A rose in the process of blooming.
That’s how Debbie Brown, Valley General Hospital’s new Chief Nursing Officer, describes Monroe’s hospital.
That puts Brown in the position of gardener, then, as Brown will carry much of the responsibility of nurturing the struggling facility back to health.
It won’t be the first time Brown has been given such a job. In a 37 year career at EvergreenHealth, VGH’s new affiliate hospital, she has come steadily up through the ranks by helping solve large problems for the large organization.
Now she is at a new hospital for the first time in her career, and she sees ways to improve its financial and structural health, she says.
Brown has a considerable depth of experience in health care. Starting out in 1975 as a labor and delivery nurse, she spent 26 years in that department, before beginning the series of advancements that would take her to the top of the management hierarchy.
“I decided I wanted to grow in my learning,” she said.
She moved to a medical and surgical floor.
“It opened up a whole new world of learning about adult care, in the acute phases,” she said.
Within a year she was a manager on that floor, and she has been in management ever since.
She became an interim manager of the orthopedic post-operative floor, and six months later was appointed director of several different departments at once.
“I really learned a lot and grew to have an appreciation and respect for the complicity of adult care in the hospital setting and the myriad of diseases and medications,” she said.
Brown, who has an understated sense of humor and a thoughtful mien, said that her focus was to improve the quality of care in those departments, while also helping teams to function optimally.
In 2009, she was also asked to be the interim director of surgical services, whereupon she drew together all of her previous experiences to help ensure a smooth continuum of care from the time patients were admitted to the time they went back home.
Shortly after Valley General became affiliated with EvergreenHealth, the Kirkland hospital transferred Brown to Monroe to help stabilize the economically-troubled facility.
“It’s an exciting opportunity, to bring all I’ve learned in my past and bring that here and bring it all together,” she said.
The key to success, she said, is to make sure that everything behind the scenes, including the emergency department, the therapy departments, the recovery center, imaging, the wound center and all the other parts of the care continuum are working together smoothly.
“We are really trying to put the pieces in place so our processes and systems work together to provide a high level of care for our patients,” she said.
Right now, teams are trying to identify any waste in the system, make sure that there is enough of the right kind of staff, make sure there are revenue opportunities for services lines, and find ways to complement Evergreen’s services without gaps in care or unnecessary duplication.
Brown said that she has been very encouraged by the commitment that VGH’s workers have to the hospital.
“It also reminds me of how Evergreen got its start and continues today to be a set of warm, committed human beings that provide that human touch,” she said. “Technology is wonderful, but at the core of good care are people who care and this community is full of people who care.”
But for the hospital to thrive, the greater community will also have to commit, she said.
“That means being able to improve down the road over what we can currently deliver, whether expansion in services, or purchasing more technological equipment to provide a higher technological capability,” she said.
Key early investments will be in people, building up the teams and the expectations of quality, she said. The hospital will also have to focus carefully on good financial stewardship.
Ultimately, she said, she’d like to see Valley General not only offer a basic suite of services, but become a destination hospital for certain specialty services, as well.
Important services will be top-notch cardiac care, enhanced cancer services and more outpatient services such as diagnostic tests and therapies.
There will need to be some physical changes at the hospital, too. Brown has an extensive background in medical remodels, and she would like to move the critical care unit to be closer to the appropriate teams, increase the square footage of patient rooms, and do other remodeling and refurbishing.
“I think we really have an opportunity,” she said.