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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

Wesley Medical Center CEO tackling healthcare issues

HATTIESBURG – In less than a year, Wesley Medical Center CEO Ron Seal has already opened the Hattiesburg Ambulatory Surgery Center on Franklin Road, introduced a revolutionary new device for patients with atrial fibrillation, the first of its kind in the area, and wooed the powerful obstetricians and gynecologists group, Women`s Clinic of Hattiesburg, to his side of town. A flat-plate catheterization lab with state-of-the-art technology – the hospital`s second cath lab – is being installed in the hospital, another first for the area.

“We’re going through the entire facility updating, upgrading and renovating where needed to make sure we’re keeping pace with the growth of Hattiesburg and the market area, and making sure that we’re on the cutting edge of healthcare delivery in the region,” said Seal. “Our geographic location is very well suited for that, and we plan to continue to meet those needs.”

No stranger to Mississippi, Seal was executive director of Doctors Hospital in Jackson from 1985 to 1991, and later served as vice president of St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he continued to oversee the north campus facility, formerly known as Doctors Hospital.

“Having worked in Jackson for nine years, I’m very impressed with the delivery system for healthcare in Hattiesburg,” he said. “We have exceptional doctors on staff and the medical community is very progressive. We want to preserve leading technology as we go forth.”

A native of Bogalusa, La., Seal moved with his family to St. Francisville, La., while in elementary school. He earned an undergraduate degree in management from Louisiana State University (LSU) in 1973. He completed advanced studies in healthcare and business administration at LSU, Mississippi College and Arkansas State University, and an administrative specialist program, including an internship and residency in administration, through Humana. He also served as CEO at Westpark Hospital in Hammond, La.

After leaving Central Mississippi, Seal joined Community Health System Inc. (CHS), where he served as CEO of Harris Hospital in Newport, Ark., and was named 1996 CEO of the Year for the company`s continental region. In February 1993, he took over as CEO of the company`s Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion, Ill., where he was named 2000 CEO of the Year. Heartland Regional was featured on the cover of Modern Healthcare magazine`s April 2, 2001 issue and was listed in Solucient`s “100 Top Hospitals” in 2002.

The Mississippi Business Journal asked Seal what enticed him to take the top post at Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg, his top priorities during his first year at the helm, what issues still need to be addressed and his thoughts on continuous changes in healthcare delivery.

Mississippi Business Journal: Mississippians are very glad – and will benefit greatly – from your return to the state. What enticed you to take the top post at Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg?

Ron Seal: Several things. The challenge of coming here was one reason. Plus, it was a good way to get closer to our family in Louisiana. Career-wise, it was a good move. I had been in Arkansas with CHS for a few years when they asked me to go up to Marion to get a certificate of need approved and to build a hospital. Within six years, we were able to design, build and open a new 310,000-square-foot state-of-the-art hospital and office complex to replace Marion Memorial Hospital. After I opened the hospital, I was ready for the next challenge. I’d been talking to Triad off and on for about a year and told them I needed to complete that project. They patiently waited until I was ready to come to Hattiesburg. We felt this hospital was well positioned to go to the next level. I’m glad to be here.

MBJ: When Wesley Medical Center opened, many people wondered how the hospital could compete against Forrest General Hospital, which had a dominant market share. Yet Wesley has grown quickly, and last week a patient had to be transferred to Forrest General because your facility was full. How have you been able to market the hospital so successfully?

RS: We’re actually licensed for 211 beds, and a couple of months ago, we had 191 patients and were pretty much full. My goal will be to hopefully add a fourth floor to the hospital in a couple of years because I think we’re going to need the capacity. We delivered right at 800 babies this past year, and we recently lured a group of OB/GYNs (Women`s Clinic of Hattiesburg) from Forrest General`s campus to ours. We’re merging them with our Tower Pavilion Group, and we’re going to go from 800 deliveries a year to 1,600 deliveries overnight. It took about four months for me to convince them to make the move, but they’re moving this summer into the third floor of our new ambulatory service center building. Then Dr. Washburn`s group, Tower Pavilion, is going to join forces with them to become one large group. We’re upstairs now remodeling a wing of the hospital to expand the LDRPs.

Two areas I really concentrate on: building a concentrical volume and building the ER. Those are two very strong intake points. If I get mom in here having a very good experience having a baby, chances are I’m going to get the entire family back for future healthcare needs.

MBJ: You’re known for having a proven track record of successful strategic planning and business development, along with a focus on patient, employee and physician satisfaction. You’ve nearly completed your first year as CEO of Wesley Medical Center. What were your top priorities coming to the Hattiesburg area hospital? How are those coming, and what still needs to be done?

RS: It`s all about building relationships, and doing so with honesty, integrity and forward thinking, and with the philosophy that someone needs to be the best, so it may as well be us.

The initial issues coming into here: we had to stabilize the cardiovascular surgery program, and we’ve done that now. We’re doing cardiovascular surgery and major bypass work here. We also needed to improve the obstetrics and women`s services and that`s happening with the movement of the Women`s Clinic of Hattiesburg. Then I wanted to improve the access to the facility through the emergency department. We have an application with the state pending approval for expansion. Those were three initial initiatives I wanted to undertake. Plus, I wanted to look at the hospital`s history and see what we needed to do to improve and expand services and move to the next level.

Our volumes are up pretty dramatically and that`s going to help us stay on the right track moving forward. And a big part of that required really working on stabilizing some of the existing issues and regaining confidence in the facility`s strategic plan to move forward. I don`t want to play second to anybody. I’m surrounding us with quality staff and physicians to be able to meet the ever-changing needs of the community as it grows. I think we’re positioned very well to make that happen.

MBJ: The quote on the home page of Wesley`s Web site says a lot about your philosophy: “In trying times, too many people stop trying.” You’ve worked in healthcare administration since at least 1985, and since then, it seems that hospital CEOs have faced many trying times, with new HIPPA regulations and other rules that seem to add another layer of bureaucracy to the job and somewhat stymie a healthcare executive`s ability to lead the organization.

RS: There`s no question that`s true. Healthcare is ever changing. We’re not in the kind of industry like the automobile industry where the price of automobiles goes up because manufacturing costs go up. Every year, we see escalating prices in the costs of automobiles. To get the cars, we pay more for them. Unfortunately, in healthcare, it`s almost the opposite. We get less and less reimbursement per year. We’re asked to do more with less, and we’re very much challenged to maintain costs. In our case here, which is atypical of the industry, we’re not maintaining operations, we’re actually growing and expanding operations at the same time we’re having
o deal with less and less reimbursement. There`s a challenge to balance cost controls with growth, and being able to meet that challenge requires all of us to do everything we can do in our jobs every single day. My philosophy is to be very proactive and not reactive with those changes, and I want to make sure we are very progressive and aggressive in what we’re doing to be able to control the change and not let it control us.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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