Meeting healthcare challenges with an inspired workforce

May 03, 2022
by John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent
After two challenging years of the Covid-19 pandemic, Drew Smithson, CEO of Select Specialty Hospital in Nashville West, has made the well-being of his team a top priority.

“I genuinely care about my colleagues,” he said. “Our ability to serve patients – who are with us much longer than the typical med-surg hospital - depends on consistency by the bedside, which means having staff feel valued.”

For Smithson, this boils down to three day-to-day priorities: Retaining staff, remaining competitive, and maintaining an excellent online reputation. From a business perspective, he must ensure the communities they serve, including clinical referral sources, know what they can do to help care for their patients. To that end, he and his teamwork to build relationships and trust with referring sources through good outcomes and patient satisfaction.

“This emphasis ensures patients are referred to the appropriate levels of care, at the right time,” said Smithson. “For example, transferring patients out of the ICU to a critical illness recovery hospital as soon as they are medically stable increases their long-term recovery outcomes.”

Business growth through better outcomes
Select Specialty Hospital is one of more than 100 owned and operated by Select Medical, which is the largest provider of critical illness recovery hospitals in the country. The health system specializes in long-term rehabilitation for medical trauma and intensive care. This includes pulmonary/vent, brain injury, infectious disease and renal disorder patients.

In addition to prioritizing employee satisfaction, Smithson¬ spends “a great deal of time” on volume growth, quality and outcomes. Much of his work is done in close collaboration with Select Specialty business development colleagues.

“Being part of this network has enormous upside as it relates to evidence-based best practices and protocols to guide clinical quality, safety and outcomes,” he said.

As an example, Smithson cited their protocol of getting patients up and out of bed a minimum of twice a day, dependent upon patient tolerance and medical stability. This simple practice improves ventilator weaning, decreases delirium and depression, reduced risk of pressure sores and fosters cardiac and musculoskeletal benefits. Such a practice can be difficult in a general med/surg hospital due to staffing limitations.

Digital reputation is driven by culture
Smithson thinks a lot about the new reality driving patient self-referrals. He cited research indicating that more than 80% of healthcare consumers begin their search for providers online – and they get their first impression from review ratings. Prioritizing the online reputation of the hospital is a “must” in today’s digital world, he emphasized.

It’s why everyone on his team is responsible for ensuring patients and their families have an exceptional care experience.

“I am highly focused on my team and have a walking leadership style. I don’t sit in my office. I’m on the floor, hosting regular in-person town halls, participating in huddles and conducting pulse engagement surveys,” he said. “Everyone has a voice at our hospital and many of our decisions are made together, as a team. I think teams thrive in an inclusive, safe culture.”

For Smithson, consumer awareness is an area that requires constant innovation.

“When potential patients and families do their research, we want them to see what we’re all about: our mission, our approach to care, the services we provide, what our patients’ families say about our care and the recovery stories of our patients,” he explained

Going forward post-pandemic
Smithson believes health systems/hospitals will continue to face pandemic challenges as it relates to the nation’s workforce, not just in healthcare, but other industries as well. No matter the challenge, his priority is to keep patients and staff safe and deliver quality care.

“My long-term outlook is optimistic,” said Smithson. “An organization, or individual hospital, is only as good as the people leading and working within it. Those who don’t put their employees front-and-center, who aren’t willing to listen and adapt, will lose ground in the future. A great workplace culture is vital.”

Drew Smithson
He also thinks there will be consolidation across health care systems with the number of independent hospitals shrinking year over year. This reality will make the ability to effectively reach healthcare consumers across the digital ecosystem – where they live -- the most important marketing strategy moving forward.

“Expertise, authority, and trust is what people look for when making big decisions like choosing where to send a loved one for extended critical care,” he concluded. “You have to tell your story and your online presence and reputation never mattered more.”