TARPON SPRINGS — There have been some changes at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital this year. The new leader of the hospital says they are an effort to make the institution more patient-friendly and financially solvent.
The changes include $4 million in technology upgrades to record-keeping, a new radiology information system, and a no-wait emergency room policy in which patients are seen within 5 minutes of arriving. There's new paint on the walls. There could even be a new name for the hospital.
"I want to make sure we are focused," said Bruce Bergherm, Helen Ellis' new chief executive officer. "If we take care of the patient and provide quality care, we will be financially strong."
Last September, Adventist Health System, an affiliate of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, took ownership of the struggling hospital, which saw a $9.5 million revenue loss in 2010.
Adventist merged with University Community Hospital Inc., the previous operator of the hospital, which was built in 1927 on city-owned land. Tarpon Springs leases the land to the hospital.
Adventist's arrival "was the shot in the arm that the community needed to make Helen Ellis a viable hospital," said Michael Kouskoutis, a Tarpon Springs resident and vice chairman of the hospital's board. "There has been an infusion of capital."
Mayor David Archie agreed.
"You were looking at a situation where the hospital was accumulating a lot of debt and we were looking at a partnership that would help its economic viability," Archie said. "There were not a lot of choices in relation to how to help the hospital get on track and be profitable."
Helen Ellis has 168 beds. Bergherm said there are no plans for expansion, but the priority is to grow the hospital's patient volume and to invest in the current facility. An increase in beds could occur later, he said.
The hospital has nearly 400 full-time employees and about 600 on the payroll. "I've learned that we have a great medical staff and they are very receptive to work with me," Bergherm said.
Enver Ruzdija of Clearwater, who has worked as a registered nurse at the hospital for four years, says he's noticed a change.
"We see the leadership being involved and involving us in all the new changes," Ruzdija said. "They are investing in us. It's going to benefit our community in the long run."
Julie Jensen is a registered nurse and team leader of the hospital's Progressive Care Unit. She said she's excited about the changes.
"Helen Ellis has always been a good little hospital," she said. "With Adventist putting money into the place, it will be an even better hospital."
Jensen believes her opinion is valued.
"The leadership listens to what I say," she said. "And it's not just my immediate supervisor. Bergherm is walking around the halls. He's approachable and he listens to what you say, and that's really nice."
A name change?
Adventist Health System has 44 hospitals in 10 states, including 23 in Florida.
Because Helen Ellis is now affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, shellfish and pork are no longer served there. But Bergherm, 54, says religion has nothing to do with the care a patient receives.
"We are here to embrace the community, regardless of their walks of life," he said.
Bergherm, who took the reins of the hospital on Jan. 3, has worked with Adventist for 15 years, eight of those at the executive level. Before coming to Tarpon, he was chief operating officer for Florida Hospital Fish Memorial, a 139-bed facility in Orange City, north of Orlando.
Bergherm plans to be a visible part of the Tarpon community. He has joined the local Rotary Club. He's meeting the leaders of the Shepherd Center, a local nonprofit that caters to Tarpon's homeless population.
Every third Thursday, he meets with community leaders to update them about the hospital's progress.
"We have not been active in the community, so our message has not gotten out there," Bergherm said. "We need to be out in the community."
A name change for the hospital may be in the works. Kouskoutis said there was overwhelming support for a change at a recent meeting with employees and community leaders.
"The Ellis family has been a good steward in our community and a great benefactor to the city of Tarpon Springs," Kouskoutis said. "The hospital is going to reach out to the Ellis family for their support. Honestly, I would like to see the name Florida Hospital in the name. That name itself brings a lot of credibility in the health care community."
Adventist also owns Florida Hospital in Orlando.
Archie, the mayor, wasn't sure whether the Helen Ellis name was part of Tarpon Springs' lease with the hospital, which would require the city to approve a name change. He said he would defer to the Ellis family.
"If the family is comfortable with the name change," he said, "I wouldn't have a problem with it."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.