By NANCY FRAZIER O'BRIEN
As he prepared to leave his post as chief operating officer of Cincinnati-based Catholic Health Partners at the end of 2010, A. David Jimenez wasn't sure what to call the next phase of his life.
"I searched for six months for a word I could use; I did not like the concept of retirement," Jimenez said. "'Transition' sounds like you're getting eliminated. 'Sabbatical' sounds like you are sick."
So Jimenez settled on the word "retirement" and started down a path of volunteerism that eventually led to the turnaround of a small, troubled Catholic hospital more than 2,700 miles away in Georgetown, Guyana.
The 40-bed St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Georgetown had been devastated by a fire in May of 2010 that destroyed a two-story wooden structure housing its emergency department, one operating theater, doctors' offices, drug and supply storage, medical records, the patient finance business office, and the reception and admissions areas.
Founded in 1943 by a group of Catholic laypeople who asked the Sisters of Mercy to serve as administrators, the hospital is now sponsored by the Caribbean, Central America, South America Community of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. The hospital also includes under its umbrella the Mercy School of Nursing, which offers tuition-free nursing education to economically disadvantaged women; a long-term care program; a mobile health clinic; and an array of free medical, educational and psychological services to those living with HIV and AIDS.
A fire races through the wooden structures of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Georgetown, Guyana. No one was injured in the May 2010 fire that destroyed 40 percent of the hospital.
Although everyone was evacuated safely from the hospital areas affected by the fire and the hospital reopened just a few days later, St. Joseph Mercy still faced a variety of financial, personnel and logistical challenges that threatened its future.
"Things were in quite a bit of disarray" even three years after the fire, said Jimenez. "There were leadership and financial problems, and the medical staff had largely abandoned the facility during this period of time."
Sr. Mary Kelly, RSM, a member of the hospital board of directors, got Jimenez's name from a fellow Sister of Mercy as a person who had "an impressive record of turning around U.S. Catholic hospitals," she said. The former hospital executive traveled to Guyana in February 2013 to assess the situation.
"He agreed to be a consultant, but when it became clear that someone with his talent and experience needed the authority to act, he agreed to take an appointment for a year as interim CEO," Sr. Kelly said.
For the most part, Jimenez managed the job remotely, traveling to Georgetown once a month and holding frequent conference calls with a team in Guyana that included associate administrator Adrian Anderson, who holds a master's in hospital administration and recently completed a two-year fellowship with Catholic Health Partners (which was renamed Mercy Health in July), and medical director Dr. Vivakeanand Bridgemohan, a Cuba-trained Guyanese physician.
Some of the problems Jimenez encountered bore little resemblance to his previous work with Catholic Health Partners or before that with Adventist Health System in Winter Park, Fla., and Huguley Health System (now Texas Health Huguley) in Fort Worth, Texas.
"The IT systems were very, very basic, and there were often huge power interruptions," Jimenez said. In addition, Georgetown is below sea level and uses a canal system for flood control. "When the sluices that control the canals failed, we would find ourselves knee deep in water on the campus, and two or three inches of water would come into the hospital." He added, "This happened several times per year."
Jimenez used his connections within Mercy Health and at hospitals across the U.S. to rebuild systems at St. Joseph Mercy. A Mercy Health hospital that was moving to new quarters in Springfield, Ohio, "gave us first dibs on anything we wanted out of the old hospital," he said, and a Pittsburgh-based logistics company, Global Links, helped to refurbish equipment and shipped four full containers of supplies.
Specialists in staffing, information technology and other key areas came to Guyana at Jimenez's invitation to improve the hospital's efficiency and effectiveness, and the interim chief executive found new revenue streams in updated imaging services and in a new vision care department.
At the end of June, Jimenez handed over the reins to Bridgemohan, the new chief executive. At the request of the Sisters of Mercy, Jimenez continues as a special advisor to the congregation regarding the Georgetown hospital, mentoring Bridgemohan, offering general advice on operations and consulting on the facility's strategic direction and governance training. Thanks to Jimenez and the others he brought to the cause, St. Joseph Mercy is now a thriving enterprise that operated in the black for the first eight months of 2014 after losing money for years.
"It's a warm feeling that this (hospital) has come out of the financial hole," he said. "The physician community is growing, and it's on the right track, providing care to people who would not otherwise get care."
Sr. Kelly said it has been "a gift to have such generous services" from Jimenez, praising his "experience in hospital turnaround, his skill in coaching, his heart for ministry and his ability to invite others in.
"I'm really hoping we can solidify our relationships with big Catholic systems in the U.S.," she added. "A little bit from them goes such a long way in Guyana."
As for Jimenez, he is devoting his time "in equal buckets" to his family, some personal business interests and volunteer service including his work with St. Joseph Mercy.
"There are so many opportunities to volunteer," he said. "The critical thing is to choose something that best aligns with your passions and personal skills."
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