Yuba City, Calif.-based Fremont-Rideout Health Group (FRHG) is a healthcare system that’s home to an assortment of service providers. Its portfolio is composed of several outpatient facilities, including a cancer center and a surgery center; a senior living campus, equipped with skilled-nursing, assisted-living, and Alzheimer’s facilities; and two hospitals: Fremont Medical Center and Rideout Memorial Hospital, the latter of which is expected to move to regional medical center status in the near future. 

Despite its sizeable footprint, FRHG is not immune to the financial hardships plaguing the US in recent months as a result of the challenging economy, and to ensure it remains successful in this time of stress, its team has worked hard to implement necessary changes. The changes have allowed the healthcare system to continue to provide top-quality services to the people residing in its community. 

CEO Theresa Hamilton said she and her team first realized the severity of the situation in July 2009, at the start of the organization’s fiscal year. “Our first quarter was an extremely challenging time, as it was for many healthcare providers in Northern California. But we saw it as an opportunity to step back and analyze how we can work together to make this organization operate more efficiently, now and into the future,” she explained.

Eliminating waste

In addition to installing a hiring freeze and rolling out a voluntary early retirement program, FRHG introduced a lean management program in an effort to help its staff identify areas within the organization where unnecessary costs were hidden. A handful of leaders were identified, and “lean teams,” which included representatives from every level of the organization, were created to lead the charge. 

One of the first projects undertaken was to evaluate the patient experience on a nursing floor in one of the system’s hospitals. Ultimately, the team sought answers to the following questions: What is the patient experience like? How can we better that experience? How can we be more efficient? How can we do more in a shorter period of time?

The second project FRHG took on involved taking full advantage of its IT capabilities. Hamilton said the organization’s lean team developed an internal intranet to improve internal communication. Prior to the deployment of the intranet, channels of communication were varied and inconsistent, from e-mail to bulletin boards to word of mouth. The intranet, which was developed in just six weeks and introduced as a pilot in November, established one central information source for the organization.

“The system requires more time on the part of our staff, but everyone has enthusiastically taken it on,” Hamilton said. “We’re anxious to see how the results will translate over a couple of quarters and if adding lean processes to our existing base will make a significant difference.”

The intranet system isn’t the only new technology that’s been introduced recently. Three and a half years ago, FRHG developed a plan that called for $40 million worth of IT investments over a five-year period. Since that time, the organization has introduced upgraded financial and accounting, payroll, and attendance systems. An electronic physician order entry system was also introduced and is nearly complete. 

“We’re looking to improve processes across the board. We want to upgrade every major system that touches the patient and/or helps our staff run the business side of the organization. Essentially, we’re moving from a completely manual system to one that’s primarily electronic,” Hamilton explained.

“Our physicians are only as good as the systems that are available to them, in terms of how efficiently they use their time and how quickly they can move from one patient to the next,” she added. “These systems ensure they have high-quality data available to them, which they can use to make good clinical decisions.”

A new foundation

The team at FRHG is also heavily investing in its physical infrastructure. By far the largest project currently under way is the construction of an eight-story patient tower, which will cost approximately $300 million and take five years to complete. The tower’s design calls for all private rooms, a new front entrance, an expanded emergency department, a new labor and delivery unit, and a rooftop helipad. 

Hamilton said the new tower is part of a larger plan to replace the aging Fremont Medical Center facility. “The Freemont building is aging and in no condition to upgrade at this point,” she explained. “The patient beds at the new tower will replace those currently at Freemont, and by 2013 we hope to have all hospital patients cared for at one central campus.”

The tower is not the only capital investment FRHG has embarked on in recent months. The organization wrapped an expansion project at its Alzheimer’s facility in December and is on schedule to complete renovations at its skilled nursing facility later this month. 

“Despite the current state of the overall economy, financial challenges specific to the healthcare industry, and uncertainty over potential legislative changes to the healthcare system, Fremont-Rideout Health Group remains committed to providing compassionate and superior health care to everyone in our community,” Hamilton said. “Our plans include significant capital investments, geographic expansion, and modernization initiatives that will establish us as a truly great regional medical center.”

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