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magazine home > archives > winter 2004 > features

A partnership between the University of Memphis and Methodist Healthcare yields healthy benefits for everyone.

Prescription for Change
by Jackie Flaum

Gary Shorb

Gary S. Shorb, CEO of Methodist Healthcare, says partnering with the U of M benefits the health-care industry as well as the University.

It's a partnership that's creating healthy changes for both children and adults. The University of Memphis and Methodist Healthcare are teaming up to change the face of health care in the Mid-South.

Patients and health-care staff are already benefiting from the partnership: Patients using Methodist Healthcare's Outpatient Diagnostics department now have shorter waits, and linen supply problems within the system have been alleviated. Lawmakers and community leaders have been educated about the health-care industry's impact on the economy. And social service, legal and health-care researchers now have ready access to critical data on child health-care issues. All of these improvements are a result of projects made possible by $7 million in gifts from LHS Inc., a grant-making organization that emerged from the 1995 merger of Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center and Methodist.

LHS will give $5 million over five years for Methodist to work with the University in developing "its intellectual and human capital," says Gene Cashman, president/CEO of LHS. A second gift of $2 million has gone directly to the University to support a project that collects, analyzes, maintains and monitors information about children's health-care issues.

These ventures give the University another opportunity to serve the Memphis community, expand its research capabilities and follow the leadership of U of M President Shirley Raines in developing interdisciplinary and community-based approaches to learning.

Training tomorrow's leaders

The Methodist partnership with U of M began in September 2002 with the creation of the Methodist Healthcare/Maurice Elliott Leadership Institute (MELI) to train middle management at Methodist. Methodist executives and U of M faculty members from such disciplines as economics, communications and health administration conduct the training. The project has produced ideas that have already saved Methodist thousands of dollars and improved patient care. An unusual part of the two-week academic and practical training involves the development of group projects headed by an executive "champion." The first and second MELI classes of 20 to 25 employees suggested ways to improve food service, streamline outpatient schedules and prepare for bio-terrorism. All of the project recommendations were presented to top Methodist executives at the final class meetings.

"We invested in this because we felt our ability to achieve our vision and reach our goal depended on the quality of our people and the intellectual capital we have within our own organization," says Gary S. Shorb, CEO of Methodist Healthcare. "Doing it in partnership with the University of Memphis made so much sense."

For example, Shorb says a study of linen distribution was beneficial from a patient-satisfaction and operations standpoint. "Linen distribution is a serious problem — that's true of all hospitals," Shorb says. Now that the leadership team's recommendations have been implemented, he says, "we have an extremely consistent supply of linens and have upgraded the quality."

MELI's director calls the program a unique partnership. "There is nothing like it in the whole country. The combination of university faculty and practicing executives delivering the program is unique and innovative," says Dr. Paul Fitzgerald, who also serves as associate professor and director of the U of M Division of Health Administration. "One of the very nice offshoots of this is that we are now developing similar programs for other health-care providers in the Mid-South."

Helping Memphis' children

In February 2003, the University used the first of its two-year, $2 million gift from LHS to create the Child Health Data Consortium under Richard Janikowski, interim director of the consortium and chair of the U of M Department of Criminology.

Already the consortium has created databases about Memphis child health issues for the community to use in deciding how to care for its youngest citizens. The goal is to prevent a "ready, shoot, aim" approach to the assessment and delivery of health services to neighborhoods and children, says Janikowski. Using data generated by the consortium, health-care providers and others interested in the welfare of children "can develop prevention and intervention programs based on accurate and timely data," Janikowski says.

The consortium put up preliminary reports and data on the Shared Urban Data (SUDS) Web site (http://suds.memphis.edu/suds.cfm) to allow anyone to access information already gathered, says Janikowski.

U of M Nursing Student
The Child Health Data Consortium was made possible by a grant from LHS Inc. The result of the consortium is better health care for Mid-South children.

 

Technical support for this second phase of the partnership comes from staff at the University's Center for Community Criminology and Research. To ensure the consortium's work meets community needs, the consortium's 10-member advisory board is broad in scope. Members include U of M professors from health, government relations, economics, psychology, nursing and education, as well as representatives from the University of Tennessee-Memphis, Shelby County government and the Community Institute for Early Childhood (CIEC), an umbrella organization for groups involved in children's health issues.

In addition to creating databases, the consortium worked with CIEC to develop a directory of services for early childhood care and youth health concerns in Shelby County. The group also created an on-line method for pinpointing where those services are located. That information is available at the SUDS Web site, and is already being updated. A new project involves studying trends in foster care for the state Department of Children's Services.

Janikowski says the consortium represents "the first exciting steps in creating an integrated, shared data system that will put information in a standardized format that researchers and policy-makers can access and use." This will become more and more important as grant-making organizations like the federal government demand programs that are data driven. Moreover, the consortium's research cuts across departmental lines and defines "children's health" in a very broad way.

In the past, for example, homicide would never have been a health-care issue for children. Now it is, Janikowski says.

The economics of health care

In March of 2003, Methodist used another $1 million of its $5 million gift to create the Methodist
Le Bonheur Center for Healthcare Economics headed by Fogelman College of Business and Economics professor Cyril Chang. Dr. Chang's first research project updates a study that he and a colleague conducted
15 years ago on the health-care industry's economic impact on the Mid-South. The new study found that the overall dollar contribution of the medical community in the Memphis metropolitan area is about $10.4 billion. This represents approximately 27 percent of the overall local economy, Chang says.

With Cashman's assistance, Chang is also analyzing TennCare, its trends and other implications for the health-care community. Looking at the study from Methodist's perspective, Shorb says, "It's very helpful as we think about the economics of our business — and as we look at how we can continue to stay financially viable yet serve the entire community — to get a handle on data so we can see the scope of the problem we are trying to solve."

Armed with accurate, timely information about health-care issues, Shorb sees Methodist working more closely with lawmakers at all levels of government. He says the data collected by the economics center are
important when making sure lawmakers "appropriately prioritize what they are doing to help our industry."

Chang agrees that the focus of the center is to examine ongoing and emerging health-care issues to help lawmakers, medical professionals and business leaders with their decision making. "Our job is to enlighten and discover," he says. "Hopefully, this will assist in the formation of policy that is based on credible data. We are available as a community asset to help government entities and nonprofits with their problems. We are willing to step out of the classroom into the real world."

Chang, who is in the process of hiring staff, is now examining the use of prescription drugs in Tennessee. "Tennessee is not a rich state. However, Tennessee has the highest per capita use of prescription drugs," he says. "How did it happen this way? Is it a medical issue that has to do with poor health and how physicians practice here, or is it an economic issue — that is, a matter of how we deliver health care in Tennessee?" This drug research project will be a team effort involving the U of M business college as well as other departments, the University of Tennessee-Memphis and U of M graduate students.

Since the Child Data Consortium and the Health Care Economics Center use U of M graduate students to assist with research, the University is able to strengthen the educational opportunities offered to those working toward advanced degrees while paying them a small stipend.

Continuing the work

Continued funding for the Methodist-U of M partnership depends on the successful use of funds in the previous year, says Cashman. Since two programs supported by LHS have reached their objectives, a third year of funding is forthcoming. Next year, LHS' gift will focus on some aspect of nursing.

Partnerships and cooperative efforts through such projects as the Child Health Data Consortium, the MELI and the Economics Center are a win-win situation, says Cashman. "Clearly the person who goes through leadership training takes it back to the workplace, and the workplace benefits," he says. "The University benefits by being able to create resources to share with faculty and the rest of the community."

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