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Rice CEO says progress made on the five-year strategic plan

WILLMAR -- Slightly more than halfway through the year, Rice Memorial Hospital leaders have moved significantly forward on a new strategic plan to boost hospital services, quality of care and overall performance.

"We're making a lot of progress with a lot of things," Mike Schramm, chief executive of the city-owned hospital, told the hospital board Wednesday during a review of the plan.

The five-year plan was adopted last December. It lays out both short-term and longer-term goals for the hospital in areas ranging from staff development to fiscal health.

Schramm called it "a document that will continue moving forward into the future."

A number of key objectives for this year have already been achieved. Among them: a decision to go ahead with expanding and renovating the Rice Care Center, and the development of a growth plan for hospital services.

Some of the larger successes are taking place among initiatives aimed at strengthening and expanding the patient services offered at Rice, particularly specialty services that meet regional needs.

Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Family Practice Medical Center recently scored several successes in recruiting doctors in family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics, Schramm said.

"Those are some good things to report," he said. "It's something that not all communities can boast."

A new orthopedic surgeon also joined ACMC this spring, and recruitment efforts for other specialties, such as medical oncology, have been promising, Schramm said.

"Our clinics do a great job of recruiting," he said. "It's a team approach. We're expending resources to help with this recruiting and it's having good success. It's very important we as a hospital step forward and help our partners recruit."

A fourth hospitalist arrived this summer as well, bringing to four the number of physicians who specialize in the care of hospitalized patients at Rice. The hospitalist service isn't yet available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but "we're moving in that direction," Schramm said.

Work is currently under way to begin fine-tuning the program and defining the scope of its services, he said.

Meanwhile, a new task force has been formed to study and analyze hospital services and opportunities for future growth or new additions. The group, which consists of representatives from the hospital, ACMC and Family Practice Medical Center, has already met several times. One of the priorities on which it is focusing is cardiology. A stronger regional presence for the hospital's nephrology service also is being explored.

"There's been a lot of work going on. There's been a lot of discussion and engagement with the medical staff," Schramm said.

One of the few areas in which strategic efforts have fallen short is the hospital's financial performance. Although Rice managed to post a profit in June and July, operations are still running at a deficit because of low inpatient volume.

"We're not where we want to be at this point," Schramm said.

Hospital leaders have put together a financial performance improvement plan aimed at increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Tighter staffing patterns and streamlining of services are part of the plan. Some of these adjustments will help with this year's budget, while others will have a longer-term impact on the 2011 budget, Schramm said.

"There are things that are already in place... We're working hard on this," he said.

Hospital board members will review and assess progress on the strategic plan at least one more time before the end of the year.

"I think that really helps the board perform its role," said board member David Anfinson.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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