Since the announcement of a new hospital coming to Downtown Utica, Mohawk Valley Health System has been dealing with opposition, negative stories and criticism. Now that the hospital is up and running; the negativity, rumors and reputation-crippling stories haven't stopped.

On the heels of the most recent leaked story out of Wynn Hospital regarding the restriction for Physician Assistants on invasive procedures, Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) CEO Darlene Stromstad joined WIBX's 'First News with Keeler in the Morning' Tuesday to address the controversies and answer several questions.

Leaked Memo on PA Restrictions

The memo regarding the PA restrictions was sent to a select group of individuals working at the hospital and was only intended for their eyes. Stromstad says these types of leaks are demoralizing to employees who know information is being released by their co-workers.

The memo that was leaked and obtained by WIBX read, in part, "Effective Immediately, Physician Assistant providers are not allowed to perform invasive procedures at the Wynn Hospital. This includes Operating Room, all procedure areas, and the bedside. Please note regular PA duties, however, may continue."

When asked to comment further on this memo Stromstad said,

We do things routinely to make sure that we're following regulations and providing a safe environment for our patients. So this to me feels a little crazy and far reaching. And I would also say that it's very demoralizing to our staff because they're doing such a good job. To constantly be in the headlines is demoralizing for them, especially when they know this information is being fed to people by their co-workers.

She went on to give her official version of why the memo was issued regarding the PAs and invasive procedures.

Stromstad says that MVHS, individual physicians, and Slocum Dickson all hire PAs. They must have certain medical staff privileges for not all, but most procedures, and sometimes additional training is needed.

Stromstad said,

Sometimes what happens in an organization where you have people that have been here for a long time, you have PAs that have been around for a long time, they're well known and they're credentialed. They're trusted by physicians.

A physician might say to a PA, could you help me with this procedure? It feels right, but if that PA does not have that specific training, they may not help with that procedure. So we wanted to take a time out and go back and look at the PAs who are doing procedures and make sure all their credentials are up-to-date.

We do this with our nursing staff too. Nurses have to have an updated license to practice nursing and we run reports routinely to make sure that everybody is updated on their license. This is the standard care that we do.

Between those employed by MVHS and those who come in from physician practices, there are approximately 100 PAs at Wynn Hospital.

Stromstad understands that stories like this can damage confidence and such leaks can damage the hospital's reputation. She says she is willing to take those hits if it means better care and safety for patients. That includes the decision made to halt open heart surgery at the Wynn.

She says of the reputation hit, "It was completely done to support patient safety, so that should be more encouraging for people that we are willing to take these hits based on patient safety."

Suspension of Open Heart Procedures at The Wynn

When asked about the suspension of open heart surgical procedures at The Wynn, Stromstad stood firm on the motivation to do so and that was overall patient care and safety.

Stromstad says they could have certainly brought in locums, or temporary place holders, to continue the cardiovascular procedures but she felt that would not be the right move.

I did not want to introduce strangers into an organization right now. So instead, we chose to take the pause.

We are taking a reputational hit, a financial hit and it also makes people kind of mad at me, but it was absolutely the right thing for us to do. We had already undertaken a review process of our entire program, that's going on right now.

Secondly, we are contracting with the two cardiac surgeons who are going to come in so that we can start redoing cavers, structural heart procedures. So that's happening starting on June 18th.

She also added that they are going through the interview process to completely rebuild their cardiac surgery program, but that could take a few months. She does not want to resume the open heart surgeries fully until she has her full team in place.

She said that is critical to providing the best procedures and providing the best care possible. Stromstad says without a full bench, the procedures can't continue.

Addressing Rumors of Major Incidents

Stromstad was asked to clarify what led to the halting of the program and if there was a specific incident that prompted the decision.

Stromstad maintains that the issue was "a series of concerns about people's inability to work well together and this is a team sport." There apparently are still divisions within the new building that stem from the merging of two staffs at two separate hospitals coming together as one.

Stromstad said,

I do believe this has been a harder process of bringing the two organizations together under one roof than I would have expected. I thought we'd made a lot of progress, but when we're in a new building people kind of go back to their old habits. And those are not the same habits from Saint E's to Saint Luke's.

I do believe that since we moved in, we have made enormous progress on bringing the cultures together. We're actively working on it. I think the place where it shows up the most is in our nursing.

Areas where you see people working together really, really well and our patient satisfaction in our nursing units is very high. So that's coming along pretty well. 

Nursing and Other Staff Layoffs

Another rumor that has been swirling around is that there have been mass layoffs of nurses at Wynn Hospital. Stromstad pushed back on that claim.

She says there are in fact 200 open RN positions available and that union contract policies require "termination notices" for any change to a nurses schedule or shift.

There have been 11 cases in which some aspect of RN shifts had to be changed. Stromstad says,

It is required by union contracts that if you make any change to a nurse's job, you have to give them a termination notice and then based on seniority, they can bid on other jobs and move into other jobs. That's called a bumping process. So anybody who wants a job, any RN, who wants a job in this organization can have a job because we have about 200 RN openings. We hope they all stay.

One of the lingering issues that has plagued nurses and the hospital administration is the ongoing contract negotiations between the new union and Wynn leadership. Stromstad says those negotiations have essentially stalled despite 26 negotiation sessions. That is no doubt causing problems internally.

Financial Issues at The Wynn

The common talk heard around town is how broke the hospital is and how they are on the verge of financial collapse. While it may not be that dramatic, Stromstad did acknowledge they have had a rough year but are recovering.

Every hospital in Central New York has had a tough year. I think that over 50% of the hospitals in New York State are operating in the red and that's true nationally as well. I call it the COVID hangover.

Supply costs have gone up and labor costs have gone up. Our overall costs are up 17%. Our reimbursement is up 7%. So there is a gulf there, right? 

We are working hard to to to bring that delta closer and we are making good progress.

Stromstad says they are working with a national consulting company called Guide House to help them become more efficient. This is not simply a merger of two hospitals, according to Stromstad, this is a brand new hospital and people need to change how they were used to doing things previously.

Her hope is this consulting firm will help with the need for efficiency and modern practices.

Fighting the Negativity Still

This is not the first time Stromstad has overseen the opening of a new hospital system. She claims that this process has been harder and it relates to the naysayers. Stromstad said,

This is harder because we did bring two different facilities into the building at the same time. Also, I would say in every community there are naysayers, but they usually get quiet. Our naysayers have been at this for nine years. Nine years, Wow! That's crazy to me. It's crazy because the constant fear tactics, those aren't directed at Darlene Stromstad, but the people who are getting afraid are the patients who need to trust and use us and that's wrong.

While it may be anecdotal, Stromstad says for every negative story or experience there are several people who stop her and have enjoyed their experience at The Wynn. When asked if people in the community should feel safe and trust the care at The Wynn Hospital, Stromstad closed with the following statement.

This is a high reliability organization and that is something we put in place five years ago. That means that we must make every decision based on patient care and we do. Sometimes it's painful because people get mad at us, we lose money because of it, we close things down, but we will not sacrifice patient care. We just will not do it.

Ultimately, the hope for all in our area is that things will come together in a positive way and the new hospital kinks will get worked out. Nothing is perfect, but there needs to be accountability for the things that go wrong and for what it's worth the tough questions were answered. We can all hope that things will continue to improve.

You Can Watch Her Full Interview Below

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