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Kaiser Health News profiles CEO who rebuilt an Alameda hospital

On the subject of interesting people, Kaiser Health News and Fast Company published a fascinating profile of Wright L. Lassiter III, CEO of Alameda County Medical Center, yesterday. The article describes a frightening picture when Lassiter took over the hospital just across the Bay in 2005:

ACMC was a poster child for public-hospital dysfunction. The doctor's murder and the patient's suicide pointed out serious operational lapses, but the core problem was financial: Year after year, according to the Alameda County Grand Jury, the place lost millions beyond what it took in from the government, charities, paying customers, and other sources. (California is one of a handful of states that make grand juries the watchdogs of county government.) The grand jury described management as "a shambles."

CEO after CEO failed to stanch the bleeding, even after Alameda County voters passed a half-cent sales-tax hike to stabilize the system's finances. In 2004, the hospital board brought in Cambio Health Solutions to rescue the institution. Cambio's plan to cut 300 jobs and slash patient services was a political nonstarter. A one-day strike was energized by a visit from Jesse Jackson. Highland already was overcrowded; nobody in the community wanted services reduced. After 18 months and a fee of $3.2 million, Cambio departed. When Lassiter signed on in 2005, the place was still losing $1 million a month.

So Lassiter and team implemented some organizational changes to foster innovations in health-care delivery:

To encourage fresh thinking, Lassiter and Manns devised "odd-couple arrangements," putting together doctors, nurses, techs, and other managers. The teams drilled into vendor contracts and challenged their own habits. Take the kit used to test newborns' umbilical-cord blood, a $96.50 item. A simpler tool does the same job for 29¢. Is the more-expensive device better? How much better does it have to be to be worth the extra $96.21? ACMC had been choosing the premium option, at a cost of $322,000 a year. . . .

As a result of these changes and many others, the article reports that the hospital has turned a positive margin every year but the last one, when auditors required the hospital to set aside more money for pension costs.

The full story is captivating and well written.

Via Health Blog

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