PeaceHealth addresses change, looks to future

Vancouver-headquartered health system embraces change with recent hires & a new facility in the works

Carol Aaron Peace Health

Preventative care is old as the hills. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.” It would appear that the healthcare industry may have finally caught on.

“[Preventative care] isn’t a new idea – it’s just that it’s been very hard to do over the years,” said Nancy Steiger, president of hospital services for the PeaceHealth Columbia Network. “In fact, I wrote a nursing textbook on this in 1985, but nobody could figure out how to make this work. It’s an idea that’s coming into its own now in healthcare and part of it is the business model is changing.”

According to Steiger, a new initiative between Vancouver-headquartered PeaceHealth and Renton-based Providence Health & Services is evidence of the changing industry model.

Last October, the two health systems announced plans to collaborate on the construction of a new health and wellness center near the Costco on Padden Parkway in Vancouver. The planned facility is being developed with preventative care in mind.

“We also want to be good partners,” Steiger added, noting that PeaceHealth’s mission to improve health extends beyond the walls of its facilities. “We want to partner with other organizations in the community so that we can do more like what the Padden Parkway [initiative] is trying to do. So we can get upstream from hospitals and empower people with knowledge and skills to more effectively participate in their health and healthcare.”

According to Carol Aaron, PeaceHealth’s chief administrative officer, grappling with a rapidly changing healthcare system, an aging population and the changing needs and desires of patients, made the partnership with Providence a natural progression.

“Strategic alliance for building a clinic in the Vancouver market with Providence makes so much sense,” she said. “We’re both Catholic healthcare organizations, we have very common values, missions, the way we think about serving our communities and care for our neighbors… So we’re also looking at not only having a primary care clinic, but really something that’s very exciting … [because] the earlier health intervention we can do, the healthier our communities will be. That’s what we’re looking for with this collaboration.

“A lot of what you’re seeing is how we’re transforming PeaceHealth,” added Aaron, “because of some mandates from the Affordable Care Act – but also we are moving away from solely [an] acute care focus when people aren’t healthy, to earlier intervention and health improvement. We’re really redefining ourselves around the spirit of health.”

Executive changes

Despite a seeming exodus of senior executives, PeaceHealth is confident it’s exactly where it should be.

“We’ve had some recent changes in our senior leadership,” Aaron acknowledged, attributing some of the exits to an aging workforce population. “We had and have people who have worked here 20, 30 and 40 years. We’re also seeing the last attrition that is expected because of baby boomers – and overall in this country now. With that, it’s also creating an opportunity to recruit and bring in some really great top talent.”

Steiger questioned what she considered abundant coverage of PeaceHealth’s staffing transitions – referencing the lack of coverage on the exit of Mark Adams from CHI Franciscan Health system in Seattle and Liz Dunne from Providence, both of whom have recently joined on at PeaceHealth.

After referencing PeaceHealth’s recent hires and the creation of two new positions: chief nursing officer, held by Victoria King, and chief medical officer, held by Mark Adams, Steiger insisted that the executive shuffling between various hospitals and groups is nothing new.

“Prior leaders have gotten us here, but we need new skills for the future,” she said. “PeaceHealth has been retooling for the future needs. Turnovers are a natural evolution in an organization and in an industry where change is rapid.”

Beyond senior staffing changes, PeaceHealth has also experienced an increase in staff unionization, most notably in Eugene and Springfield. Aaron underscored that as a Catholic organization, PeaceHealth would respect the caregiver’s choice, and would remain committed to working with unions in all three states of PeaceHealth’s operation.

“We always respect our caregivers and our caregiver’s choice. Obviously our preference is that we always remain in an open direct two-way dialogue. Where we do have existing relationships with unions, we work respectfully… Our goal is that we have a fair and just work environment for all caregivers regardless of whether they’re represented or not.”

Despite staff exits, recent hires and unionization, PeaceHealth remains focused on weathering the sea change within the healthcare industry at large. The new Paddon Parkway initiative will serve as a sort of pilot project for what PeaceHealth hopes to implement in its other facilities, and for what may prove to be the future of healthcare – one where the emphasis is on overall health maintenance.

“We’ve been talking about a healthcare system that really has been an illness care system,” said Steiger. “This clinic is going to be different than other offerings in the Portland metro area in that it really will be focused on not only sick care and wellness, but putting the health and wellness of the people we’re serving first and foremost.”