Articles / 2012
Laying a Foundation for the Future
Executive Insight Vol: 3.5
By Adam Thunell, FACHE
"Foundation" is defined in the dictionary as “the basis or groundwork of anything.” In regards to a building project, the word simply defines the structure upon which a building sits. In making the decision to build a new Community Memorial Hospital (CMH) in Ventura, CA, Community Memorial Health System’s (CMHS) executive team and board of trustees recognized that the hospital’s future success — both as a part of the community and as a state-of-the-art facility — had to begin at its foundation.
As chief operating officer at CMHS, the realization that I would be the lead hospital administrator in much of the day-to-day management of this large-scale construction project came with both excitement and trepidation. I was excited by the understanding that this rare opportunity to help oversee the construction of a new hospital from the ground up would provide invaluable professional experience, but also apprehensive in the realization that careful planning was necessary for a project of this scope to succeed.
The Building Project
Community Memorial Health System is a community- owned, not-for-profit organization. The system includes two hospitals, and 12 family practice care centers spread across Ventura County. The health system is undertaking two important projects that will expand and enhance our healthcare services. We are building a new hospital in Ventura, and modernizing our smaller rural hospital located in the village of Ojai.
These projects have taken countless hours of planning and have not come without a few hiccups along the way. Our leadership team at CMHS, though, has minimized those problems by establishing from the very beginning a commitment to careful planning, collaboration within the community and our physicians and staff, open communication, and an eye on the future needs of our patients and staff.
The Need to Build
Two hours north of Los Angeles is the seaside city of Ventura. We are one of 10 cities that make up Ventura County, a metropolitan area of over 800,000 that stretches between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. As the community grew, so did our primary hospital - Community Memorial Hospital. For more than a century, CMH has grown from a small hospital serving a rural community to the city that it is today.
Yet the Ventura hospital, built in 1962, had begun to show its age. While the doctors and staff continue to practice 21st-century medicine, the facility itself has been unable to keep pace. What’s more, California mandated stricter seismic regulations for hospitals following the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Between the need to improve the outdated facility and to meet the new seismic regulations, CMHS began to plan for a new hospital.
We broke ground on our six-story, 325,000-square-foot hospital in Ventura in August of 2011. The hospital, financed through tax exempt bonds and a philanthropic campaign, is being built next to the current Community Memorial Hospital in the heart of Ventura. The new hospital is scheduled to open in 2015.
The 250-room facility with 10 surgical theaters featuring leading edge technology will meet California’s seismic demands, feature “green” technology and will have a larger emergency room and greater imaging capability than the present hospital. It will also include additional heart catheterization labs, expanded intensive care and cardiac care recovery units, and a larger Level III neonatal intensive care unit.
Revitalizing a Community through Local Support
From the outset, our team made it a priority to reach out to the community. We established open lines of communication with Ventura’s city leaders to ensure that they understood our vision, and that they knew the hospital’s construction would not only boost the local economy, but that a new hospital would ensure healthcare into the future.
In turn, the new hospital fit well into their vision, as city leaders had plans to revitalize the mid-town area where the hospital was located, and they felt this building project was the perfect catalyst to move their plans forward. In addition, all of us recognized that a strong hospital was vital to the economic health of the community, especially during the current economic downturn.
To garner community support for the project, the city suggested we host a 3-day open door town hall meeting that gave the various local entities, such as environmentalists, small business owners, developers and residents a chance to meet with our team of planners. The sessions were beneficial in forging a positive rapport with the community, and provided insights that helped us refine the project.
The lesson learned was that early engagement was invaluable as we identified concerns about the project early, and had plenty of time to work out solutions that were acceptable to all interested parties. The sessions, which were based on an open and transparent dialogue, helped us to establish community partners and supporters for the project and minimized unnecessary delays and costs.
Attracting Physicians & Staff
Another important group that we involved from the beginning was our internal staff and physicians. Quality of healthcare is always tied to the expertise of physicians, nurses and medical technologists who practice within your facilities. At CMHS we have been blessed to work with an outstanding core of individuals who have established a superior level of care within our health system.
From the start, these individuals were involved in the design and layout of each of their respective departments. Not only was their expertise vital in creating the most efficient and well designed spaces, but the process itself created stronger bonds and commitment for the project from these individuals.
We also knew that building a new hospital was essential for the recruitment of the next generation of physicians and staff to our system. Southern California has long been an appealing lifestyle choice, and Ventura County is an attractive location. But the position we found ourselves in was that our facilities did not match up well with their expectations and their skills. And without the allure of a new hospital it would be extremely difficult to bring in new physicians and staff to replace those who were beginning to retire.
With the opening of a new hospital facility, we are now in a favorable position to secure the services of that next generation of physicians and staff to serve our communities. And, by involving our current staff in the planning process, they are able to partner with us in communicating to new physicians the advantages that our new hospital will provide them.
The Power of Planning
Perhaps what our leadership team has learned most from our experience to date is that even though the winds of change will always bring unforeseen problems and unexpected challenges to any project, careful planning, building the right team, open communication and an eye on the future goes a long way to insuring a solid foundation. But one of the most important lessons is to involve all interested parties in the planning process early and establish an environment that welcomes all opinions.