COOKEVILLE – Scott Williams can remember it clearly. The day – or evening, rather, since he was working the night shift as a surgical ICU nurse at an East Tennessee hospital – he knew he wanted a role in administration. Frustrated, having a particularly tough round, he told himself, “one day, I’m going to be in a role where I can make a difference in how a hospital runs.”
Fast forward to today and Williams is trying to make that difference at Cookeville Regional Medical Center (CRMC), having started in March as the hospital’s newest chief operating officer (COO). It’s been years since that role has been filled at CRMC, dating back to 2010 with the promotion of former staffer Dr. Menachem Langer to CEO. But in a day and age of increasing health care complexities – on governmental, medical and operational fronts – it’s a vital hire for the hospital and current-day CEO Paul Korth.
“I think Paul is being proactive in seeing the changes that are coming, to say, ‘I’m going to put pieces in place that will assist the organization strategically for the long term,’” Williams said. “With the Affordable Care Act, Medicare cuts, baby boomer volumes…what are we going to do? How are we going to operate a hospital efficiently and effectively with high quality with those challenges in front of us? It’s a dramatic change.”
With that being said, here are five facts you should know about the region’s newest COO:
1. He came from a tougher market. Roll Tide?
Prior to his move to Putnam County, Williams served as CEO at Northwest Medical Center in Winfield, Ala. While his nine years there were enjoyable, they were also challenging, he said. As a state, Alabama is known as one of the toughest reimbursement climates in which to operate.
Williams is using that experience as an asset.
“I’m familiar with working in a reimbursement climate that’s challenging. You have to learn to be efficient in what you do,” he said. “Where Tennessee has multiple insurance providers, in Alabama, 96-97 percent of the commercial market is Blue Cross Blue Shield, so they have a stranglehold on the commercial market in Alabama, and as a result, the reimbursement system is extremely poor in the commercial realm. That, combined with Medicare and Medicaid cuts, made it a very difficult climate in which to operate a hospital.
“I think Cookeville Regional is doing a great job operationally and strategically, but I think my value is to come in and work closely with the administrative team to help take the vision of the board and Paul Korth and to move it forward,” he added. “My function is to look at the nuts and bolts of the hospital and see how can we make this machine run even better.”
2. His nursing background is also a strength
While he’s no longer rounding on patients on the hospital floor, Williams is still close to patient care while managing the hospital’s day-to-day operations.
“(Being a nurse) helps me understand how operational decisions impact patient care,” he said. “We have to understand that operational decisions, whether it’s in nursing, food services or security, either directly or indirectly impacts patient care.”
And it’s not just nursing experience. He’s got plenty of leadership experience, too. While Williams began his career as a registered nurse at Johnson City Medical Center, he rose through the ranks of management. Stops included CEO at Sycamore Shoals Hospital in Elizabethton, Tenn., COO at Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster, Ala., and administrator and chief nursing officer at Johnson County Health Center, Inc. in Mountain City, Tenn.
Most recently, he served as CEO at Northwest Medical Center in Winfield, Ala.
“I’m closer than you think,” he said of this role today. “I can see the impact of the folks we have helped in the community.”
3. Now in assessment mode
With just weeks under his belt in his new position, Williams might still be in an assessment phase. One general goal is to better communicate to staff and community members the vision of Korth and CRMC’s board of trustees. But some more specific, near-future benchmarks might have to do with increasing volumes, upping customer satisfaction and bettering outcomes across the board.
“It’s (about) how are we going to effectively grow our volumes?” Williams asked. “How do we improve customer service? How can we have better outcomes medically? How can we navigate the financial pitfalls that are in front of us and be more effective in what we do? In order to achieve the goals, we have to work together collaboratively.”
4. Health care today? It’s a balancing act
There’s little debating that the health care landscape has changed. There’s been a shift in how care is paid for, an increased interest in improved outcomes, and a heartier focus on preventative programs.
But mixing the traditional model of health care, one that an aging population has grown to expect, with the more modern, rapidly changing one of today, could cause a clash among the cultures.
Williams said CRMC is going to have to be more flexible in the way it delivers care and how it communicates that delivery to patients.
“I’m sort of a baby boomer…and the way baby boomers and greatest generation folks look at health care is very different than Gen X and the Gen Y’ers,” he said. “The problem with that traditional model, because of the health care reimbursement changes, 20 years ago, a physician could see 20 patients in (his or her) office and be able to make a good living. Today, that same physician may have to see 40 or more. Another culture change hospitalist, and a lot of physicians have elected to stay in their office and not see patients in the hospital. For the baby boomer generation, that’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s a difficult culture change for them. We have to help them understand it.
“The challenge is we’re trying to meet the needs of everybody,” he continued. “I think we’re being successful with that, but at the same time, it presents its challenges.”
5. Last stop, Cookeville?
It didn’t take long for Williams to feel at home at CRMC – that happened within the first week, he said. And after 30 years in the business, he’s hoping to end his career here.
“It just seems like a perfect fit, and it’s going to be a great organization to work with,” he said. “I hope I can walk out of here after 15 years and say, ‘OK, I’m done, this is my last stop.’”