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Rice optimistic about future goals

Dr. Fred Hund, an inpatient hospitalist at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, reviews patient charts. The service has expanded this past year and is targeted in the hospital's newly adopted strategic plan for at least one or two additional hospital medicine specialists. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

WILLMAR -- Under a new strategic plan, Rice Memorial Hospital will develop a plan to help beef up the number of primary care doctors, orthopedic surgeons, cancer specialists and hospitalists in Willmar.

The city-owned hospital also will begin studying additional specialty services, such as cardiology, that might be feasible to provide locally.

And in perhaps one of the most innovative moves, Rice will establish a planning group with the two local medical clinics, Family Practice Medical Center and Affiliated Community Medical Centers, to study and make recommendations about existing and new hospital services that show potential for growth.

The initiatives all are included in a new and aggressive strategic plan unveiled Monday night to the hospital board and a strategic planning steering committee.

Hospital board members voted unanimously to adopt the plan, paving the way for action to start happening as early as next month.

"This is the direction that we would plan to go in the next three years or so," said Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital.

Board member Steve Cederstrom called the plan, which creates new opportunities for Rice Hospital to form partnerships and strengthen local health care services, "one of the best I've seen."

"We've really got our work laid out for the future. It's a very bright future," agreed board member Richard Engan.

The plan also has the support of the two local medical groups.

"We share the vision that we want to see the hospital succeed," said Dr. Anthony Amon, chief executive of Family Practice Medical Center.

The strategic plan was developed over the past four months through an intensive series of meetings that included the hospital board, the hospital's executive team and medical staff. Input also was sought from hospital employees, as well as from community stakeholders.

An initial list of more than 250 key questions was pared down to 11 issues, ranging from the hospital's financial performance to staff and physician recruitment and quality care for patients.

"That was our first challenge -- to pare those down into a list that we believe captures what we're trying to get to," Schramm said. "We wanted something that was streamlined and as simply laid out as we could. ... We've been able to really pull together a comprehensive plan that makes sense."

It's an ambitious plan that focuses in particular on strengthening and expanding hospital services.

It calls for bringing six to nine more primary care physicians into the community over the next three years, and recruiting in orthopedic surgery, medical oncology, radiology and hospital medicine. It also calls for strengthening Rice's emergency room services.

The goal is to have a growth plan put together by April 2010 for board approval.

At some point during the coming year, a planning group also will be put together, consisting of representatives of the hospital and the two local medical clinics who will be tasked with identifying and making recommendations for future growth of hospital services.

This group is seen as key in deciding some of the initiatives for Rice to pursue.

David Hoffman, one of the consultants with the Wipfli accounting and consulting firm that was brought in to help direct the strategic planning process, called the concept "new and innovative."

Although the hospital board ultimately has the vote, "decisions about service lines are not going to come to the board until they've been thoroughly vetted by the group," he said.

Also on the timeline for this year: developing a formal hospital policy for recruiting physicians and putting together a plan for hospital workforce development.

In addition to this, Rice leaders will begin a review this year of facility needs and an evaluation of specific services, including the Rice Care Center nursing home.

Hospital leaders acknowledged Monday that they'll have an intense agenda.

"We tried to put some stretch goals in there. There's real work that has to be done," said Teri Beyer, chief quality officer.

"It's quite a monumental list," agreed Bill , chief financial officer.

But if Rice can achieve most of the goals in the plan, "we're highly successful," he said. "This will take the organization quite a few leaps forward."

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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