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Shepherd Center CEO Provides an Outlook for the Hospital’s Future

In fall 2013, Gary Ulicny, Ph.D., Shepherd Center’s president and CEO, addressed a packed room of staff members during his annual State of the Center address titled “Sailing into Uncharted Waters.” He presented some highlights among the hospital’s recent accomplishments and outlined the challenges ahead.

The Proof is in the People

In a recent survey, a majority of patients surveyed (96.6 percent) reports being satisfied with Shepherd Center overall. That is because the heart of Shepherd’s culture and its success is its people – not only the staff, but patients and families, too, Dr. Ulicny said.   

“We are a person-centered hospital, and our customers are here for a long period of time – an average of 40 to 45 days,” he said. “Service is a huge part of what we do.”

But, as Dr. Ulicny reminded staff, the hospital can always strive to be better. “We need to remember that we are dealing with people at an extremely fragile time in their lives,” he noted. “We have to find better ways to communicate information and listen to their concerns.”

Going forward, Shepherd Center will work to improve how staff educate patients and families about their injuries and its complications by shifting from a passive, lecture-style teaching approach to a “flipped-classroom” approach in which patients and families review information online and then come to class ready to discuss and apply what they’ve learned with their peers.

“We want to engage families and empower them to make the right decisions and teach them what to do and how to intervene if something goes wrong once they are back in the community,” Dr. Ulicny added.

Continued Focus on Quality

Driving Shepherd’s work is the delivery of high-quality, safe care. The center has been able to reduce certain hospital-acquired conditions below the targets set by the federal government. One notable achievement:  There have been no cases of ventilator-associated pneumonia in the past eight years.

“Given the number of open airways our patients have, it’s a tribute to our nurses, respiratory therapists and everyone who works with them,” Dr. Ulicny said.

Value-Added Services

Shepherd Center focuses not only on medical care, but also on providing a collection of services that helps maximize patients’ recovery and improve the experience during their stay. Examples of value-added services include the canine assistance program, recreation therapy, assistive technology and housing for patients and families who live far away.

Navigating Unchartered Waters

Dr. Ulicny also addressed the benefits and lingering uncertainties surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

The good news is insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage to someone based on a pre-existing condition. Additionally, there are no lifetime limits on health benefits, which is very important for people recovering from costly traumatic injuries.

But it is unknown how the development of accountable care organizations (ACOs) – large health systems or groups of providers – and value-based purchasing will affect Shepherd Center. Demonstrating the value of specialized rehabilitation to ACOs will become more important than ever.

“It’s going to mean we become one big laboratory,” Dr. Ulicny said. “Our new information technology implementation is not just a way to enter patients into the system and look at labs and vital signs. We will need to be able to analyze data to demonstrate our value, and that is critical to our success.”

Overall, Dr. Ulicny stated with certainty that Shepherd Center is well poised to meet the challenges in 2014 and beyond.

Written by Amanda Crowe, MA, MPH
Photo by Billy Howard

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.