Hot Springs native says people key to good health care

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published August 10, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 15, 2014 at 1:28 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Troy Wells grew up in Hot Springs and played football for the Hot Springs Lakeside Rams. It was not until he was in college at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and majoring in biology that he became interested in the field of health care administration.

Troy Wells, a Hot Springs native who in July became the new president and chief executive officer of Baptist Health — a network of eight hospitals, 50 physician clinics, 20 therapy centers and 52 other medical facilities in the state, along with an HMO joint venture and schools for nursing — said his first priority in the new job is to meet people.

“I think it’s really important to be connecting with people who have not worked with me,” Wells said. “I will be touring around the system.”

His predecessor, Russell Harrington, was with Baptist Health for 40 years and had been CEO since 1984, so Wells, who has been with the company since 2006, said he needs to meet many of the 7,600 people who work for the medical-care system.

“I want the first part of my job to be building relationships. I want to spend more time with the people in scrubs. What makes Baptist Health are the people who touch the lives of patients every day.”

Baptist Health Board of Trustees Chairman Jim Jones said the organization had a two-year hiring process leading up to selection of Baptist Health’s new chief executive.

He said the board first considered a national search but chose to promote from within.

“It quickly became apparent that we didn’t have to go outside,” Jones said in a recent interview.

Wells is taking over the statewide health care system while health care in America is going through major shifts. The switch to electronic medical records and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are changing the way billing and other paperwork are handled.

This is especially complex in Arkansas, where more people have signed up for private-option health insurance, funded by Medicaid and Medicare, than in any other state.

However, Wells said, Baptist Health can work with those government moves because the organization was already working on new ways to deliver health care in the 21st century.

“We started working on new approaches before the passage of the health care bill,” he said. “The old health care system was not going to be sustainable, so the new act just gave us a reason to move forward faster.”

As an example, he said, the change to electronic health records went better than was expected.

“It went smoother than we thought it would because the medical staff was committed to making the change,” Wells said. “They embraced it, even if they were not happy about it at first. It was an opportunity to improve operations with the hospital.”

Wells said the key in meeting new challenges or taking advantage of new opportunities for Baptist Health is the people in the organization.

“Baptist Health has a vision of changing the way health care is delivered,” he said. “To do that, we need to invest in people, build partnerships with physicians and build relationships with employees so that we have shared goals. We will also invest in our patients, focus on going where our patients are and focus on primary care.”

Almost two years ago, Baptist Health began a pilot program overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Wells said the partnership with physicians was organized to be managed by the doctors. Its goals were to improve the quality of care and lower costs.

“We are making some progress,” he said. “Certainly the quality of interactions between doctors, staff and patients has really improved.”

Wells’ approach to the goal of changing health care at Baptist is in keeping with one of his favorite phases, “Just get better every day,” a people-centered approach that takes on major issues by looking for new methods and a lot of communication.

A career in health care administration was not a childhood goal of Wells’ as he grew up in Hot Springs. He graduated from Lakeside High School, where he was a running back on the Ram football team.

At the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Wells entered as a biology major, but perhaps not for the best of reasons.

“I had some friends who were going into medicine, and I did what they were doing,” Wells said. “By the time I decided I did not want to be a doctor, I didn’t want to change my major.”

Another friend made him aware of the health care administration line of study, and after graduation from Fayetteville with a degree in microbiology, he received a master’s in health services administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

After college, Wells had a two-year administrative fellowship at St. Joseph’s Medical Center (now CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs) in his hometown of Hot Springs.

“It was a great learning opportunity,” he said. ” As a resident fellow, I worked with top leadership and was given top projects to work with. One of the most memorable was the Advanced Care Hospital. The program was a hospital within the larger hospital for acute-care patients.”

Another educational opportunity for the young administrator was learning the nonprofit and faith-based approach to running a hospital.

“I was there from 1996 to 1998 when one of the Sisters of Mercy was the CEO of the hospital,” he said.

After his time as a resident fellow was over, Wells said he came to a fork in the road.

“I was offered the opportunity to stay and develop Mercy’s physician organization, but there was also the opportunity to run a hospital in Newport,” he said. “I was drawn to that idea, so I gave up the comfort and security of a large health system while I was young enough to take risks.”

At age 26, he was running the small privately owned hospital. He said it was “a bit overwhelming” at first, but he was there for more than seven years before joining Baptist Health in 2006.

His first job with Baptist was as vice president of clinical services, which included responsibility for the pharmacy and emergency medicine. After a year, he said, his job responsibilities expanded.

Baptist was also operating two smaller hospitals at the time in Arkadelphia and Heber Springs.

“I was the only person at Baptist with experience in running a small hospital, so I was now overseeing the two hospitals, as well,” Wells said. “Then we established the hospital at Stuttgart in 2009, and I had three hospitals.”

Even though he became a corporate executive in 2012, he has kept up with his hospitals.

“Good things have been happening in the hospital in Arkadelphia for the last several years,” Wells said. “We added an OB program with labor and delivery areas in 2013, and it has been popular with local mothers, with around 400 births since it began.”

He also said more specialists were added to the staff, and a new family clinic was opened in Caddo Valley.

In January, Baptist took over the management of Hot Spring County Medical Center in Malvern. Wells said the merger has gone well.

In June, Baptist announced the use of eICU, through which intensive-care patients are monitored not only by staff at the hospital in Malvern, but also by nurses and doctors in Baptist headquarters in Little Rock, using high-definition cameras and computer links.

Baptist also opened a clinic in Bismarck to provide more service to patients in Hot Spring County and to direct them to what is now Baptist Health Medical Center-Hot Spring County.

Wells said his goal, as well as that of Baptist Health, is to improve health care for the people of Arkansas, and he said that can be accomplished by working together with everyone to make things better.

“If we all do that, we will see results,” Wells said.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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