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New Whitman Hospital CEO enjoys assembling the pieces

Debbie Glass brings nursing experience to hospital’s top post.

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter

The new CEO of Whitman Hospital and Medical Center, who is in her third week on the job, comes to the Palouse from small hospitals in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

A longtime nurse, Glass begins her first stint as a chief executive. She has previously served as a chief operations officer. She has earned degrees in nursing and a masters in community health care systems from Oregon Health & Science University.

She grew up in Corvallis, Ore., and spent nine years on the nursing staff at OHSU. She then joined the SAIF Corporation in Salem to learn about occupational health as a claims administration manager.

She then returned to nursing and spent 18 years in nursing director and patient care executive positions in Albany and Salem.

Before coming to Colfax, she held the job as Chief Operation Officer at Providence Newberg Medical Center where she also spent nine months as interim CEO.

The chief executive experience was not something she was convinced she wanted to do.

“I wasn’t sure about it, but I found out I really liked the challenges,” said Glass. “I like the big picture perspective of pulling the pieces together. Hospitals are very complex. I like working with the whole variety of people across the organization.”

She said the base of knowledge she brought to the job helped.

“But you really have to talk to people to find out what’s different at the hospital. Every hospital’s unique,” she said.

In business literature, hospitals are often noted as the most complex of organizations.

In addition, Glass notes a change in consumers of health care.

“The expectations from consumers are higher. People are much more informed, and a lot more attention is being paid to health care in general,” she said.

In getting to know the situation in Whitman County, Glass has found that the hospital is in a good position.

“First of all, this hospital has really been pretty well run,” she said. “The biggest challenge is going to be financial.”

Federal and state reimbursements for hospitals are due to decrease. These are funds deemed for critical access hospitals, which each state legislature can regulate.

“Remember I said it was complicated?” Glass said.

She notes that Whitman Hospital has “good patient surveys and quality metrics,” which are evaluations given by the federal government centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

She has been in Colfax for just over two weeks now and is still not fully unpacked.

She said she evaluates the success of a hospital on four factors; quality of care, patient satisfaction, employee engagement and financial.

“You really have to look at them all together,” she said. “If you focus too much on one the rest can get out of whack.”

Her typical day includes walking around the hospital to check in on different departments.

“There are two kinds of employees,” she said. “The people that touch the patients and those who support the people who touch the patients.”

There is one standard element to her day.

“You don’t have any days without meetings,” she said.

The job of a chief executive has many facets.

“You don’t have to have all the answers, you just need enough experience to ask the right questions,” she said. “Ultimately, the buck stops here but many people contribute to the decisions I make.”

She has two children, who are both in college, following in her footsteps into health care. Her son is in pre-imaging at Oregon Institute of Technology while her daughter is in pre-nursing at Portland State.

Glass arrives at Whitman Hospital at a time of coming national change, due to the Obama healthcare bill, elements of which will be heard by the Supreme Court in July of 2012.

“We really don’t know the impact,” said Glass. “All we can know for sure is that it will cause some reduction in reimbursement. So it behooves everyone in the industry to evaluate expenses and tighten our belts.”

One particular issue Glass will face here in Whitman County is that citizens have a choice among nearby hospitals in more populous areas. This is an issue when deciding what services to offer in Colfax.

Glass said the factors that go into those decisions are things such as whether there is enough volume for a practice or procedure, and the cost of keeping skills current.
“You only want to bring in a service you can do in a quality way and which makes sense for the community,” she said.

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