Changes to CRMC emergency department ‘seamless’ 

By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor

COOKEVILLE – Chances are, if you’ve visited the emergency department at Cookeville Regional Medical Center in recent months, the changes in management there have gone largely unnoticed. 

“It was like flipping a light switch,” Dr. Sullivan Smith, former director of the hospital’s emergency department, said of the transition. 

Smith, who’d served as director of the hospital’s emergency department since the mid-1990s, recently stepped down from that role. 

Effective Mar. 1, midwest native Dr. Ken Colaric took the helm of the CRMC Emergency Department as director.

Prior to accepting his new role at CRMC, Dr. Colaric most recently served as the medical director of the emergency department, chairman of the quality committee, and vice chief of staff at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs, Mo. 

Smith, now former director of CRMC’s ED, served in that role since 1994. At that time, he says, those working within the hospital’s emergency department were part employee, part independent contractor. 

“It got to be a mess,” Smith recalled of the old arrangement. “So, we formed a group to get out of that mess for the hospital.” 

That group, Volunteer Medical Group, led by Smith, provided emergency medical services to the hospital from 1992 through 2017. 

During that period, Smith and VMG were responsible for hiring physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners – the professional component of the department; positions Tennessee state law bars the hospital from employing unless under an academic setting. 

“It’s becoming a tougher, tougher environment to survive,” Smith explained. 

With Smith stepping down and VMG all but disbanded, the hospital needed a new group to manage the hospital’s emergency department. 

CRMC searched nationwide for the perfect partnering group to team with. The ideal candidate, Smith says, was a group whose values aligned with those of CRMC. Unofficially, a list of three rules were most critical, Smith says – always do what is right for the patient, do what’s best for the staff as often as you can, and, third, don’t mix up rule one and rule two. 

“So many staffing groups are purely number-oriented; cut, cut, cut; work harder,” Smith said. “They kind of lose the perspective we started with.”

When CRMC reps met with American Physician Partners, Smith says it was a ‘hands-down’ decision to partner with the group. 

The hospital celebrated its one-year anniversary with the group earlier this month; May 1, officially. Though, most outside of the CRMC emergency department likely didn’t notice the change when it was first implemented one year ago. 

“That was (like flipping) a light switch, May first (2017),” Smith said. “In terms of patient care and staffing and flow, nothing changed. We just kept moving.” 

Each year, more than 55,000 patients visit the emergency department at CRMC; an ideal volume range for Colaric who has nearly two decades’ experience leading similar sized departments ranging from 10,000 to 68,000 annual ED patients. 

“Dr. Smith has done such a nice job with building bridges that it’s easy to communicate and be aware of everything that’s going on,” Colaric said. 

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