Monroe County Hospital selected administrator Lorraine Smith on Tuesday, Jan. 31 for the position of MCH Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Smith, who has worked for Macon-based Navicent Health for 10 years, had been MCH’s administrator since July 2017. Smith replaces outgoing CEO Darren Pearce, who stepped down last week after serving as MCH CEO since August 2016.
Smith, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native, has over 17 years of healthcare experience, including various clinical laboratory and leadership positions at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Navicent Health. Prior to being appointed as MCH’s administrator, Smith was the Director of Operations at the Medical Center of Peach County.
In addition to her work in healthcare, Smith serves as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve where she has over 20 years of service and is currently the Headquarters, 98th Division First Sergeant, a unit responsible for training basic entry soldiers. In 2003, Smith was deployed to Iraq to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Smith and her husband Brandon formerly lived in Forsyth for five years but now reside in Bonaire with their two children, Isabella, 6, and Cooper, 4. Brandon Smith, who was born and raised in Bainbridge and is also a U.S. Army veteran, works as a program manager at Robins Air Force Base. Lorraine Smith moved to Georgia 10 years ago after meeting her future husband when they were in drill sergeant school together at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Smith joined the Army Reserves while an undergraduate at Stony Brook University and still serves one weekend per month and two weeks per year. She said her military training has enhanced her leadership skills in myriad ways.
“The military is a lot of who I am today between the concept of team and the discipline,” Smith said. “And I feel like I have a double dose of leadership, not just in my civilian job, but also from the military side. People only see the yelling and screaming side of a drill sergeant, but drill sergeants are trainers. That’s the bottom line. In nine weeks you have to take a civilian and transform them into a soldier.”
Of her year-long stint in Iraq, Smith recalled: “When people wonder how I have good employee engagement scores or care about employee engagement, it’s because my first set of employees was in Iraq. They were my soldiers, and they had weapons in their hands. So you have to learn very quickly how to get people to do what you need them to do. That was being responsible at 23 years old for people’s health and welfare. At that time when we were in Iraq we were rationing water, never mind cold water in 120 degree weather, but rationing water and we were eating meals ready-to-eat. And so I learned a lot of leadership lessons in Iraq.
When I came back, that’s when I was asked to be a supervisor in the laboratory in New York.”
Among Smith’s other management qualifications is her Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Healthcare Management from Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. She is also certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, which is a set of tools and techniques for process improvement which she uses to achieve operational effectiveness. Smith said she utilizes what she’s learned through Six Sigma in her management of MCH, particularly as it relates to the most efficient use of the building and its processes.
Hospital Authority of Monroe County chairman Todd Tolbert, who advocated Smith’s selection, said he’s seen Smith’s talents as a problem solver on display all ready.
“The first thing that impressed me about Lorraine wasn’t her positive attitude really because there are people with a positive attitude that can’t do anything,” Tolbert said. “But the second meeting she was there, she put a projector up on the wall and showed where we were as far as the quality of service that we are providing at this hospital. And right there a lightbulb went on, and I was like, ‘That’s what we’re missing.’ This building isn’t a hospital. It’s just a building. It’s all of the people and all of the training and all of the expertise and all of the leadership inside the building that is what makes it a hospital. So when I saw Lorraine put that up there, we’ve got somebody now that is tracking it and improving the quality of service and patientcare.”
Tolbert said once it was evident that the hospital had been saved through last year’s referendum, it was incumbent on the Authority to identify a person in charge to enable the hospital to take its next steps toward quality and financial excellence.
Tolbert said, “Lorraine came in with obvious leadership skills and the discipline to take, which I think was probably both her military training and her Sigma Six training, and look at what are the issues we have to resolve to be a functioning hospital and to give good quality service. So all the metrics she is tracking are I think standard in the industry, but as far as I could tell no one was tracking them at our hospital. I said immediately I’ve got to take that up to the commissioners.
They’ve got to understand we’re on track and we have somebody in charge who understands that part of it. What it boiled down to is the patient was the most important. Everybody else in the whole organization all the way up to the Authority members have to support that patient coming through the door. And Lorraine in my mind was clearly focused on the patient experience all the way up to the top because she was wanting to resolve problems and conflicts as they came up to make sure they didn’t reach the service levels at the patient level in the rooms. And everybody just gets along with her. The commissioners met her once, and they were like, ‘I love her to death.’ And so someone who could fit that well into this community with that spirit, that much can-do attitude, is someone we need to make sure we keep here.”
Tolbert said MCH’s management services agreement with Navicent Health actually allows Navicent to name MCH’s CEO, but both Tolbert and Navicent Executive Vice President Rhonda Perry, to whom Smith reports, believed MCH should maintain the stability that Pearce, Smith and interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Judy Ware had already brought.
Smith said, “I think it was important to Rhonda and Todd that the trajectory the hospital is already on not get changed. We’re already heading down such a great path. Census has increased two-fold. We’re finally having positive margins. Our quality scores are being measured. And this final piece of construction, which is in the works now, that’s just going to be the icing on the cake. We still have a long way to go, but we’re just going to keep fine-tuning and fine-tuning every day.”
Smith said one of the biggest advantages of MCH’s partnership with Navicent is that by having Navicent managing the hospital, it nets MCH the full support of the Navicent Health System medical conglomerate.
“When you get one of us, you get the entire backing of the health system,” Smith said. “So you get in a lot of ways every single person in the health system with their subject matter expertise, their ability to lend a helping hand. The idea is not to nickel and dime everything but it’s to make sure there is health care locally. Our relationship can really be a win-win situation when we talk about the swing bed sand leveraging and taking off the Medical Center’s hands the low acuity patients to make room for the higher acuity patients. It’s really a win-win for all of us.”
Tolbert said an example of this partnership was Navicent sending Paul Barkley, the director of operations at Navicent Health Baldwin, to improve conditions in MCH’s lab. Tolbert said the Joint Commission gave a negative report the first time they inspected the lab but MCH resolved every issue once Barkley evaluated it free of charge.
Smith said she’s learned under Pearce at both The Medical Center of Peach County and MCH the importance of both changing the culture of the facility and making sure employees know how important they are to the hospital’s success and feel valued.
“It’s getting down to the staff and letting them know that they can do it,” Smith said.
“Having that positive attitude toward the addition of work. I think sometimes people think that good leadership is coddling or not pushing people to do more or be tough. But you can still be what I call ‘gentle’ but with a firm hand.”
As part of Smith’s selection, Tolbert said Smith’s salary, benefits and retirement will be paid by MCH, rather than Navicent, but the exact figures are still under negotiation. He said MCH will continue to pay Navicent $450,000 this year as well as $500,000 annually over the next three years for management services.
Tolbert said, “When you look at all the things that Navicent Health has done for us, they’ve clearly earned their fee.