Administrator defines role of community hospital

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Published: May 10,2004

BAY ST. LOUIS – With over 300 regulatory agencies to deal with, Hal Leftwich says his job as administrator of Hancock Medical Center “gets to be more fun every year.” That includes a wide range of federal, state and local agencies – everything from Medicaid and Medicare to a state licensing board for every professional and technical job in the hospital to the city water and sewer department.

“I spend a lot of time on that, but my main duty is to coordinate patient care and see that it`s paid for,” he said. “I try to provide the leadership to a complex organization. A good leader has to enjoy a lot of facets of the business they’re in.”

Leftwich adds that he`s an advocate for patients and faces the challenge of convincing the community that the hospital can provide good services and people just as skilled as larger hospitals.

“We don`t try to do a lot of things, but we are a good choice for some things,” he said, “because we provide personal care where the doctors know the patients.”

For instance, the administrator says the hospital doesn`t do heart transplants because the community isn`t big enough to support that specialty. However, they do try to be the community`s health resource.

To that end, they have an active education department with a speaker`s bureau and clinics in public schools.

Clinics were established in areas of the county where there are no physicians, and physical and aquatic therapy have expanded into more areas. Also, the hospital is getting ready to open an imaging center in Diamondhead and has launched WellnessWorks programs aimed at helping local employers control expenses by keeping employees healthier.

The administrator sees Hancock Medical Center`s role as threefold. It needs to be there when people are sick, needs to be good at what it does, and needs to work cooperatively to make the community a better place to live. He also feels the hospital has a role in economic development.

“They tell us a good, strong hospital is a very important component of the development mix,” he said. “Also, we generate a significant economic impact with our employees.”

The 104-bed general acute care hospital employs 500 people and is owned by Hancock County but is separate financially. Changes to Medicare and Medicaid payments during recent years have put a new face on the whole healthcare industry, causing a lot of turmoil, he feels.

“That`s been a big shift. Those programs now pay fixed amounts for illnesses,” he said. “Everyone has jumped on that band wagon of paying like Medicare and that has created an atmosphere of heavy discounts.”

Leftwich said Hancock Medical Center does twice the national average of charity care and bad debt that other hospitals its size does. He thinks that`s due to the area`s demographics and lack of available insurance benefits.

Another challenge he faces is keeping qualified and active physicians due to the cost of malpractice insurance. Hancock Medical Center has close to 100 physicians on the active staff with half of those there at any given time, Leftwich said. They’ve lost doctors in pediatrics, vascular and neurosurgery specialties.

“That`s become more and more of a problem,” he said “and there doesn`t seem to be a solution.”

The Florida native finds working with patients and families, employees and doctors the most rewarding part of his job. “Pulling them all together and moving forward is what I like,” he said. “The energy of all these people focused and working together is exciting for me.”

Currently the hospital is focused on enlarging the emergency room and surgery suite along with re-modeling the front area for better outpatient service.

An administrator who truly worked his way through the ranks, Leftwich worked as an orderly during college days where he met an assistant hospital administrator who whet his interest in the industry. After receiving a master of hospital and health administration degree in 1980, he served as an assistant administrator at a 411-bed hospital in Greenville, S.C.

“It`s a good thing to bring understanding of what goes on from patient care to administration,” he said. “You should know your industry.”

He continued taking on new challenges in health administration, moving through public, not-for-profit and for-profit systems. In 1991 he began a career with Quorum Health Resources Inc., managing contracted hospitals as a troubleshooter at facilities of various sizes across the country. During this period, he was charged with extensive management and financial reorganization, development of new service lines and physician recruitment.

In 1997, he came to Hancock Medical Center on a temporary assignment as interim administrator and decided to call it home.

“This is a wonderful community,” he said. “The hospital has been very receptive to my ideas, and we have a neat mix of people on the board who are good to work with. There is also a nice relationship between the doctors and the employees that is better than other places. We expect patients to get good care.”

One of his ideas was to make the medical center a completely smoke-free campus, the first on the coast.

Leftwich, 48, is an active member of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Healthcare Executives and the Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA) committee on legislation. He is also the current president of the MHA Southeast Hospital Council. Additionally, he is involved in numerous community organizations and in 2003 earned a doctorate in business administration.

Leisure activities include piloting his own plane, riding a motorcycle, restoring his 1972 Chevelle and taking care of his dog and cats.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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