The new president of Morton Plant Mease Health Care is taking over in interesting times — just as the economy is teetering and the new powers-that-be in Washington, D.C., are poised to tackle health care reform. Glenn D. Waters, 49, is now in charge of four hospitals: Morton Plant in Clearwater, Mease Dunedin, Mease Countryside in Safety Harbor and Morton Plant North Bay in New Port Richey. Their 1,100 doctors, 1,250 beds and 7,300 employees are part of the BayCare network of nonprofit hospitals, along with St. Joseph's in Tampa and St. Anthony's in St. Petersburg. Waters, whose salary is $600,000, replaces Philip Beauchamp, who retired after 16 years with the hospital system. The Times talked to Waters about the task ahead.
We hear you've got a sense of humor. At a fundraiser at your previous job, you dressed as Cher to your CEO's Sonny.
I've done all kinds of stuff. It's usually around the United Way or another type of fundraiser — rallying the employees, getting them engaged. I've been Cher. Once I had to dress as a gypsy. I've dressed as a Village Person.
The construction worker. I had to get a temporary tattoo on my biceps.
Where'd you come from?
In Greensboro, N.C., I was chief operating officer of a health care system called Moses Cone. It's similar to Morton Plant Mease in size and, more importantly, in its culture. It has the same philosophy of community service, so their levels of uncompensated care are similar.
Speaking of that, in hard times like these, shouldn't tax-exempt hospitals like yours provide more charity care? Can you?
Undoubtedly, this economy is going to increase the amount of charity care and bad debt. The charity care here for 2007 was $20-million, and what we lost on Medicaid was another $25-million, and with indigent care it adds up to about $56-million.
That's about 7 percent of our revenues. I would predict it could go up to 8 or 9 percent. A couple of percentages doesn't sound like a lot, but if you've got $800-million in business, every percent is $8-million.
How is the economic downturn hitting hospitals?
Not only are people losing jobs, but small businesses are seeing double-digit increases in their health care premiums, so people are dropping coverage. Medicaid is going to reduce how much they pay, so physicians won't be able to afford to take care of Medicaid patients anymore. You could see that happen with Medicare too.
If the economy gets worse, more of these patients will show up in emergency rooms because they can't get into private physicians' offices. By law, we've got to see them. And if you're sick, the ER is the most expensive place you can go. If you don't have money, we have to write that whole expense off.
Still, for nonprofit hospitals, Morton Plant and St. Joseph's make plenty of money, pulling in tens of millions of dollars a year. Why such a big surplus? Shouldn't you use it to reduce your rates?
Health care is a very capital-intensive business because of the new technology that comes out so quickly. To afford the equipment you would want if you come here as a patient, we've got to have a bottom line of between 4 and 5 percent.
Our new president and Congress will be taking up health care reform. What do you not want to see happen?
I'm worried that we won't change the way we deliver care — we'll just pay less for it. So people will still want the same type of care … but the providers will only get paid less. That's not a solution.
Look at how much is spent administering health care because every insurance plan is different. That adds a tremendous cost.
And if you compare the United States to other countries that have better outcomes and lower costs, their system's focused more on preventative care.
Morton Plant has made its reputation on cutting-edge heart care. Is that the focus going forward?
It's not just heart care. It's cancer care, neurosurgery, orthopedics, a broad spectrum of care.
But heart disease is still the No. 1 killer. And Morton Plant just got ranked one of the top 100 hospitals in the country for cardiovascular care. We're the only ones that have gotten it for 10 years running.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.