Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 28, 2014

Whitlatch pledges greater health care cooperation

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

ASHLAND — King’s Daughters Medical Center’s new president and CEO on Monday said she intended for the hospital to work more cooperatively with other area health care providers than it had for the previous few years.

“They’re still our competitors,” Kristie Whitlatch said in a speech to the Ashland Rotary Club. “But, when we can help  make it possible for people to stay in the community for treatment, I think we should. One way we can do this is by creating partnerships so that we can maximize services to our community.”

To that end, the hospital announced several hours after Whitlatch’s speech that it was withdrawing its opposition to a certificate of need for angioplasty at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.

The CON application for emergency and elective angioplasty was submitted to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health Services, Office of Inspector General in the spring of last year. KDMC had initially opposed the application based on statistics that showed KDMC’s cardiology program was more than sufficient to take care of the community’s patient population.

“Today, health care requires greater collaboration among health care providers and other non-profit organizations. In this case, cooperation, not competition, makes sense as it allows patients greater access to the care they need,” said Whitlatch.

 “Sadly, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of men and women in Kentucky. By working together and making sure all residents have access to cardiac services, we can try to change that fact."

 Whitlatch, a Boyd County High School graduate who began her career at KDMC in 1987, was promoted from chief operating officer to CEO in December following the retirement of Fred Jackson, whose 17-year tenure at the helm of the hospital was highlighted by both unprecedented growth and controversy. Under Jackson’s leadership, KDMC became a major regional health care provider, but, his management style rankled many, and his retirement came amid an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the hospital’s interventional cardiac procedures.

Dr. Richard Ford, a KDMC physician who also spoke at Monday’s Rotary meeting, said Whitlatch had spent much of her first few weeks as hospital CEO meeting with others in the regional health care community, “rebuilding bridges that long since had been burned.”

Ford also said Whitlatch’s ascension to the hospital’s top position had been a huge boost to employee morale.

“Nothing is better for morale than (employees) seeing promotion can come from within,” he said.

Whitlatch acknowledged improving the morale of KDMC’s 4,000-member work force had been one of her top priorities.

“Our team has been through so much the past several years,” with the elimination of several hundred jobs from the hospital payroll, she said.

Whitlatch also said KDMC’s major focus for the past several years, out of necessity, had been on “expense management.” While that has helped see the hospital through some difficult times, “I believe now we need to focus on the revenue side a little bit more,” she said.

To do that, the hospital will need to seek out new services that will be profitable in the future, Whitlatch said. However, at the same time, she said she never wanted KDMC to lose sight of its main mission, which she said is “to serve the Ashland community.”

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.