St. John’s Episcopal Hospital’s Unorthodox Model of Care

Sharika Gordon heads up the faith-based hospital’s new strategic plan, online training, and federal incentive to decrease hospital stays for a diverse patient population and their families

As the only full-service acute care facility on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, New York, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital is always on alert. More than four hundred physicians and 1,500 employees are committed to a compassionate, community-centric environment. One such employee leads the human resources department: Sharika Gordon. Although the institution has been saving lives for more than a century, Gordon shares how the historic hospital is far from outdated as it builds for the future.

What is your role at St. John’s?

Gordon: I am the vice president of human resources at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, which is in Queens, New York, but it borders Long Island. I have been in this position for five years and love the challenges and mission of the hospital, including that the hospital serves an underserved and often overlooked community.

What makes your hospital unique?

Gordon: It’s a 267-bed community hospital and the only hospital located on a peninsula, so it’s in a fairly remote spot, though we’re in the city. We’re part of Episcopal Health Services Inc., which falls under the direction of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. We take patients of all religious backgrounds, though.

What services does your hospital offer?

Gordon: We’re a 911-receiving hospital and offer a range of services. These include pediatrics, labor and delivery, an emergency department, operating rooms, ambulatory surgery and recovery room, general medical surgical units, intensive care unit and critical care units, and inpatient and outpatient dialysis. We also have a wound care program and hyperbaric chamber, and we work with a host of other private doctors’ offices throughout the community. Because we’re remote, we have all services in our hospital.

From an HR standpoint, what kinds of personnel skills does your hospital place importance on?

Gordon: We’re looking for people who have clinical expertise and people who share similar values with our mission, which is a focus on the patient and family experience together. We’re looking for people who, through previous work and/or their personal values, put patients and family first. I conduct behavioral-based interviews and ask applicants to explain how our mission and values are in line with their career goals to make sure it’s a good fit. We find candidates who are not only technically sound, but who also have the vision to care for the indigent population we serve. Our community is diverse. A large part of our population are seniors from nursing homes and behavioral health patients.

“It takes extra time. We need our caregivers to go a step further to engage the patient and ask if there are family members we should be in contact with. If the patient says no, we respect their wishes.”

How do you practice the hospital’s mission?

Gordon: Our community and patients really need us. We offer patient- and family-centered care—a delivery model that’s not traditional.  We’re asking our staff to treat the entire family unit. For example, the patient might need to change their diet to help their condition, so we engage the spouse, the extended family, or even a friend who lives next door to connect with the patient. We find ways to support them in their condition and in their recovery.

Is that nontraditional way of treating patients difficult?

Gordon: It takes extra time. We need our caregivers to go a step further to engage the patient and ask if there are family members we should be in contact with. If the patient says no, we respect their wishes. It’s easier to not have to go over all this information with relatives if you’re just making your rounds and talking to the person lying in bed.

How does your hospital fit this care delivery model into its strategic plan?

Gordon: One of our strategic initiatives for 2016 is to introduce patient- and family-centered care into delivery. One of the first things we must do is to educate our board of trustees, physicians, and staff, as well as the community we serve.

When did you start this initiative, and where do you go for best practices?

Gordon: We started this initiative in 2016. We were practicing this strategy before, but we weren’t officially calling it that. There is the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care, and now, we’re using resources from it. The institute has a lot of information and literature on how to develop and become an organization like this.

What are your goals for the learning management system (LMS)?

Gordon: Another one of our strategic initiatives is to increase staff satisfaction. In doing so, we plan to provide more learning and development opportunities for all levels of staff. The education will be conducted through different channels. We recognize that we can provide more education with an online program. We are able to capture more of our employees, physicians, students, and residents who rotate to different locations. It enables us to train in a virtual, more efficient manner. We’re making sure our physicians and other staff members are up to speed on cultural competency, population health management, and value-based purchasing.

How will the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program impact the hospital?

Gordon: The DSRIP program will force us to examine more closely the way we deliver care. Can we provide the same services in the community rather than in the hospital, where it is costlier? DSRIP will also encourage our hospital, along with others, to provide healthcare in the most cost-effective, efficient way, while still providing high-quality healthcare to our patients. The state is investing in the DSRIP program with the primary goal of reducing avoidable hospital use by 25 percent over five years. A total of $6.42 billion dollars has been allocated to this program, with payouts based on achieving predefined results in the system.

How will you and St. John’s manage top-notch care and still be a part of the DSRIP?

Gordon: When the DSRIP first came out, many people thought it was about downsizing. But it’s more about providing healthcare in the most cost-effective, yet high-quality way. We anticipate a shift of staff from the inpatient setting to more ambulatory areas. To meet this challenge, we will need to retrain our staff and provide them with new skills. That is why the LMS is so important for us; we need to reach a large number of our staff members and train them on new skill sets to work in an outpatient setting. I anticipate that we will see the number of inpatient beds shrinking in the future and an increase of outpatient services in the community.