Sesan Olotu, will have Dr. Travis Lehman starting on Jan. 31, 2017 and has also implemented a new Hospitalist program. Hospitalist programs are quickly becoming the standard for inpatient hospital care throughout the United States.

Hospitalist programs provide patients who are hospitalized with attending physicians who work either exclusively or primarily in the inpatient setting. In other words, hospitalists are doctors who are specialists in in-patient care. This means a doctor is always in the hospital and ready to devote his or her time and energy to making sure patients have immediate and focused medical attention.

Hospitalist programs have enjoyed broad support across the medical community for a variety of reasons. First, they ease the burden of the often overworked members of the medical staff, who have historically tried to serve the needs of both their clinic patients and hospital patients.

Second, Hospitalists assist hospitals in the implementation of contemporary quality practices, making it easier to track and work to improve the outcomes of care. And third, having physicians dedicated to seeing inpatients makes the process of admission quicker and more convenient for the patients that hospitals are here to serve.

“This program is very similar to one that is in place at United Regional Health Care System in Wichita Falls,” Eisenmann said. “If someone goes to an appointment with their primary care physician and the physician determines they need to be admitted to the hospital, the physician will send them to the hospital to be admitted. Once the patient is admitted the Hospitalist physician will oversee the care of the patient. The great thing about this model is that it gives patients and families immediate access to the attending physician to answer questions, explain the reason for certain tests and treatments, and to devote as much time as needed to address specific patient needs.”

 “It is important to provide medical care as close to a patient’s home as possible. Studies clearly indicate that when patients are hospitalized in a place where it is convenient for frequent and supportive visits with friends and family, healing time is reduced, anxiety is minimized, and clinical outcomes are enhanced,” Eisenmann explained.

“At first patients were apprehensive about the new program. They were used to seeing their primary care physician but once they were able to interact with the Hospitalists there has been nothing but positive feedback.”

Also with the implementation of the Hospitalist program the average length of stay has been shorter than in the past as well as less transfers to other hospitals.”

Another new program that has been implemented under Eisenmann’s watch which is the Cardiac Rehab Program. Cardiac rehab is a professionally supervised program that is there to help people recover from heart attacks, heart surgery and percutaneous coronary intervention procedures such as stenting and angioplasty. Cardiac rehab programs usually provide education and counseling services to help heart patients increase physical fitness, reduce cardiac symptoms, improve health and reduce the risk of future heart problems, including heart attacks.

 “Implementation of the cardiac rehab program is an exciting new step for WGH and the community,” Courtney Jansa, of the WGH Rehabilitation team, said. Jansa, who has a master’s degree in exercise physiology, oversees the cardiac rehab program.

The cardio rehab program often includes a medical evaluation to figure out each patient’s needs and limitations. The rehab staff uses this information to tailor a rehabilitation program for each patient and helps patients set their goals.

Next, a physical activity program is tailored to fit each patient’s needs. Training often starts in a group setting where each patient’s heart rate and blood pressure are monitored during physical activity. Patients may work with a physical therapist, exercise physiologist or other healthcare professional. Patients learn how to check their own heart rate and their level of activity. Later, they work up to more intense aerobic activity on a treadmill or exercise bike. Patients also receive support and training to help them return to work or their normal activities and to help them learn to manage their heart condition.

“Rehab in general is growing,” Eisennman said. “In the future we will see expanded rehab space as we simply do not have enough room for all the progress that has been made here. My goal is a dedicated Rehab space in the middle of the exercise path.”

The exercise trail was opened for the community and features outdoor fitness stations as well as a groomed walking surface. It was built on the northeast corner of the hospital grounds.

“I decided we should do it for the community,” Eisenmann said. “It is a great open and green space in the busiest area of town. We have a unique opportunity because of the property we are on the do something good for the community. But, we couldn’t have done it without the help of the Wilbarger Auxilary who helped us by donating $16,000 to make the trail happen.”

The most recent introduction from Eisenmann is the Wilbarger General Hospital Foundation. The foundation is a separate entity and gives the hospital an opportunity to partner with the community in more areas such as, hosting potential doctors and employees, hosting fundraiser events, and many other things that the hospital cannot do.

“I was thinking to myself, how can we add value to something we believe in which is community healthcare?” Eisenmann said. “I know of foundations in smaller communities that host events that raise money for causes they support and but may not be able to as an organization. I took the idea to the board and they didn’t hesitate. They said let’s do it, and so we got started.

“It took less than six months to get a response back from the IRS approving the foundation, and we have been going from there. We have a great group of people that were approached to be involved with the Foundation that we feel represent the community. We are working on a vision for the foundation that will make a mark on the community. When you love something so much other people love it. We have a passion for the wellness of this community and that will bring us together.”

Even with these fantastic improvements, the biggest turnaround has been on the financial end.  In 2014 the hospital board was staring down a report that showed the hospital closing in as little as five years if great strides were not made to make the hospital financially viable.

Eisenmann had inherited a sinking ship, but did so with a smile on her face and an attitude that has become infectious throughout the hospital.

“I think about the board a lot,” Eisenmann said. “I wonder what it would have been like being them to hear me? They had to be fearless. They had to believe this was going to the best thing for our hospital. We have been on this journey of change adding services, technologies, and new programs.

 “Not only are these significant changes being made but there is significant growth all across the hospital. The success is clear, we are on a journey, and we still have a long way to go but when you see this type of progress it lets everyone know that their hard work and dedication is paying off.”

Under Eisenmann’s guidance the average billing time has been nearly cut in half, cash flow has increased, aging over 90 days has dropped by 10.8 percent and revenue is trending up.

“People enjoy being here now,” Eisenmann said. “Not just patients but staff as well. You see coworkers going from skeptical to excited and ready for more change and more change is coming.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                              -- Written by Clint McCormick