By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — "I'm still drinking through the fire hose," remarked Patti Strohla, who just three weeks ago became chief nursing officer at LRGHealthcare, where the nursing staff accounts for about 1,000 of the 1,500 employees.
After three decades in nursing, Strohla came to Laconia from Mount Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Vermont, where she spent the past four years working with Kevin Donovan, who was appointed president and Chief operating officer of LRGH earlier this year. She spent much of nursing career at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and has also worked as consultant to a number of hospitals.
Nurses, Strohla emphasized, are the primary agents of patient care. They are with patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and while the physicians provide the medical direction, nurses provide them with the information they require to ensure appropriate treatment.
"Staffing has been a real challenge," Strohla said, "but not unique to LRGH." However, she said was encouraged to find that 29 nurses had returned to LRGH after leaving in the wake of layoffs, which shook morale in the spring. In speaking with them, she said that time and again she heard them say "this is my community" or "this is my hospital" and has not heard anyone say "it's just a job." Instead, she continued, they are here to care for their friends, family, neighbors and even former colleagues. "It's about their love of their community," Strohla said.
Donovan said that in April LRGH will introduce electronic medical records in place of much of the 1.3 million pieces of paper it has consumed this year, which will represent a significant operational and cultural change for the organization. He described Strolah as an "expert," who has worked closely with Cerner Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri, which supplies health information technology to some 18,000 facilities around the world and is the vendor for the project.
Strohla said the electronic medical record-keeping system will not only pare operating costs, but, in her words, "automagically" provide physicians, nurses and patients with access to records at anytime, anywhere, which she said will represent "a huge benefit."
Not long after Donovan was appointed in June, he said that after a difficult spell marked by shuffling of senior leadership, lackluster financial performance and restructuring of operations "reinvesting in our workforce" is an immediate goal. In November, he said bonuses, not based on a percentage of wages and salaries, were distributed to all employees. "We're still not where we want to be," he acknowledged, "but we've made a start."
Likewise, Donovan said that although LRGH has yet to reach its goal of an operating margin of between 2 and 3 percent, it is operating in the black. With financial performance a high priority, along with strengthening the morale of the staff and introducing electronic medical record keeping, he said that plans to reconstruct the emergency department have been shelved in favor of the less expensive alternative of renovating and expanding the existing space.
Patti Strohla, recently appointed chief nursing officer at LRGHealthcare, brings 30 years of nursing experience to the job, including four with President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Donovan at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Vermont. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)
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