Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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January 31, 2014

New KDMC CEO expresses cooperative intentions

ASHLAND — Kristie Whitlatch, the new president and CEO of King’s Daughters Medical Center, used a talk before the Ashland Rotary Club to send the community an encouraging message about a new attitude at the region’s largest employer that, if fully carried out, could improve the overall quality of medical care throughout the region.

And just hours after her talk, Whitlatch put her words into action by announcing KDMC was withdrawing its opposition to a certificate of need for angioplasty at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.

The intense and sometimes hostile competition between KDMC, OLBH, Cabell Huntington Hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, Southern Ohio Medical Center in Portsmouth, and other regional health-care providers has, at times, led to an unnecessary duplication of services and increased the overall cost of medical treatment. Just because one hospital is offering a new type of treatment does not mean every hospital has to do the same just to remain competitive.

“They’re still our competitors,” Whitlatch told the Rotarians. “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.”

For those of us who seek the best in medical care, those are encouraging words indeed. We’re not opposed to competition. In fact, good, positive competition can, and usually does, make all the competitors better and more efficient. But the competition between area health care providers in recent years has at times been counterproductive and worked against what should be the primary goal of every hospital,  which is to provide the best in medical care to every patient — even if that means transferring a patient to another area hospital if it can provide better treatment.

OLBH’s 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 sudden 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 the 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.

Whitlatch acknowledged improving the morale of KDMC’s 4,000-member work force had been a priority. “Our team has been through so much the past several years,” with the elimination of several hundred jobs from the hospital payroll, she said.

To many, the best thing about Kristie Whitlatch is that she is not Fred Jackson, who, after years of tremendous growth that made KDMC the largest employer between Lexington and Charleson, W.Va., had worn out his welcome to many in the area.

Whitlatch represents a much needed breath of fresh air. We wish her and KDMC the best. After all, the hospital in many ways is the economic engine that drives this community. We all have a vested interest in its success, not only because of its impact on our local economy but because of the excellent health care it provides.

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