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New hospital CEO brings experience

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tony Thompson, the new Fulton County Hospital CEO, introduces himself to gift shop volunteer Cora Cochran. Thompson began work on Monday, July 9. He is a native of Batesville, and worked for the past 14 years as the Assistant Administrator at the White River Medical Center. Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
Tony Thompson wraps up a meeting with his assistant, Jennifer Perryman, and runs down the hallway to get a bottle of water before his next appointment.

It is Tuesday, July 10 and, in his second day as Fulton County Hospital's Chief Executive Officer, Thompson is busy learning the ropes, while being pulled in several different directions.

After more than 25 years in the health care industry, Thompson began looking for his first CEO job a while back.

"There were opportunities presented in places such as Alaska, but I did not pursue them," Thompson laughs. "I wanted to stay in this region of the country."

By not grabbing one of the early prospects, Thompson wound up in his own backyard.

Thompson, a native of Batesville, moved back home nearly 14 years ago for a position at the White River Medical Center, after working for two hospitals in Texas and a hospital management firm in Illinois. So, his move to Fulton County will take him just 55 miles to the north.

"I'm just tickled to be here," Thompson said. "I was pleasantly surprised to get a position where my family and my professional network are close by."

As the Associate Administrator and Facility Planner at WRMC, Thompson took on a variety of assignments handed out by CEO Gary Bebow. His last challenge was overseeing the construction of a $35 million addition to the hospital, which will open later this month, adding new patient rooms, work space and a huge kitchen and dining area.

"I've got a lot of emotions invested in that facility," Thompson admitted. "It was a bit difficult (to leave), but this is such a wonderful opportunity for me and my family."

Thompson used his Arkansas health care connections to inquire about whether the Fulton County Hospital would be a good place to consider working. He knew of the hospital's past financial problems, and the challenges small hospital's face trying to survive.

"I did consult with CEOs I know who are in place in critical access hospitals, and the concensus of opinion was, you might not bank a whole lot of money as a critical access hospital, but there's no reason you can't be a healthy organization," Thompson said, admitting that puts the pressure on him to make sure the hospital is properly managed.

According to Thompson, the fact that the Ozark Medical Center took over day to day operations in October of 2011 was a deciding factor in his decision to pursue the CEO position. He had seen the Stone County Hospital benefit from its partnership with the White River Medical Center.

"The things we can do as a system of two hospitals are much greater than, certainly, this hospital can do on its own," Thompson said. "The collaboration between leaders here and at West Plains, having someone you can have free consultations with, you really can't put a price tag on that."

Thompson added Kim Thompson of OMC, who served as interim administrator for nine months, has already made a big difference -- including the difficult decision to reduce the size of the staff, "to make sure we are right sized," and using OMC's group purchasing organization, Premier Alliance, to obtain discounts and cut costs on a variety of hospital supplies.

Thompson also praised Kim, who he once worked with at WRMC, for taking a new direction when it comes to making the yearly budget, by involving department heads in building budgets for each department.

According to Thompson, when department heads are involved, they have a say in what department spending will be, and realize they will be expected to make the budget work, or be held accountable.

In his visits to FCH, Thompson said he has been impressed by the dedicated employees he's met, and that the "hospital presents itself very well," after being expanded and upgraded in recent years.

Continuing to improve space in older parts of the hospital and working to increase patient levels and revenue are items already on Thompson's "to do" list.

"If we do the right things, we can regain the trust of our physicians and their patients," Thompson said. "Those patients will come back to us. We can't miss a single patient who should be here. We don't want them to go to other hospitals."

With several physicians talking about retiring, Thompson said the hospital may have to initially use "headhunters" to recruit new physicians. But, in the long term, he hopes to identify young people in the community with the aptitude and desire to seek medical careers, and work with them to get their education and return home to practice.

Thompson is anxious to get started.

"I am going to bring all the things I learned over 14 years (at WRMC) and more, and try to apply those here," Thompson said. "It's a different setting, but the basics are still the same," Thompson said. "If you were using football terminology, we have to block and tackle and do the basic things, and, in time, we'll get to where we want to be."

Thompson and his wife, Carolyn, plan to move to Fulton County by the end of the summer. Carolyn, who was a teacher in the Batesville School District for the past 11 years. hopes to find a teaching job in the area.

The Thompson's daughter, Amy, is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, and works as a Registered Nurse at the White River Medical Center.

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