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Tackling healthcare challenges through teamwork on Hawaii’s Big Island

Podcast - October 6, 2022

Professional Development

Leadership Development

Patient Access

Andy Stonehouse MA

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Erica Helsel, MBA, MS, is chief operating officer with Transformation Health Network in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Ahead of a long flight to Boston for the 2022 Medical Practice Excellence: Leaders Conference, Helsel joined the MGMA podcast as our first Member Spotlight guest. She talks about how an entrepreneurial teamwork strategy can help any practice, and the unique healthcare challenges posed some 2,500 miles off the U.S. mainland.
 
Editor’s note: The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
 
Q: You’ve heard the phrase, ‘you’re not in Kansas anymore,’ but you’re really not in Kansas anymore – that’s where you moved from. What have you found that healthcare is like in Hawaii, versus in Kansas or other states?
 
A: It’s the lack of providers and the lack of proper care. And when I say that there aren’t enough providers on this island - there aren’t enough to be sustainable, with the cost of living and not being able to have a metro transportation route for individuals. The Big Island is very rural, and when you have a lack of providers, you’re not going to be able to get in to see a provider for six months to a year. Then, how are you going to get there, and how are you going to get back home? We see a lot of chronic conditions come to pass because of that, and it just gets worse from there.
 
Q: You were telling me how, based on your experiences in other states, that Hawaii’s healthcare system is in some ways a decade behind. Could you elaborate on that?
 
A: I used to live in Alaska and did healthcare there. And Alaska is about three years behind what we called the Lower 48. In Alaska, if we didn’t have the services, we were able to fly (patients) to Seattle, Oregon or California. Here, you can go to Oahu. But even Oahu is so inundated with issues of healthcare, it does not guarantee you’re going to get it. Even then, it’s going to take some hoops to get through. So that’s part of the issue, not having to be able to refer somebody and get them in, in an appropriate amount of time.
 
Q: You said that one of the best ways you found success in being a healthcare leader was through EOS, an entrepreneurial program? What is EOS?
 
A: The Entrepreneurial Operating System was originally taught by Gino Wickman. Basically, it’s about having the ability to look at people and not say, ‘You don’t fit.’ Instead of letting them go, you move them around to put them where their skill set is. That has helped us tremendously. There are a few core values, like, everybody’s a team player – you have to get it, you have to want it, you have to have the capacity for it. And capacity is a learned thing.
 
No one is above anyone else. We work as a team. So that means whether you’re CEO or CFO, you roll your sleeves up, you get in there and you do it, too. And we always learn and improve daily. The goal is to bring people into an organization, and find where they belong, and if that’s the seat they excel in, then you give them the tools. ... And this isn’t for the faint, I will tell you. It’s about a two-year program. It also teaches not just leadership, but (it) teaches everybody underneath leadership. You cannot wear more than two hats and be successful. It doesn’t work … it takes away from everything else that needs to be taken care of.
 
Q: Are we entrepreneurial enough in healthcare? You mentioned earlier that you think of yourself as a change agent. That’s why you can go to Alaska and Kansas and Hawaii to make change and then move on to the next practice. Talk about that entrepreneurial spirit and how it can fit in this aircraft carrier of healthcare.
 
A: You always want to put your best foot forward. ... What we want to portray is giving our best foot forward as if we’ve owned it ourselves. And as if it’s money in our pockets or money out of our pockets. If we give bad service, we don’t see them again. Reputation spreads that way.
 
Q: One of the other things you mentioned to me previously is treat your staff with kindness. What does that look like in practice?
 
A: If you’re bringing in someone new that's never been in healthcare before, do you just throw them to the wolves or do you ask them about themselves? I mentioned to you before, I used to be in the military. Then, my leadership had said to me, ‘If your people aren’t taken care of, it can cost lives.’
 
It’s the same mindset in healthcare. So what that looks like is, say good morning. Don’t go in your office and close the door and not say anything. Ask them how their kids are. Ask them how their dog is. Ask them how their parents are. It’s not about being nosy and trying to be in their business. It’s making them feel valued because they are of value.
 
Q: You’ll be attending our Medical Practice Excellence Leaders Conference in Boston. What is it about this conference that would have you take time out of your schedule and the distance covered to attend?
 
A: No matter where I’m at, I feel like the conference always gives us the most up-to-date information and the availability for other leaders to come together and hash out all the issues we’ve had. For the last two years, we’ve not really had a conference because of COVID. So we kind of like seeing old friends, and also getting caught up on some of the issues that we’re all seeing with healthcare, the lack of staffing and lack of providers. We always come to the conference and get this breath of fresh air … to say you can still move forward with this, you’re not done yet, and there’s plenty more to do. 

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU 

We'd love to hear from you. Tell us what you think. Let us know if there's a topic you want us to cover or an expert you would like us to interview. Email us at podcasts@mgma.com
 
The MGMA Insights podcasts are produced by Daniel Williams, Rob Ketcham and Decklan McGee. 

Sponsor:
 
Zoll Data Systems - This episode is brought to you by ZOLL Data Systems A.R. optimization solutions for healthcare. The ZOLL A.R. Boost solution suite increases revenue from payers and patients in compliance with the No Surprises Act while reducing front-end workload and freeing up staff for higher-value activities. Visit www.zolldata.com/arboost to learn how you can ensure no payments are left on the table.

You can still register for the Medical Practice Excellence: Leaders Conference in Boston, October 9-12, 2022, and for the Digital Experience (DX) November 8-10, 2022.
 

About the Author

Andy Stonehouse MA
Freelance Writer and Educator Colorado

Andy Stonehouse, MA, is a Colorado-based freelance writer and educator. His professional credits include serving as editor of Employee Benefit News and a variety of financial and insurance publications, in addition to work in the recreation and transportation fields.
 

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