Northwest Community Healthcare's new CEO said the Arlington Heights-based hospital is staying independent for the foreseeable future and he is confident it will be successful on its own.
Stephen Scogna, 55, was named president and CEO of Northwest Community Healthcare in May, but former CEO Bruce Crowther stayed on through the end of 2013 to assist in the transition.
Scogna told the Daily Herald this week he is optimistic about the hospital's future and several changes coming soon.
Scogna said NCH was being courted last spring by several potential partners, but negotiations never got down to one hospital group or another. In May the board made a unanimous and final decision to remain independent.
"(Merging or selling) is off the table," he said.
He acknowledged the rumors flew thick and fast.
"I'd get calls from people saying 'I heard it happened today,'" Scogna said. "It distracts everybody. It's difficult to maintain focus if people believe something is happening that's not."
"Sometimes people equate 'independent' with standing alone or going out there and continuing to do what hospitals have always done, but that is not what's being discussed here," Scogna said. "Independent means that we will be able to maintain a governance structure locally and that the board will be the decision-makers on how health care resources are being allocated to this community."
While independent, Northwest Community will also develop partnerships with other suburban health care organizations to provide a full "integrated system of care."
"We are taking away the hospital as the center of the health care universe and creating an entire health system," Scogna said. "We have to change philosophically, culturally and technologically but that is our road to the future."
That future includes focusing on residents who are not patients at the 496-bed hospital, he said.
"We want to address the entire population," Scogna said. "If you are well, how do we keep you well?"
He said that means offering wellness programs, a pharmacy, cancer care, speech or physical therapy, behavior health care, preventive care and more.
Scogna hinted that Northwest Community is on the verge of a partnership with a "significant organization in the community" that would add more wellness options.
Technological changes are also coming. NCH is moving to a new IT platform that will link doctors to other providers online and allow them to share electronic medical records, streamline care and keep patient information better organized.
Another new program -- Aim for Excellence -- will be implemented in the next three to six weeks, overhauling the entire patient care experience at Northwest Community.
The program adds a new position, Clinical Care Coordinator, which combines the duties of a charge nurse and a care manager. That person, likely a nurse, will oversee each patient's care and coordinate with all the doctors and departments involved in treating that person.
Scogna said the program is modeled off airline safety programs and that NCH will have its own hub where clinical care coordinators will see every patient. Hospital officials hope this will speed patients through the process, which also saves money.
"This will cut down on the white space, the unnecessary waiting period the people go through during a hospital stay," Scogna said.
It will also give patients a better idea of what is going on with their care.
"We envision patients being able to go to a channel on their TV and see where they are in the body of their care," he said. "The quality of care remains the same, but it's about how can we maximize the efficiency and coordination of providing that care."
As well, on Jan. 1 Northwest Community entered a joint venture with the doctors at its day surgery center, giving them 49 percent ownership.
The hospital also recently partnered with Cardiac Surgery Associates, a group with 34 cardiac, thoracic and vascular surgeons.
NCH has 18 outreach locations, including a new immediate care center in Lake Zurich. Scogna said they are always looking to expand, but don't have any new outreach locations planned right now.
"Whatever we don't have today, we feel pretty strongly that we will be able to add it or partner to get it so people can have confidence that all their needs will be met," he said.
In the future Scogna said he wants Northwest Community to be growing, not reducing as they did with two rounds of layoffs in 2012.
"We do not have any planned layoffs. There are none budgeted or expected," Scogna said.
In spite of a few negative years -- Northwest Community posted operational losses in 2009, 2010 and 2011 -- Scogna said there has been a financial turnaround in the past few years.
Scogna, who lives in Naperville with his wife and 10-year-old son, is not trained in medicine, but started as a certified public accountant in Philadelphia.
He moved into the health care consulting division of his company where he had an opportunity to go to several different hospitals. He was only 29 when he first was named Chief Financial Officer of a hospital.
He moved to the Chicago area 11 years ago to work at Provena Health. He was the CEO at St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin before coming to NCH.
Scogna said he believes in transparency and compassion.
"To me, it's all about service: service to our physicians, to our patients and to our community," he said.
The top job at NCH is complex, juggling patient care and relationships with physicians, some of whom have been acquired by the hospital, while others are only affiliated.
Scogna said he is committed to staying flexible with those doctor groups.
"There is no one size fits all model," he said. "As an independent hospital we don't want to be acquired because that's not what's right for us," Scogna said. "I would be talking out of the other side of my mouth if I was going to physicians saying acquisition was the only model."
Integrating a wide array of changes across staff may take some time, but Scogna said the hospital is taking a "train the trainer" approach starting with about 80 original staff ambassadors who have each taught 20 more employees.
"Any time there is transition -- and we're going through a lot of it right now -- there is apprehension," Scogna said.
"When you get involved in an industry that's changing, people can embrace the change or they can resist the change," he added.
"If you embrace this change ... you can set your own path and redefine what you want to do. It's kind of a restart for everybody so it's been really exciting."