Wait times in the ER to improve

A new leader took the helm of Memorial Healthcare System last week with plans to improve on some of the major community complaints about its hospitals.

One of the biggest complaints has been the wait times and crowds in the emergency departments at Memorial hospitals on the east and west side of the counties. The problem could become exacerbated with COVID hospitalizations rising again in Florida as a new highly contagious omicron subvariant spreads in the state.

Scott Wester, who took over as CEO on July 5, arrived from St. Louis, where he was executive vice president for Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System. The 54-year-old leader joins with 30 years of health care experience and replaces Aurelio Fernandez, who retired in May after six years in the position.

Wester said with labor shortages in health care and an uptick in patient demand for emergency department services, plans are underway for improvements. “There are some renovations that are going to happen at Memorial Regional and some other things. I’m going to be visiting all the sites over the next couple of weeks, and the emergency room will be something I’m going to focus on.”

Florida hospitals ranked 14th in the country for the longest ER wait times, averaging 155 minutes, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. Some of Memorial’s hospitals averaged even longer at around 180 minutes, hospitalstates.org reports.

Memorial Healthcare operates five hospitals — Memorial Regional in Hollywood, Memorial Regional South in Hollywood, Memorial West in Pembroke Pines, Memorial Hospital Pembroke in East Pembroke Pines, and Memorial Miramar in Miramar. It also operates Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.

In total, Memorial employs more than 14,000 people. Wester said he plans to focus on how Memorial can improve community health and deliver the depth of services the Broward community needs.

“Access is always an issue,” he said. “It’s not just waiting times in the emergency room. It’s the availability of appointments to be scheduled when someone has something to be diagnosed. It’s ensuring the level of service across our whole spectrum of services exceeds the expectations of all patients we are serving.”

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Wester said the community can expect to see an expansion of Memorial within South Broward and into North Broward — and possibly even into Miami-Dade or Palm Beach counties.

Already, Memorial has a new cancer center under construction in Pembroke Pines, expansion underway at Joe DiMaggio, and talks in the works with Broward Health to jointly build and operate a new hospital in Sunrise. The boards of Broward Health and Memorial, known as the North Broward Hospital District and South Broward Hospital District, agreed in March to meet regularly to look for ways to partner.

“I’m very intrigued about what that opportunity holds for Broward County itself,” Wester said. “I think there are some great opportunities that could be forged through that relationship.”

Memorial represents one of the largest health systems in the state, and Wester intends to use its size and scale to “influence policy” not just in Broward County, but also across the state.

A big challenge for Memorial Healthcare, and its competitors, will be staffing. Staffing shortages are common at hospitals across the country after many professionals retired or quit during the pandemic. Wester plans to get more aggressive about encouraging young people in high schools, community colleges and universities to work in the health care industry. “I think we just allowed people to apply for jobs in the organization and we took those applications and we ran through the process. I think going forward, at least for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to grow our talent a lot more.”

For the next couple of weeks, the new CEO says he will be on a listening tour in his hospitals and within the community. “Health care is changing a lot post-pandemic. We have to really stretch our minds to understand how health care delivery systems will work in the future to deliver the right level of care at the right place at the right cost.”

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com or Twitter @cindykgoodman.

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