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VOL. 125 | NO. 49 | Friday, March 12, 2010

Coopwood: MED Must Get Competitive

By Tom Wilemon

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A few weeks into his new job as chief executive officer of The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, Dr. Reginald Coopwood has identified an important priority – getting The MED past its culture of constant crisis.

The publicly owned hospital has been losing money for years and is now reeling from sharp cutbacks in state subsidies.

The loss of that money is compounded by the fact that TennCare patients, who once had only The MED as an option, are now choosing other hospitals.

The MED will always rely on subsidies because of its mission as a safety net hospital, he said, but that doesn’t mean it can’t compete for patients.

“We have to get away form the emergencies surrounding running this hospital on a year-to-year or month-to-month or a day-to-day basis,” Coopwood said. “Kind of my catch word is that we have to change that conversation. To change that conversation, first we start inside.”

Changing system

Originally from Nashville, Coopwood speaks slowly, wears bow ties and conveys a quiet confidence. He’s been on a social whirlwind, meeting community leaders and getting acquainted with hospital staff.

Coopwood said he is encouraged by the attitudes of hospital employees and the level of care and compassion they provide. But he said he wants to instill a more competitive mindset so The MED can survive what could be a changing health care system.

“If there is true health care reform and we cover, somehow, a majority of the population and if public hospitals provide care like hospitals have traditionally provided care – which has been inefficient, sometimes not courteous, not as easy to get in and out of as your private or nonprofit hospital – public hospitals will fail,” he said.

Coopwood came to The MED from Metropolitan Hospital Authority in Nashville, where he held leadership posts for almost a decade.

A surgeon by training, he served as chief medical officer at Nashville General Hospital at Meharry for almost five years before becoming CEO of the hospital system. He held that post for more than four and a half years.

The Nashville system was losing market share when Coopwood took the leadership positions.

“Patients made a choice with their feet and they left General Hospital because our services weren’t competitive to the hospitals in the community,” he said.

But under his leadership the hospital increased net patient revenues, decreased its deficit and improved quality. Coopwood also improved the hospital’s patient/payer mix by dropping insurance co-pay requirements with an employer group.

At home in Memphis

At The MED, Coopwood is now assembling his leadership team. Management consulting firm FTI Cambio ran the hospital with interim executives over an 18-month time period until March 1.

“I’m a few days hopefully from hiring a chief financial officer, which for me is the most important initial team member that I’m going to need to help look at the revenue and expense side of the organization,” he said. “We will be searching for a chief operating officer. I will initially be carrying that role just so I can better learn the organization and the people within it.”

Witt/Kieffer, a search firm that specializes in hospital management positions, recruited Coopwood. He said the time was right for him to leave Nashville because he had accomplished what he set out to do.

“There were opportunities that presented themselves prior to this one, but I didn’t feel I had gotten the organization to a point where I could say honestly in an interview that I had accomplished anything,” he said. “I’m not here to pad a resume. I’m here to set the vision and set out to accomplish that vision. If that takes five, 10 or 15 years, that’s what it takes.”

Coopwood’s wife, Erica, who is from Yazoo City, Miss., encouraged the move to Memphis, he said, because of her love for the city.

“She has always told me that Nashville is not a true Southern city,” Coopwood said. “Having grown up in Nashville and lived there, I thought it was. But coming here, I see the difference in the Southern charm and the friendliness that this type of community has.”

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