Writer: Eleana Teran
2 min read July 2023 — Healthcare institutions in the Greater Philadelphia area find themselves navigating current market conditions and adapting to shifting patient expectations, setting the stage for transformative changes in their operations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, health services and education grewopens PDF file 4.7% year on year in May — the second-highest change among major industry sectors.
Key figures in the sector, Lea Rodriguez, chief nursing officer at Lower Bucks Hospital and Alexander Vaccaro, president of Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, shared with Invest: their insights on changing dynamics in the healthcare sector and the pressing challenges and strategies that are shaping their organizations.
What market trends are impacting your operations, and how do you strategize to overcome challenges and leverage opportunities?
Lea Rodriguez, chief nursing officer at Lower Bucks Hospital
In addition to cardiac care, mental health services are another focus area for us. We have two units and a crisis center here at Lower Bucks Hospital, though that is not our only specialty. One significant issue we have faced recently was a staff shortage, particularly in our cath lab, which caused difficulties in receiving patients as ambulances had to take them elsewhere. However, we have since been able to hire appropriate staff and thoroughly train our cath lab techs and nurses. As a result, ambulances are once again confident in bringing patients to our facility for care.
The increase in drug and alcohol use due to poor mental health continues to be a significant trend worldwide. We have implemented resources to help our community through an on-campus drug and alcohol center and an outpatient clinic provided by two separate partnerships from different organizations. These two separate locations on the same campus of the hospital facilities allow for continuity of care for behavioral health patients with acute care needs. We take pride in assisting patients in our community and providing necessary care.
Alexander Vaccaro, president of Rothman Orthopaedic Institute
Our two greatest expenses at present are personnel and real estate. Therefore, we must exercise caution in these areas. By shifting certain operations out of the office, we can reduce our reliance on physical space and subsequently decrease staffing costs. Transitioning from in-house office hours to outpatient or telemedicine services allows us to make savings on both fronts. As you may be aware, staffing has become increasingly challenging in the healthcare profession, with rising wages that cannot be passed on to patients due to regulations. Fortunately, technology has provided a solution by enabling us to deliver care directly to patients’ homes, reducing the need for personnel and minimizing our office space requirements. This is how we have successfully addressed these challenges.
How would you describe the demand for your services and what changes have you observed in patient expectations?
Rodriguez: In the past year, we have made significant progress in emerging from the COVID-19 phase. This welcome development has allowed us to engage more with our staff and the community. It is worth noting that there was a point in time when the great resignation occurred, but we are happy to report that individuals are applying for jobs at Lower Bucks Hospital. Our engagement with the community is also growing, which is encouraging. We are particularly excited about the recent commissioning of our second catheterization lab, which contributes to our increased patient volume in cardiac services. As an acute care facility, this is particularly important to us. Since the community is increasingly aware of our quality care, more cardiac patients are coming to Lower Bucks Hospital for treatment. This past year has been exhilarating, to say the least.
Vaccaro: The changes we have witnessed can be categorized into three key areas, namely technology, patient convenience and cost reduction. Patients now desire healthcare services that can be accessed wherever they are, and we have responded by leveraging telemedicine and home-based physical therapy. Our apps incorporate sensors that eliminate the need for wearing external devices, as they can detect and track the body’s movements in space. With this technology, we can guide and support patients through their physical therapy remotely. Additionally, patients can visit a nearby imaging center to have X-rays, MRIs and CT scans performed, which are then seamlessly integrated into our archived radiology system. This allows us to conduct their check-ups while they are at work or home, eliminating the need for additional visits. Moreover, patients can now engage in online physical therapy sessions at local therapy centers, further enhancing accessibility and convenience. These technological advancements have brought about a significant transformation in healthcare, making it easier, more accessible and less costly for patients.
What strategies are you employing to recruit and retain talent?
Rodriguez: Right now, we’re working with a local college that has clinical services located right here in Bucks County. We have a direct partnership with them, specifically with their registered nurse and licensed practical nurse programs, but we also work with them on radiology and lab programs. It’s not just focused on nursing; it’s all about health care in general.
Additionally, we’ve invited high-school students from Harry S. Truman High School to attend our Bucks County Community College session regarding the labor shortages in healthcare and ways to get involved. We’re thrilled to partner with these local colleges and high schools because we can cultivate these students, bring them to Lower Bucks Hospital to show them what we’re all about and hire them as soon as they’re licensed. It’s an excellent opportunity for them to gain experience as patient care assistants, unit secretaries and emergency room technicians.
Vaccaro: When it comes to hiring, the most critical aspect is ensuring that we secure the best talent available. Losing an employee represents a significant loss in terms of investment, so we aim to attract individuals who excel in their respective fields. Whether it’s a medical assistant, nurse, physician assistant, nurse practitioner or anyone in a patient-facing role, our goal is to recruit the best in class. Once we have the right people on board, it is essential to ensure they receive appropriate and competitive compensation based on market standards. Additionally, we strive to avoid overstaffing by carefully managing our workforce. Instead of maintaining a large team, we focus on optimizing efficiency. By leveraging new platforms for revenue cycle management, we have been able to streamline our staffing requirements. Our objective is to achieve more with fewer resources, thereby saving costs and allocating additional funds to adequately compensate our staff while improving patient care.
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