For the first time in its history, the South Sound’s children’s hospital has a president at its helm.
The title is both symbolic and tangible. Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital opened in 1955. It became part of the group that would become MultiCare Health System in 1980. Through the years it has had directors and chief operating officers, but no executive whose sole job was to make Mary Bridge shine.
That’s where Linda Chen comes in. Chen, 43, arrives from a hospital system in Florida where she was a top executive at a children’s hospital. Her experience in health care is relatively short, having worked in the field only since 2010 — the year Congress passed the Affordable Care Act and started bending health care’s business model.
Chen, a former professional golfer who also worked in sports marketing, sees her relative newness to the industry as an asset.
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“You can’t create the new vision and direction of health care with the same mindset you have been in,” she said. “I’m a huge consumer advocate. Health care isn’t delivered great. I’ve been a patient, where I felt like I didn’t matter, and then I’ve had care where I was the most important person to that care team’s mind.
“That’s what I want to create for our families, and our kids,” she said.
Chen sat down with The News Tribune last week. The interview has been condensed and edited.
Q: What have you been hired to do?
A: I was brought here to really take the Mary Bridge hospital and pediatric network and elevate it to its full potential. I came from a system that was on this journey already. How do we improve the quality and experience of Mary Bridge’s assets, and grow it in a franchise model where the Mary Bridge brand stands for quality and great service?
Q: What opportunities do you see?
A: Today in health care, families end up just going straight to emergency rooms. It’s a high-cost way to seek care. But when it comes to your kids, you can’t tell a mom that your kid doesn’t need to go to the (emergency room). It’s their precious baby.
And, a lot of families don’t have a pediatrician. (So we must decide on) other ways to provide care. How do I provide pediatric care in settings wherever people are in their life? (Then making that experience so good,) they say, gosh, that care is what I needed and it was less expensive than going to the emergency room.
Q: What is an example of a change you made at your last hospital that improved the quality of care and cut costs?
A: There was a hospital that had a pediatric ward of about eight beds. (For various reasons,) the care was substandard. And I think the hospital CEO knew it. But if you close it, the community might think you don’t care about kids.
We realized that the majority of these patients were observational patients who were coming through the emergency room. So we carved out a unit adjacent to the emergency room and created a hybrid model. It opens this September. There are 16 beds that fluctuate from triage to more traditional emergency room things to observational beds. There is a hybrid physician and a hybrid nursing team, because you’re keeping these kids 24 hours.
So those kids who need IV fluids or whatever, they stay there. Their status gets downgraded so your charges are less, which is good for the family. It’s hard on the business model but is the right thing to do for the patients.
Q: Why is it hard on the business model?
A: If you keep patient and quality first, it’s the right thing to do. You might make less money. But for the family, it’s the future of where healthcare needs to be.
Q: MultiCare is in the middle of a large, systemwide cost-cutting process. How will that affect Mary Bridge?
A: Mary Bridge will be affected like every other hospital in the system. To be able to right-size your health structure is good for the community overall. It passes down to your neighbors and your families.