Local CEO brings straight talk to hospital ‘affiliation’ discussion

April 26, 2016 by



Less than 100 hours before computers at Cloud County Health Center switch over to a shared system with Salina’s hospital, local CEO Cherri Waites explained the new “affiliation” with humor, enthusiasm and straight talk.

One of the first changes will be a personal one for Waites: On Monday she gives up the title of chief executive officer and becomes president of operations — or, she noted with a chuckle, the POO.

Her audience was nearly four dozen participants in today’s Community Needs Forum lunch at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

Waites, who was hired as the chief financial officer of the hospital in August 2014, was named interim chief executive officer in March 2015 and then accepted the permanent CEO position in late June 2015.

In December, she announced that CCHC and Salina Regional Health Center were working toward a clinical and operational affiliation to better serve their patients and communities. That five-year management agreement will be effective Sunday, May 1 — although the first step, switching the local computers to the Salina system, will happen at midnight Friday.

Hospital CEO answers questions during today's Community Needs Forum lunch at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

Hospital CEO Cherri Waites answers questions during today’s Community Needs Forum lunch at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

There will be numerous other changes in the months to come, but Waites was absolutely clear that local control of the hospital will not be compromised.

“I want everyone to understand,” she said. “They do not own us, they did not buy us. We are affiliated — but the decisions we make are ours.”

One major benefit of the new affiliation, she believes, is that employees at CCHC will now actually be employees of Salina Regional, giving them access to more easily affordable health insurance and the possibility of higher wages, plus training and other job opportunities that might not otherwise be available.

There are also potential cost savings in being able to renegotiate supplier contracts as a Salina Regional affiliate, Waites said.

“Every single contract we have has been studied,” she said. “They bring so much more weight to the table than we have, sometimes their cost is as much as 50 percent less.”

That kind of savings and long-term stability means that Waites can look again at the prospect of a new hospital — and she was just as direct in addressing that question.

“I’m here to build a hospital,” she told her audience. “If I’m not going to build a hospital, I don’t need to be here. When we go forward with that — and I say when, not if — Salina will have a lot of information they can give us, a lot of expertise they can offer.”

But, she added, all of the questions about any new facility will be answered locally — and there are lots of decisions still to be made.

The first step will be a new strategic plan, which she would like to have in place by the end of May.

“We’ll sit with (officials from) Salina and discuss some things, we’ll talk to our department heads, we’ll get together with the board, and the physicians, and then we’ll start making some plans,” Waites explained. “What do we want for our hospital? Where do we want it? On the same property, or someplace out by Walmart?

“What size do we want? Right now we have 25 beds. Normally we have a census of about five to seven, so do we want to 25 beds? Or do we want to bring it down to 15 or even 10? How are we going to use those beds?”

Lunch participants listen as Sister Marcia Allen welcomes them to today's 32nd gathering of the Community Needs Forum.

Lunch participants listen as Sister Marcia Allen welcomes them to today’s 32nd gathering of the Community Needs Forum.

Once those answers start coming together, “Then we’ll go out to the community. We’ll be able to say, ‘This is what we want, this is why.’”

Then come the hardest questions, Waites acknowledged: “Do we have the support of the community? Do we go back out there with a sales tax, again, for the third time? Or a property tax? Or is there another alternative?”

While there is often funding available through programs like the USDA Rural Development Fund, “One of the things you have to show the USDA is that the community supports you — and they define ‘support’ as dollars,” she explained.

She believes that a new facility is essential for continued high quality health care in Concordia and Cloud County — and she believes that the hospital’s 65-year-old facility colors patients’ perception of the care they receive.

“Yes, this is an older facility,” she said of the hospital that opened in March 1951. “But our facility is clean, our employees are educated, the doctors are very highly skilled… Yet people still come in to our facility and think, ‘It’s old.’ Then they think our care is going to be old, our care is going to be not as good. That’s not a true statement.”

To add services or expand existing ones, such as the highly regarded physical therapy department, “We need that (new) building for us to continue to grow and serve this community.”

CCHC is the second small hospital to affiliate with Salina Regional. Lindsbourg Community Hospital was the first, when it became an affiliate a little more than four years ago.

Also on the agenda at today’s lunch were several reports on local projects and events:

  • The Wednesday night free suppers will continue throughout the summer at First Christian Church, according to Camey Thurner. There had been a rumor that the weekly meal would be canceled at the end of the school year, but that is incorrect, Thurner said. She also said free rides to the church on Wednesday evenings will continue to be offered without charge by General Transportation, thanks to an anonymous donor who covers the cost.
  • On Saturday, May 7, the Motherhouse is hosting its first-ever Flower & Plant Sale, featuring items grown in the Motherhouse greenhouse, along with garden art and hand-painted pots and containers. The annual Manna House of Prayer garage sale, which is also scheduled for that day, has been moved to the Motherhouse garages so shoppers will have the convenience of checking out both at the same time. The joint event will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • The first class of the Sew Creative program ended Monday and the second class is halfway through its eight-week course. The free class is for people who have never sewed before and was organized by Neighborhood Initiatives, an office of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and held at the Cloud County Event Center (the former Club 81). The next class is planned for June, but no details are available yet. People interested in learning more about the program should contact Kathleen Norman at 243-2113, ext. 1215, or knorman@csjkansas.org.


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