The path forward
|Teri Fontenot has transformed Woman's Hospital into a hub for women's health care.|
Woman's Hospital isn't short on accomplishments.
For starters, it is the only remaining independent, community-owned women's and children's hospital in the country, a standout amid a sea of health care conglomerates. It is the largest birthing and neonatal intensive care facility in Louisiana, providing the highest possible level of critical care for a growing number of vulnerable newborns. And after numerous expansions and renovations at its 45-year-old campus on Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard, it opened a $340 million replacement campus last August, a move that will enable it to continue to expand capacity and add revenue-generating programs.
Behind the hospital's success is Teri Fontenot, the facility's longest-running president and CEO. Fontenot was hired as chief financial officer in 1992 and became CEO in 1996. She is a respected health care leader on the national stage, recently serving as the 2012 chair of the American Hospital Association Board of Trustees.
Fontenot is widely credited for Woman's fiscal health and forward-thinking programs. Moreover, Woman's gets high marks as a positive place at which to work. Modern Healthcare magazine named it among the Top 100 Best Places to Work five years running, one of only eight hospitals nationwide to have earned the honor to that degree.
“I can't take credit for the culture,” Fontenot says. “It's been here since the beginning.”
IN THE BEGINNING
Woman's was founded in November 1968 by a group of 21 obstetrician/gynecologists who believed they could serve their patients better in a dedicated facility. Until then, babies were born at the original Our Lady of the Lake hospital downtown or at the Mid City Baton Rouge General. The physicians personally guaranteed the loan for the purchase of the property on Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard, and construction began soon after.
“People thought the physicians owned it, but it was a nonprofit, community-owned hospital,” says Fontenot. “The physicians had just guaranteed the loan. It shows how much they believed in what they were doing.”
Fontenot says that since it opened its doors, the hospital has been in a growth mode. But her tenure has been defined by bold moves that have helped secure Woman's future. The hospital has taken major leaps, not only with a new campus investment but also in adding new disciplines that keep the target market—women—coming back through the door.
Fontenot never intended to go into a career in health care, she says. As a young divorced mother in her 20s with a small child, she took classes over several years to finish her bachelor's degree. At 27, she graduated with honors with a degree in accounting from the University of Mississippi, passed the CPA exam, and began a career in public accounting. It wasn't the most family-friendly schedule, so when a job opening for an accountant at St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe emerged, she applied. At that point, hospitals were becoming more concerned with their internal accounting practices because of changes to Medicare and Medicaid programs. They suddenly had to keep track of tedious and frequent government reimbursements.
“My boss said, 'We can teach you the health care side, but we need you to give us the accounting side,'” recalls Fontenot.
COMPANY: Woman's Hospital
• Woman's Hospital is one of eight hospitals to be named as a “Top 100 Best Place to Work in Healthcare” by Modern Healthcare magazine all five years the award has been given.
• Fontenot is the chair of the American Hospital Association Board of Trustees.
• Fontenot is the chair of the Louisiana Hospital Association Professional and General Liability Trust Fund.
Health care turned out to be endlessly interesting, she says. It's a field that has allowed Fontenot to use her quick analytical skills, respect for the bottom line, sense of compassion and team spirit.
ON THE MOVE
If anything demonstrates Fontenot's simultaneous exercise of practicality and creativity, it is Woman's new campus development project, which began in 2005. By then, the hospital had renovated numerous times, but space and parking remained inadequate.
“The models of care were really changing then in terms of how long patients were staying and what families wanted, and we thought long and hard about our next move,” says Fontenot. “We knew we needed to expand and enlarge the rooms, make parking more convenient, and just be more functional and efficient across the board.”
Fontenot and her board of directors had overseen the purchase of a parcel of land five miles south of the original campus on Airline Highway in 2001. The 225-acre former Briarwood Golf Course was in a high-growth area and could serve as a new site down the road, believed leaders.
Still, even when they concluded new construction was more cost-effective than another renovation, Fontenot and her board looked at 10 other properties before deciding to break ground on the Briarwood parcel.
“We wanted to be sure, but we kept coming back to this one,” she says.
Fontenot called for an unorthodox planning process that stunned architects and planners. Before the first sketches were drawn, she wanted to hear from patients, staff, physicians and especially nurses at the bedside about how the hospital should be designed, above all patient rooms.
“The architects told us it was a mistake, and that we'd end up with bigger rooms than we needed,” she recalls.
But Fontenot persisted. The staff made valuable suggestions that were incorporated into the design and that would improve flow and efficiency. The rooms they suggested were actually slightly smaller than those the architects had called for, but included features that maximized patient comfort and efficiency. Moreover, every patient room in the new hospital has a consistent floor plan to provide a predictable work environment for the staff and reduce the potential for error.
During the construction process, the financial markets cratered and the country was thrown into recession. Borrowing was impossible, so Fontenot put the project on hold temporarily. She and her staff took the opportunity to update the design and reconsider their top needs, and ended up saving $36 million.
In her role as CEO, Fontenot has continually pushed a “continuum of care” idea. Obstetrics is a high-cost, low-revenue business; 72% of all babies born in Louisiana are to Medicaid recipients. Financially speaking, a women's and children's hospital needs revenue generators that offset losses.
Fontenot has accomplished this by slowly transforming Woman's into a hub for women's health care. It offers on-site and mobile mammography, breast cancer care and treatment, gynecological surgeries, bariatric surgeries, colonoscopies, and orthopedic care for issues that women experience more often than men, including foot and ankle injuries. The hospital also has a comprehensive fitness center, which includes rehabilitation services.
“We wanted to hone in on those things that are important to women throughout their lives,” says Fontenot. “We worked very hard not to duplicate services already in our community, or get into areas that don't provide enough volume. In health care, volume drives efficiency and improved outcomes.”
It has been six months since the new Woman's campus opened, a move that was “extremely smooth for patients,” says Fontenot. It was no small feat. More than 2,000 Woman's and Acadian Ambulance employees moved 150 women and infants, including high-risk infants from the neonatal intensive care unit.
Only 100 of the 225 total acres have been developed on the site, leaving ample room for future development, including additional physician office space, restaurants, retail, even residential space, says Fontenot. As successful as the hospital has been in the past, Fontenot has been intent on securing its future and enabling it to meet the demands of an evolving health care system.
“The new campus helps us to continue to diversify and to improve care and eliminates gaps,” she says, “and it ensures that we are here to care for the community in the future.”
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