Michael Hulefeld,
Ochsner Medical Center's CEO

Q & A with Michael Hulefeld

September 25, 2012
by Diana Bradley, Staff Writer
Recently, DOTmed Business News spoke with Michael Hulefeld about defining moments in his career, developing news from the hospital and its recovery in the aftermath of Katrina.

DMBN: How long have you been CEO of the hospital and how did you get to where you are today?

MH: I’ve been in this role for three years now. But I’ve actually been at Ochsner for 14 years, doing many different jobs. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a master’s in health administration, I did my administrative fellowship at Ochsner and have never left.

DMBN: What have been some of the highlights during your time with the hospital?

MH: I was here during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which was a defining moment for us to say the least. We were one of only three hospitals in the area to not close during that experience, and this really forged a new direction for Ochsner. Post-Katrina, we made a significant investment in our community, acquiring six community hospitals that are now part of our health system. And at the same time, we really grew our group practice in a very significant fashion. When Katrina hit, we had around 550 doctors in the physician group -- now we have over 900. I am very proud of my involvement with the growth of that physician group as well as the administrative team we have built.

In addition to this, we have been rated as one of Thomson Reuters’ 100 Top Hospitals for the past three years; we’ve got eleven specialties in U.S. News and World Report. I would say our improvement in quality has also been remarkable over the past seven years.

DMBN: What are some of your goals as CEO?

MH: I have organizational goals to continue to advance Ochsner Medical Center as the best tertiary and quaternary referral center on the Gulf Coast. I want to continue to see this organization improve its group practice and become one of the top 10 group practices in the U.S.

DMBN: What are the biggest challenges facing your hospital and the health care industry in general today?

MH: We have taken significant Medicaid reductions from the state for three years in a row. On a cumulative basis, it impacted this hospital over 20 percent in terms of our Medicaid reduction during those three years. We are also seeing more Medicare patients and Medicaid patients. So this concept of getting ready to break even on Medicare patients is certainly being accelerated for us. This puts our revenue very much at risk right now. At the same time, Louisiana is not known for the good health status of its citizens. So we have some real challenges meeting the demand. That is creating capacity issues in our hospital; it creates access issues getting into our medical group because the demand is so high. So we are in this challenging market with this tremendous need, and significantly declining reimbursement, which has had us really rethink our approach on cost management and where we continue to invest and how we continue to grow.

DMBN: With reimbursement cuts and the current economic issues going on, what (if any) actions has your facility taken to cut costs and curb spending?

MH: We’re in the midst right now of efforts to reduce our cost per unit of service by about five percent over the next six months as we head into next year. We have taken major reimbursement hits that are impacting us now and we don’t have time to wait until 2014 to reduce costs. So we are really focused on utilization management within our hospital and improving patient throughput. We are running at over 90 percent capacity in our hospital. We have length of stay opportunities. We are always focused on employee productivity and physician/provider productivity within our group practice. We are also very focused on what we call our “pursuit of value.” We’ve got a great opportunity to standardize care, whether it’s through the implants and supplies that we purchase, or just how we practice medicine. So, we are highly engaged with the physicians in our medical group on how we can improve cost and quality. We talk a lot at our organization about the creation of value. We need to work both sides of the value equation.

DMBN: Do you interact with CEOs from other hospitals/health care facilities? If so, how has that benefited you?

MH: We are an academic medical center. So for us to not be constantly looking to learn, and learn through other people would be a failure on our part. We do try to study other organizations and other leaders as much as possible. There are a lot of great organizations out there that we look up to and ask for guidance from and study.

DMBN: Are there any “green” or eco initiatives at your facility?

MH: We are in the middle of an audit from an outside company – evaluating all of our hospitals, relative to energy saving opportunities and initiatives. So they are going through and looking at our facilities and the amount of energy we utilize to determine how we become more green as well as reduce our cost. They are working with us on things like putting light sensors in exam rooms so that when you walk out of the room, if you’re not there for 10 minutes the lights turn off automatically. Things like that that sound small, but over the course of time, those investments pay for themselves. These are things that don’t impact patient care, but help us lower our costs.

We are also working toward earning an Energy Star rating for our facility, which indicates our continued commitment to pursue energy savings.