Published in The State, 31 Dec. 2010.

Palmetto Health – A Future Created from a Century of Experience
by Dr. James H. Herlong

Fifteen years ago this month — December 18, 1995 — hospital CEOs and board leaders announced they were embarking on the unprecedented act of creating a consolidated health system now known as Palmetto Health. 

Having come to Columbia in 1971 as a private practicing urologist, I have seen a great deal of change in health care. Undoubtedly the biggest was the creation of Palmetto Health. As a long-standing member of the Baptist Healthcare System Board of Trustees, I admit to having been among those "enthusiastic but skeptical" trustee physicians who knew the plan was ambitious and unpredictable, but imperative for our future. Now, I'm pleased to say that creating Palmetto Health was the right thing to do for our hospitals, physicians, patients and community.

In the beginning there were those who said "what?" and "why?" believing that our hospitals and medical staff were just as we wanted them. But, as a member of the Palmetto Health governing body, I have participated in changes that created a health care delivery system of doctors, nurses, clinicians and others that together provides the best inpatient and outpatient care possible in my community.  As chairman of the Board's Quality and Patient Safety Committee for the past six years, I've seen a sharp focus by a community board of directors who spends more time talking about achieving the highest level of patient quality and safety than it does about the financial performance of system operations. Palmetto Health and its physician partners are making great strides in consistent, high level performance from every member of the health care team to make each patient experience a quality one. And, we're still achieving strong financial performance.

Palmetto Health recently was recognized as the Best Hospital and the Best Place to Have a Baby by readers of The State newspaper, no surprise to those of us who see the patient experience every day.  Lesser publicized was recognition from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the leading national healthcare quality organization, citing our impressive results in quality improvement.  IHI has asked us to mentor other hospitals across the country in our extraordinary processes. This recognition affirms the remarkable quality and patient safety work being done at Palmetto Health.

My term on the Palmetto Health Board of Directors is ending this month and I've also decided to retire from the active practice of urology. This personal transition has given me time to reflect on what has happened over the past 15 years. While we have no idea what the future holds with health care reform, I am convinced that Palmetto Health has laid the foundation to succeed.  We've recognized that only with the right partnership between the hospital system and physicians (private, employed and USC faculty) can we implement the most fundamental work to foster quality and patient safety, monitor outcomes and achieve improvement. We've created an accountable care organization, called Palmetto Health Quality Collaborative, where our physician partners, led by Drs. Bill Gerard and Carey Hite, are integrated to achieve quality patient-centered care. Because we are ahead of most in the country on this effort, organizations across the nation are now seeking our advice. 

During the course of our journey, we've prepared for and responded to financial and clinical challenges. Regardless of what happens with health care reform from a national and statewide perspective quality and patient safety will be an important part of healthcare. Palmetto Health will be able to address those issues better than most.

With a century of experience in providing care for the people of central South Carolina, Palmetto Health will continue to be the leader in quality patient care. I'm proud to have been a part of this legacy and know that our leaders will assure that our path continues forward.

James H. Herlong, MD
Columbia SC  

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