Published April 2006
at hospital’s helm
Her friendly, down-to-earth personality and her team approach to managing have made Gail Larson a highly popular and successful leader as chief executive officer of Providence Everett Medical Center, success that recently earned her the Snohomish County Business Journal’s choice as its 2006 Executive of the Year.
The honor was presented to Larson early in March by journal publisher Steve Hawes at the Snohomish County Economic Development Council’s quarterly economic update meeting. Only a few days before, Providence Everett Medical Center was chosen by a national rating service as one of the country’s top 100 cardiovascular-care hospitals and one of the top 100 hospitals overall in America.
Larson is chief executive of Providence Health & Services Northwest Washington Service Area, which includes Providence Everett Medical Center, a 362-bed general and acute-care hospital with two campuses — on Colby Avenue in north Everett and on Pacific Avenue on Rucker Hill.
She oversees one of the state’s busiest emergency rooms, serving nearly 100,000 patient visits annually. The hospital staff has more than 3,000 employees and nearly 1,000 volunteers, plus a medical staff of more than 600 medical professionals with 41 specialties.
More than 21,000 patients are admitted each year; more than 6,000 surgeries are conducted; and nearly 4,000 babies are delivered at Providence facilities, as well as serving more than 195,000 outpatients and providing more than 5,100 outpatient surgeries.
Also, the hospital opened the Everett Healthcare Clinic in January 2004 for those who are poor, vulnerable and often have no health-care insurance. During the past two years the clinic has served more than 13,000 patients there.
But Larson’s responsibilities also include the $56 million Pavilion for Women and Children that opened on the Pacific campus in 2002, the Providence Physicians Group of 70 health-care providers at 12 clinics in the county, and Providence Hospice and Home Care Services.
Specialized Providence services include a cancer institute, chemical dependency program, diabetes program, maternity center, heart and vascular institute, midwifery care and lactation services, musculoskeletal institute, nutrition center, a maternal-fetal medicine clinic in partnership with the University of Washington, a sexual assault center and a sleep health institute.
In the course of operating a regional health-care system that serves Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties, there have been more than enough challenges, particularly in a public service arena that has its own inherent problems.
“We’ve had to deal with everything from figuring out how to provide services to Medicare and Medicaid patients, even though government programs don’t provide adequate reimbursement of our costs, to how to partner with Everett Community College and the University of Washington to train more nurses to fill shortages,” Larson said.
In 2003, less than two years after becoming CEO, she had to face every executive’s nightmare — how to make emergency staff cuts and pare budgets to cover unforeseen losses. A year earlier, the hospital had opened the Pavilion for Women and Children but didn’t realize it was losing money during its first year until final figures were tallied, revealing that some accrued costs hadn’t been included. By 2003, it was clear the hospital’s $333 million budget would show a $12 million loss for the year.
“We had to lay off about 50 employees, after many others left through attrition or retirement. But we were able to turn our finances around by making significant changes in various departments and focusing more on our core services,” she said, noting that the hospital staff “had to learn to think differently and be even more creative.”
Staff looked at what suppliers they were using, the effectiveness of their outlying clinics around the county, whether they had too many people in various places, how the hospital compared nationally with others of its size, how efficiently its two campuses were operating and what the revenues were from each program.
“When we isolated some of the operations, we found we were losing money with our Mill Creek pharmacy, our rehabilitation services in outlying areas, in our occupational medicine services and with our very robust wellness program,” Larson said. “We sold some facilities, discontinued some programs and closed that pharmacy. They simply weren’t part of our core business.
“But we knew we needed to continue our sexual assault center, midwife services and children’s center because nobody else provides those services that are greatly needed by the county. So we had to figure how to finance them,” she said.
Once the adjustments were made, the hospital ledgers showed Providence Everett Medical Center had recovered from the $12 million loss, moving to a $19 million net income — even while it was maintaining some costly but necessary programs.
“In 2005, even though we lost $7 million in serving the poor — part of a $50 million subsidy we’ve provided between 1994 and 2005 for those who couldn’t pay for essential medical care — we ended the year with a net operating income of $34 million,” she said.
“This wasn’t done by Gail Larson sitting in her office, it was done by the work of the medical staff, the board of directors and the regional office of the Providence Health System in Seattle,” she said.
Now, as CEO, she faces the challenges of preparing for the second century of service to the community as population projections warn of a 50 percent growth rate that is expected to expand Snohomish County’s residents from 660,000 today to nearly 1 million by 2025.
Being a nonprofit organization receiving no public funding, Providence is counting on good management, efficient operations, financing help from the Providence Health System and an anticipated $40 million from the Providence General Foundation to meet the challenge of providing for county growth by expanding and upgrading its Colby Campus.
A five-year, $500 million, master-planned construction and reconstruction project has begun with the building of the first facility, a five-story, $62 million regional cancer center. Two tower cranes will arrive on site in April to erect the facility adjacent to the hospital campus. It is being made possible through an innovative public-private partnership that includes The Everett Clinic, Western Washington Medical Group and Northwest Washington Radiation Oncology Associates.
The scope of the project includes not only the new cancer center but also replacing older buildings dating back to 1924, constructing a new hospital tower with additional rooms and high-tech wiring, plus installing new equipment. Two new parking garages also will be built on the Colby Campus site to reduce parking congestion in the north Everett neighborhood.
© 2006 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA