Northside Hospital serves the metropolitan Atlanta area, which is expected to grow by more than 30 percent to more than eight million residents by 2040. Operating three acute care hospitals and more than two hundred outpatient locations, the Northside system handles more than 2.5 million patient encounters annually and has itself grown to more than 15,000 employees with a network of more than 2,500 physicians.
Northside Hospital Cherokee, located due north of Atlanta, was struggling to keep pace with Cherokee County’s population growth of more than 10 percent from 2010 to 2015. Quite simply, demand for its comprehensive clinical and ancillary services had outgrown the capacity of the existing facility, which was built in 1960.
In response, Northside has recently opened the new Northside Hospital Cherokee, a $264 million, state-of-the-art, eight-story hospital and medical center complex. The fifty-acre campus more than doubles the square footage of the old facility and adds 25 percent more inpatient beds. Plus, an additional three hundred acres have been set aside for future expansion.
The person ensuring a smooth transition—Carl Waller, VP of supply chain management—had to work closely with stakeholders, including vendors and subcontractors, to execute a project plan. This encompassed everything from coordination to procurement to installing equipment, furniture, and fixtures.
“The master project plan was an initial set of guidelines that was refined over the past two years to reflect various course corrections and unforeseen circumstances,” Waller says. “Staying as nimble as possible, we made numerous real-time adjustments and updates to ensure equipment and products were purchased and delivered in the most efficient and effective manner.”
Although the two sites are only three miles apart, the project required careful timing to make the site transition as seamless as possible. There was a brief overlap when both hospitals were active and emergency department patients were shifted to the new facility. Then, a floor-by-floor process transferred the remaining patients while the Northside team put contingency plans in place for situations such as mothers in labor or critical cases that had to be stabilized before being moved. The entire process was completed over the span of one weekend in May 2016.
Parking might initially appear to be a simple consideration, but in vehicle-centric metropolitan Atlanta it is a prime concern. The original Northside Cherokee location was limited to fewer than 75 spaces. The new location has capacity for 1,600 vehicles: 700 in surface parking in front of the facility and a 900-space deck. Other medical additions include a Level 2 neonatal ICU, the newly developed Women’s Center, and pharmacy automation.
Although this is the first time Waller was fully immersed in the healthcare world, he spent years honing the skills needed to make transitions like this go smoothly from an operational standpoint.
Waller, a certified public accountant, came to Northside with more than twenty-five years of experience working as a consultant at several international accounting and consulting firms that primarily served Fortune 500 clients. He has used that experience to revolutionize Northside’s procurement and distribution systems since assuming his role four years ago.
“Even though most of my previous experience was not in healthcare, I have been able to apply leading best practices from other industries to Northside that have yielded very positive results,” he says.
Soon after joining Northside, Waller began conducting a current-state assessment and stakeholder survey to determine the most critical needs of supply chain management’s internal customers. He and his team then developed a comprehensive transformation strategy that focused on four distinct business segments: acute care, outpatient, pharmacy, and services. From there, he developed key performance metrics and targets to measure progress. This was followed by implementing a road map to guide efforts to achieve the targets.
This highly specific approach, which focused on detailed objectives and targets for each segment, enabled the hospital to achieve significant improvements, including reducing nondrug supply spend as a percent of revenues by 23 percent and increasing distribution fill rates to more than 97 percent. In addition, new physician practices can be onboarded in only two or three days, and overall efficiency has dramatically increased because Waller has fully automated supply chain processes while keeping the headcount relatively flat.
“Our philosophy is that if you streamline processes, optimize technology, and continuously monitor performance, you achieve the desired operational and financial results without having to add headcount or capacity,” Waller explains. “It enables you to do more with less.”
“Our philosophy is that if you streamline processes, optimize technology, and continuously monitor performance, you achieve the desired operational and financial results without having to add headcount or capacity. It enables you to do more with less.”
Working with stakeholders to develop and implement supply chain innovations is one of Waller’s favorite parts of his job. But he is quick to point out that the progress that has been made would not have been possible without the collaboration and support of key stakeholders, such as staff, clinicians, physicians, executive management, and vendor partners. Together, they were able to successfully implement initiatives such as product standardization and, with coordinated efforts from Northside’s IT staff, a new technology platform. Waller also highlights vendors who provided innovative solutions for delivering patient care and other senior-level executives who visibly supported Northside’s supply chain strategy transformation. And although his role is a nonclinical function, his work goes to support Northside’s overall goals.
“At the end of the day, we are here to support the delivery of unsurpassed patient care in the communities we serve and to make things easier for our stakeholders to deliver that care,” Waller says. “It isn’t just satisfying and fulfilling; it’s our mission.”
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