by G. Wright
Green Banner Publications
Joseph Roche, Interim Chief Executive Officer for Washington County Memorial Hospital (WCMH), met with reporters from local newspapers Tuesday morning, March 24. The Michigan native talked about his professional background of nearly a quarter century in hospital administration, eleven of which has been with Saint Vincent Health. For the last nine years, Roche has served as CEO and Administrator for Saint Vincent, Jennings County. Much of his expertise has come from working with hospitals experiencing financial and organizational problems similar to those currently being encountered by WCMH.
Roche spoke of how hospitals, be they non-profit or for profit operations, have a unique relationship with their communities and customers unlike most other businesses or institutions. “I believe that for those of us who work in the business, we do so not just because it's a paycheck or a way or maximizing shareholders' value, but it's a calling about serving the people of our community—our friends, neighbors, family.” explained Roche. “At Saint Vincent's there is kind of a great connection between my personal faith journey and the mission of the organization.”
In response to a question of how he will draw on his experience to address the issues of the financial status of the hospital and the lack of community confidence in the hospital, Roche was quick to point to the Saint Vincent Health organization and its economy of scale as well as the commitment to and experience with community hospitals as one of the strongest assets he will draw upon to deal with those pressing issues. “It is not unusual for a small, community hospital to find itself in this set of circumstances.” he said, “The challenges in health care today are tremendous. In North Vernon in 2000 we were in a very similar situation where the ability to sustain our operations was questionable. There was a commitment by the Saint Vincent organization to put a team in place in North Vernon to change the way we took care of patients.”
Roche went on to say that in his experience, too often a small hospital will try to offer too many services and end up not doing a very good job at any of those tasks. He further noted that trying to provide all the services needed by a community, though well intended, does not always serve the community in the best way. “If a hospital will focus on what it does well, then a community's faith in that hospital eventual is restored—it takes time to restore a good reputation or change a bad one.” said Roche.
When asked if part of his mission as Interim CEO is to shepherd the process of transitioning WCMH from a county hospital to some sort of an affiliation with Saint Vincent Health, Roche answered in the affirmative. However, Roche emphasized that research and study are ongoing by Saint Vincent toward determining just what kind of affiliation would be best, or possibly deciding that some sort of partnership between the two organizations is not in their best interest. Roche characterized the current relationship as a “work in progress.”
Responding to a question about how much of an obstacle is WCMH's current financial situation to an affiliation with Saint Vincent, Roche said that, only being on the job for two days, he is in the process of evaluating the financial condition of WCMH and therefore could not give a definitive answer at this time.
Addressing a question about what he does when not working, Roche smiled and spoke of being an avid golfer and an amateur pilot. The father of two grown sons and grandfather times three also admits to being an equipment manager/carrier for his wife, who is a photographer.
Returning to the subject of his role with WCMH, Roche said that he sees the dedicated employees and medical staff as a core upon which to build. He commented that even facing the difficult challenges of recent years, they still remain committed to the community.
The issue of money owed to local vendors was also posed to Roche. He said that the issue is more than just money owed, it has to do with the community confidence as well. Saying that he would like to get another week or so under his belt before he spoke in specifics, he did go on to say that from a philosophical standpoint as it applies to finance, “the hospital must be viable. When you pay your bills, it means your a viable organization. At this point, I don't know what the answer will be.” He went on to say that cash flow issues resulting from problems with billing are being addressed.
The rest of the interview had to do with issues of transparency regarding finances, personnel issues, and the Purdue HTAP Survey. Roche admitted that opportunities exist for the hospital to do a better job of keeping the public informed about both the good and bad at WCMH and vowed to make that one of changes he looks to institute during his expected six to twelve month tenure.