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Departing president Chuck Gijanto led Baystate Franklin Medical Center through health care reform, labor disputes

  • Chuck Gijanto will be leaving the Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Friday chats with employees Sheri Thayer and Lynda Zukowski.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    Chuck Gijanto will be leaving the Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Friday chats with employees Sheri Thayer and Lynda Zukowski. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chuck Gijanto chats with the ladies at the Information Desk, Janet Keyes and Joanne Teague. Recorder/Paul Franz

    Chuck Gijanto chats with the ladies at the Information Desk, Janet Keyes and Joanne Teague. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chuck Gijanto talks about his resignation from Baystate Franklin Medical Center to reporters on Tuesday in his office.<br/>(Recorder/Paul Franz)

    Chuck Gijanto talks about his resignation from Baystate Franklin Medical Center to reporters on Tuesday in his office.
    (Recorder/Paul Franz) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chuck Gijanto will be leaving the Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Friday chats with employees Sheri Thayer and Lynda Zukowski.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Chuck Gijanto chats with the ladies at the Information Desk, Janet Keyes and Joanne Teague. Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Chuck Gijanto talks about his resignation from Baystate Franklin Medical Center to reporters on Tuesday in his office.<br/>(Recorder/Paul Franz)

GREENFIELD — Chuck Gijanto wasn’t looking for a new job in December 2007, but an email about an open position caught his eye. A rural community hospital in western Massachusetts, part of a larger health system, was searching for a new president.

Gijanto became president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center months later, beginning a six-year tenure that will end on Friday. The 56-year-old Deerfield resident voluntarily resigned from his post and is moving back to his home state of New York to reflect on his next career move.

He was tasked with leading the Greenfield hospital — and, for the past three years, Baystate Mary Lane in Ware — through an ever-changing healthcare landscape, bringing local services to Franklin County while keeping costs low, and preserving the hospital’s patient care and morale during contentious labor disputes.

“It’s got to be one of the toughest jobs around,” said Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst. “He’s been a tenacious advocate for this facility and for serving the needs of the county. ... He will be missed.”

More than a dozen employees — from members of Gijanto’s senior leadership team to nurses, unit clerks and facility workers — said that the president was a compassionate and accessible leader during his time here.

Some who have worked here for nearly four decades said that, unlike some of his predecessors, Gijanto made an effort to meet and interact with employees on a personal level. Others praised his work on the hospital’s new “SPIRIT” program, which rolled out earlier this year in an effort to improve employee morale and overall patient experience.

“Chuck’s the guy that everybody wants to have a beer with,” said Gerda Maissel, the hospital’s chief medical officer since 2010. “(He) gives a lot to the community (and) he does it for all the right reasons.”

But despite Gijanto’s best intentions, maintaining high employee morale and public confidence in the hospital hasn’t always been easy.

He assumed leadership of the hospital during the middle of a contentious contract negotiation with the Massachusetts Nurses Association. He leaves the area just months after the hospital and its nurses settled a nearly 2 1/ 2- year labor dispute, which featured a 24-hour strike and almost included a second one.

Unlike previous contract negotiations, this one played out in public ­— with nurses holding rallies and forums and the hospital buying full-page newspapers ads to send open letters to the community.

“It was a challenge for everybody,” said Gijanto. “There was some natural tension between the nurses and (other hospital employees) over sort of how public this had gotten and the potential public damage it was doing to the hospital.

“I’m sure the patients could sense that tension inside our organization and our patient satisfaction scores, in fact, dropped during that time,” said Gijanto, adding that the scores rose again when a contract was signed in February.

Just days before what would have been a second strike, Sen. Rosenberg brought Gijanto, nurse leaders and others to a bargaining table at the Hotel Northampton. Local union co-chair Donna Stern called it a “remarkable 24-hour period” and said that it made all the difference that it was Gijanto, and not the hospital’s lawyer, sitting across the table.

“I really felt Chuck was committed to Greenfield,” said Stern. “When he was able to focus on local issues ... he worked in a very collaborative way.

“Even at the worst of negotiations ... I never had a bad conversation with Chuck,” she said.

Maissel, the chief medical officer, said that Gijanto didn’t let the negotiations impact his professional relationship with union members.

“He didn’t vilify the nurses,” she said. “He would instead remind people, ‘Once this is over and everybody else goes away, we’re still neighbors and friends.’”

Springfield drain?

The recent labor dispute spawned another movement: a rallying cry from some in the community that the Baystate health system was stripping services from Greenfield and sending them to Springfield.

Gijanto and Baystate Health leaders have firmly denied this, arguing that Baystate Medical Center is often filled to capacity and that officials there have no intention nor desire to take hordes of Greenfield patients.

Still, Gijanto will be the first to admit that money has been tight. Baystate Franklin Medical Center has operated at a loss for years, mostly because poor, rural Franklin County has disproportionately high rates of Medicare and Medicaid patients. For nearly three out of every four patients who walk through the hospital’s doors, the expenses cost more than the revenue, said Gijanto.

And while the not-for-profit hospital isn’t looking to bring in loads of surplus cash, Gijanto has argued that the bottom line is still important. The hospital could have acted on its need for new operating rooms a lot sooner had it had the cash and borrowing power to do so, he said. And health care reform is only going to mean smaller federal reimbursements to hospitals in the future, he said.

So the hospital had to made difficult decisions, like rounds of employee layoffs and the turning over of its behavioral health and substance abuse program to ServiceNet.

Gijanto, meanwhile, tried to find new sources of revenue and ways to convince patients to stay local for care.

Baystate Franklin introduced a sports medicine program and opened a wound care center to provide a specialized kind of therapy. The hospital introduced a tele-medicine program that allows specialists in Springfield to consult with Greenfield patients using video equipment.

Physicians needed

But recruiting and retaining doctors to this rural hospital was always a challenge.

Gijanto worked with his colleagues at Baystate Medical Center to send residences of the teaching hospital up to Greenfield for mandatory rotations. The hospital’s emergency department staff is the “strongest its ever been,” said Gijanto, because high quality recruits from that program are choosing to then work in Greenfield.

For other positions, like urology, physicians have been hard to attract. Before the hospital could start showing its plan for new, larger operating rooms, surgeons would be turned off by the aging facilities, said Gijanto.

“We aren’t going to settle,” he said. “We’re going to recruit quality physicians, so that made it particularly challenging.

“I think people really misconstrued having lost, particularly, some surgeons as that being Baystate ... pulling business to Springfield,” said Gijanto. “We lost business but people were not getting pulled to Springfield. People were going to our competitors.”

The Massachusetts Nurses Association held a forum in spring 2013, where residents blasted the hospital and health system for failing to protect local services.

But another forum held this spring couldn’t have more different in tone: the hospital and health system was invited to share plans for the future, including a $26 million operating room construction project that’s scheduled to be completed by 2016. Stern said she was “cautiously optimistic” that Baystate would follow through.

And Baystate Health began funneling money into Franklin County last fall, when officials announced a $150,000 donation to Greenfield to support its broadband Internet initiatives. The organization then served as the lead sponsor in this year’s United Way of Franklin County campaign and gave $20,000 to the YMCA to help hundreds of residents follow through on an exercise regimen prescribed by their doctors.

Outside aid

Gijanto remains convinced that without the backing of Baystate Health, the Greenfield hospital would have suffered a similar fate to North Adams Regional Hospital, which filed for bankruptcy in April.

Still, he’s liked the small feel of the community hospital and has been involved in Franklin County activities since his move, including serving as president of the Kiwanis Club of Greenfield.

He’s used an internal hospital blog to inform employees about health care reform updates or interesting hospital programs, and worked with hospital spokeswoman Amy Swisher to produce the community television program “Healthbeat.”

Gijanto also introduced the hospital’s “Caring for Colleagues” program, which allows people to donate to a fund that is distributed whenever a colleague is in major financial need.

Bruce Mainville, a lead nuclear medicine tech, said Gijanto responded immediately when one of his peers, a hospital radiologist, died unexpectedly.

“Chuck was here for us every single day, for months,” he said.

And nurse Patricia Coffin said that Gijanto routinely came in on Saturdays and walked through the hospital to see how employees were doing.

On one visit, she pointed out a man who was very upset that his gravely ill wife was about to enter surgery.

Gijanto sat down with the man and waited with him until his wife’s surgery was over.

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