WakeMed hires consulting firm

Aim is to adapt to industry change

Staff WriterMay 21, 2010 

With changes poised to reshape the medical industry, Wake County's largest hospital system has hired a national consulting firm to help navigate the new landscape.

Wellspring+Stockamp Consulting of Chicago will spend the next year helpingWakeMed officials find new ways to improve quality, strengthen revenue and reduce expenses. The firm will compare WakeMed's operations with successful medical centers across the country, and suggest improvements.

"There won't ever be a time when we don't need to be smarter at what we do," WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson said. "We want to be ahead of the curve, not behind it. And it never hurts to have a second opinion."

Whatever changes come from Wellspring's work will affect this region's patients, physicians and rivals. WakeMed runs medical facilities across Wake County, including hospitals in Cary and North Raleigh, as well as its flagship campus in Raleigh. The nonprofit also is one of the Triangle's largest employers, with more than 7,500 workers.

At its main campus,WakeMed is preparing to open a $99 million, four-story patient tower that will include heart services and Wake County's first children's hospital on the top floor. The system also has other expansions and projects planned or under way at other locations.

But the health system also faces new challenges. Federal health reform, state budget cuts and pressure from private insurers will force all hospitals to become more efficient even as the growing population demands more.

"Regardless of how the details of reform shake out over the next decade, everyone will have to do more with less," said Dawn Carter, president of Health Planning Source, a Durham hospital-consulting firm. "We are a famously inefficient industry."

Wellspring consultants will begin working atWakeMed next week. Atkinson declined to discuss the contract's cost.

"It all depends on what we have them do," he added. "We're putting them down rabbit holes to see what they find."

Hiring an outside consultant can make employees nervous that the results will include drastic cost-cutting and lost jobs. But WakeMed is already a lean organization and isn't spending money on Wellspring just to subtract workers, Atkinson said.

"We know how to cut costs," he added. "We don't need a consultant to do that."

Indeed, the system already has taken steps to reduce expenses as the recession and lower reimbursement payments from insurers and government programs hurt revenue.

WakeMed last year froze pay and reduced some benefits. In August, Atkinson announced plans to eliminate about 85 positions. Some of those workers were given new jobs.

"Change is the new norm in this industry," Atkinson said. "We're always adjusting things based on where the industry is going."

alan.wolf@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4572

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