Opening a New Healthcare Facility: Are you Patient Ready?

By Liz Durrence, FACHE, Operational Readiness Executive

Having served as Chief Operating Officer of large hospitals, I have firsthand appreciation for the anxiety that accompanies the opening of new healthcare construction. Whether a new building or renovated space, it is important to understand that building readiness and operational readiness are not the same. Just because a Certificate of Occupancy is achieved and a building is substantially complete, it does not mean you are ready to see patients.

There are literally thousands of decisions and tasks that must be completed to ensure an organization is operationally ready. Those range from small details such as making sure toilet paper dispensers are installed and stocked to the more complicated, time-intensive processes of negotiating contracts for patient services or physician coverage.

So how can healthcare leaders know if their organization is truly ready to see patients? In my experience, an Operational Readiness Project Plan was the best way to ensure we were truly patient ready. The goals of an Operational Readiness Project Plan include:

  • Integration of multifunctional and clinical work teams early in the planning process
  • Avoid wasted time and money by engaging key stakeholders in proactive decision making
  • Alignment with organizational goals such as improved flexibility and operational efficiency
  • Achieve project milestones timely and fostering a smooth transition
  • Ensure patients receive optimal quality care and the ultimate patient experience
  • Achieve return on capital investment

These goals can be achieved by assessing, planning, managing and executing the myriad of details that ultimately determine if a project goes smoothly or not. Operational Readiness Project Plans include a guide to coordinate activation activities and departmental tasks such as:

  • Staffing and training
  • Revenue cycle and billing
  • Regulatory and accreditation
  • Contract and licensure tracking

Depending on the size and scope of the project, the project plan task list can be anywhere from 400 to 1,000 items. In other words, it goes far beyond medical equipment and furniture installation!

In my current role as Operational Readiness Executive for Hammes Company Healthcare, I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a Walk in the Life event that tested over 60 scenarios with leaders and staff to determine whether the organization had all the physical, technical, and support components needed to confidently say they were satisfied with their readiness. This Walk in the Life event included tabletop discussions of various clinical patient transport scenarios, as this facility has limited advanced clinical capabilities, to assure staff knew the process of how to call, who to call, and what to report to assure timely transport. The team also reviewed and agreed on unique procedures for the campus including how to obtain supplies after hours and when to activate the ultrasound on-call process.

This event functioned as an orientation but also a decision-making session to assure everyone from medical staff to bedside nurses had input on determining the optimal process. The result was a marriage of what has worked well with what may work better, ultimately engaging staff in a valuable way. The investment of time in the one-day event truly solidified the organization’s confidence in their level of readiness. The event empowered employees to be engaged in the way the facility will operate, fostering accountability to the agreed-upon process. This, combined with the project management of tasks, is a more comprehensive approach than currently exists in the healthcare consulting arena.

As the healthcare industry continues to invest in new hospital construction and speed to market is the name of the game, the reality of not appropriately planning and the result of not being ready presents risks. Are the risks of delayed delivery of care, patients having a poor experience, and not achieving successful market growth worth taking? In my experience, the answer is a resounding no!

Liz Durrence is the Operational Readiness Executive for Hammes Healthcare and a driving force behind the development and execution of the Hammes Operational Readiness program. She has 20 years of healthcare experience, previously serving as Chief Operating Officer at several large healthcare facilities.