Friday, August 24, 2007

The Best Healthcare Executive I Have Ever Known

Nicholas Jacobs, President and CEO, Windber Medical Center

Over the past thirty-five years I have met so many great healthcare leaders. I will avoid mentioning twenty or thirty of them because I would be neglecting twenty or thirty others. Some of these great leaders have been close working partners; others have been ruthless competitors. Some have been dear friends; others have been nominal acquaintances. I never thought I would know one healthcare executive that stood tall above the rest. That has changed.

In 1999 I attended a family gathering in a little hamlet outside of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. At the time I was working as a healthcare consultant. I was introduced to a fellow by the name of Nick Jacobs and was told he was the CEO of a rural hospital in the area: Windber Medical Center. I never heard of it. We talked about his activities and his hopes and dreams for his 80 bed rural hospital. Some of what he said was so “fantastic” I wondered if he was completely bolted down. There was no bragging or horn blowing; he just talked about his quest to make healthcare better than it had ever been before.

Several years later I had the opportunity to serve Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pittsburgh as President and CEO. The culture of Jefferson Regional Medical Center was strikingly like every hospital I had ever served. It was all about diagnosis, treatment, throughput, science, new technology, finances and quality management. It was not the best hospital I had ever served and it was far from the worst. Like most hospitals, it was decidedly “vanilla.” There was one program referred to as the “Spiritual Life Department” that was truly special. It reminded me of my year’s earlier discussion with Nick Jacobs.

I was motivated to pick up the telephone and call Mr. Jacobs for an onsite appointment at the Windber Medical Center. I was unprepared for what I found. While Nick Jacobs is committed to the humanities, he embraces the medical sciences in every conceivable way. How many rural hospitals have the following?

• The Windber Medical Center owns and controls a research facility that is at the cutting edge of genetics research in affiliation with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Genome Project. Dozens of scientists at the M.D. and/or Ph.D. level have been recruited to a facility larger than the hospital to advance genetics research and improve the future of diagnosis and treatment. Of the 126 U.S. academic medical centers in the United States, there are few that have research facilities on a par with those supported by the Windber Medical Center.

• In a separate building is a Breast Care Center designed by and for women. The center has every conceivable technological advantage available to women. More interesting is the attention to detail to the humanities. The dedication to privacy and the emotional health of the patients is striking. The facilities are breathtaking. Over its short history, Windber Medical Center has amassed the largest inventory of breast tissue through biopsy in the United States enabling the potential to advance diagnosis and treatment of breast disease more rapidly than any facility on the face of the earth.

• Mr. Jacobs became concerned about the conditions that confound patients and family at the time or near the time of death. He appealed to the citizens of the little coal town of Windber and the money was raised to build a seven suite inpatient hospice with facilities that would rival any Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons Resort.

• Concerned about the quality of life in Windber, Mr. Jacobs spearheaded the construction of a building that houses one of the most beautiful fitness centers in the United States. There is an integrated pool for therapies best suited for water therapy and a Dean Ornish Program designed to reverse coronary artery disease. The success stories from the Dean Ornish Program would bring tears to your eyes.

• Windber is a coal town, but has little coal. The population is largely elderly and the community is economically challenged. The elderly residents previously congregated in a worn and sad senior citizens center. Through a real estate and financial transaction that would make your head spin, Nick Jacobs found a way to build a new senior citizens center with the best facilities that money can buy and make it available with free parking to all senior citizens of the area.

• By the way, the Windber Medical Center has an eighty bed hospital. You will not be surprised that they have a 16 slice PET/CT, a 3.0 Tesla MRI, 4D Ultrasound, hotel styled hospital rooms and other technologies rarely found in a rural hospital.

More remarkable than the technical mumbo-jumbo, the Windber Medical Center lifts your spirits the moment you walk in the door. The hospital was one of the early affiliates of Planetree, an organization committed to introduce the humanities into the hospital and its surrounds.

Here are a few of the accomplishments of the Windber Medical Center. Volunteers bake bread on the nursing units and serve it to the staff and patients. There is a sense of “home” when you stroll through the hospital. On an entirely optional basis, patients and staff have access to the following:

• Stress reduction programs
• Aromatherapy
• Massage Therapy
• Yoga
• Pet Therapy with the “Golden Girl Retrievers”
• 24 hour visitation hours
• Musicians perform in the hospital on a regularly scheduled basis funded by the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts
• Yamaha music programs (every nursing unit has a piano)
• Acupuncture
• Double Beds in the OB Suites for overnight stay by the spouse
• Meditation Garden Behind the Breast Center
• Walking trails on the hillsides
• Birdfeeders in view of each hospice guest
• The kitchen is “trans-fat free”
• Numerous fountains inside and outside the hospital
• An Inter-faith Spiritual Healing and Meditation Program
• A Greenhouse for patients and visitors

My editor worries when my articles are too long. This is but a small window into the soul of the Windber Medical Center.

I will stop. Before I close, I want to make sure I stay in touch with reality. Nick Jacobs has faced challenges and adversity, both personally and professionally. But when you meet with Nick Jacobs you know you have stood in the presence of humility and greatness. You will not be surprised to learn that FierceHealthcare recently honored the Windber Medical Center with the “2007 Hospital Innovators Award.” FierceHealthcare is an internationally renowned digital daily newsletter published by FierceMarkets:

The greatest miracle is that his Board of Directors has been able to keep Nick Jacobs in Windber, Pennsylvania and the search firms of the United States have not been able to turn his head with money or fame. Nick, God Bless You.

Jan Jennings

Reprinted with permission of Western Pennsylvania News

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