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Hospital changes well received

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Fulton County Hospital has undergone a massive amount of change in a short period of time from the new construction to the hospital's new administrator, Angie Richmond, and she is spearheading a new wave of positive changes from the ground up.

Having grown up in Salem, Richmond said she is fully committed to the success of the hospital and she has many personal ties fueling her mission. "My mom died in a room right next door to my office. My dad died in the emergency room here. My son was born here. This is my hospital and that is why I am here to save it," Richmond said. "The next ambulance ride might be me."

Richmond said she has taken aggressive action implementing a new customer service policy. "Courtesy, smile, how the phone is answered, never pass a family in the lobby without saying, 'Has anyone helped you? Or is there anything I can do for you?' all are part of the new policy," she said.

Richmond said three different employees greeted a woman sitting near the old ER and her family noticed and commented on the change in the hospital environment. "She said she had been coming to this hospital for years and that was the first time anyone had smiled at her," Richmond said.

Before Richmond came in March, there were no official hospitality standards in place, but currently there is a written courtesy contract signed by employees. One such standard encourages employees to use friendly humor. "Our competitors do this, so we have to do it," she said.

With the help of Fulton County Chief Information Officer Philip Hughes, Richmond has been successful in the financial field renegotiating contracts at lower interest rates.

Within the first week, Richmond had worked with the billing department and now the hospital is able to do around 98 percent of its billing electronically, she said.

Hughes, who moved to the area from Fulton, Mo., to accept his current position as CIO, said when he first arrived he saw a lot of room for improvement. "A lot of vertical room," he said.

Changes in technology have been drastic in recent months, Hughes said. "I have enjoyed working with each department in the direction we are headed bringing in more technology. Everyone works very hard and being able to add a dynamic to their workflow makes their lives so much easier and increases their productivity," Hughes said.

Job satisfaction has risen with the implementation of new technology, according to Hughes. "Like this new phone system, which is just one part of the overall project. The first day I didn't have one staff member complain. They all learned it very quickly and they just had smiles. It's wonderful," he said.

Fulton County Hospital Chief Operating Officer Tammy Friel said Angie was acquainted with personnel with the Piggott Community Hospital, the most profitable critical access hospital in the state, and made arrangements for Friel and several coworkers to travel to review PCH practices and methods to bring back to Fulton County.

"They gave us a lot of good ideas and just shared everything," Friel said. That trip resulted in the investigation and implementation of the hospital's new swing bed crusade that promises to increase the level of patient care and hospital profits.

"I don't believe in spending money on consulting when I have friends that I can call on," Richmond said.

"Before Angie came we didn't know who to call," Friel said.

The hospital will soon begin offering several new procedures that will allow patients to stay close to home instead of having to travel out of the county including new stress tests, scopes and surgeries, Friel said.

Fulton County Hospital Director of Nursing Annette Estes has worked at FCH since 1994 and said she has seen a positive difference in the hospital in recent months. "Things have improved so much. People are walking around smiling in their departments; out on the floor they are greeting people. Outpatients and visitors have commented on the difference," she said.

Fulton County Hospital Dietary Manager, Diana Brown, who was on leave due to a bout with cancer, said when she returned to work May 12 she was amazed.

"The morale there was wonderful. While I was gone I would come to some department head meetings to stay up on what was going on and I would visit with some of the employees there and they hated coming to work, some were scared they were going to lose their job. The morale was awful and I thought, 'man, I dread having to go back.' I was really shocked when I came back," Brown said.

"I don't know what has raised the morale but everyone is eager to help one another. Just smiles and before you didn't see that," Brown said.

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