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VUMC positioned to meet challenges ahead: Balser

Dec. 18, 2013, 4:22 PM

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., talks about the Medical Center’s response to economic challenges during Wednesday’s Clinical Enterprise Leadership Assembly. (photo by Susan Urmy)

“The downsizing effort is over.”

With those words, Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, announced Wednesday that workforce reduction efforts announced in September at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are completed.

Balser told administrators and managers during the winter Clinical Enterprise Leadership Assembly in Langford Auditorium that in total, 400 employees left the organization through a reduction in force as the Medical Center responded to adverse economic circumstances facing academic medical centers, health systems and hospitals across the country.

The number of staff affected would have been considerably higher had it not been for extensive workflow reengineering efforts that additionally eliminated 1,100 open positions. “Still, it’s been … very hard on the people who left, and very hard on those of us who had to tell them,” he said.

Balser encouraged leaders to tell their staff the portion of the Medical Center’s operational change initiative known as Evolve to Excel is over.

“I want everybody to go home for the holidays understanding that we’ve been through this and we’re turning the corner,” he said.

That doesn’t mean, however, the Medical Center’s challenges are over. National data show that cost of medical supplies, equipment and pharmaceuticals is growing disproportionately to the rate of revenues throughout the United States. “We have got to continuously find ways to work more cost-effectively,” he said.

While the Medical Center has cut more than $140 million from its operating budget, additional efforts will be needed to meet its two-year goal of a $250 million reduction by the end of fiscal year 2015.

Balser broadly outlined four strategies the Medical Center will implement during the next six months to achieve this goal:

• Increase collections through intensive revenue cycle management.

• Increase patient volumes, in part by implementing operational improvements in the process of care and health informatics, patient access and transitions of care.

• Reduce non-labor expenses through economies of scale and standardization.

• Hold the FY 2015 operating budgets to Dec. 31, 2013, levels.

During the Clinical Enterprise Leadership Assembly, C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., gave an update on efficiency efforts that have been implemented or are being pursued. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Following Balser’s comments, C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs, gave specifics of several efficiencies that are already being implemented or are currently being pursued.

For example, standardized medication administration timing and simplified order entry are freeing nurses to spend more time caring for patients.

“We are making excellent progress,” Pinson said, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the core business of creating value by improving service and quality of care.

John Lutz, vice chancellor for Information Technology, continued the message in his keynote address, “Leading through Change.” In a difficult economic environment “our job is to distinguish ourselves,” Lutz said.

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