Today CEO’s last day at Mercy

Today is Dale Thornton’s last official day as the Rural Division Chief Executive Officer and President of Mercy Tiffin Hospital.

With an empty office and a clear schedule, he reflected on his “three careers” Thursday.

“When I arrived here in 2003, we were over on Market Street and Hopewell Avenue, We left there after 95 years in that building, and in August, we will have been here five years,” Thornton said.

Originally from Walbridge, Thornton graduated from The Ohio State University. While there, he met Frazene, who grew up in Toledo. She would become his wife of 44 years.His first career in the U.S. Army lasted 23 years. Just before retiring from the military, he helped build a new health clinic in Germany. He said he “enjoyed immensely” his service in the Army.

“I got to serve all over the world helping soldiers and their families with health care,” he said.

That was followed by five years in ambulatory services and the outreach program at James Cancer Hospital in Columbus. Thornton said the experience introduced him to the realities of cancer care, and his patients taught him many life lessons.

“They understand what’s important in life, and it helped me to understand some of trivia you get all wound up about, you need to let go of it,” he said.

While Thornton was at Ohio State, the James Cancer Hospital opened a comprehensive breast health center with all the modalities for patients to be screened and tested on the same day. That approach enabled women to get a diagnosis and begin treatment in a short amount of time, reducing some of the fear while waiting for results.

“We’re so much better at diagnosing (cancer) in the early stages now and being able to treat it. I think people are more aware of the preventive things they need to do,” Thornton said.

His third career spanned 15 years with Mercy. As CEO at Willard Hospital, Thornton worked on plans for its new facility, which was finished in 2012. He became the interim CEO for Mercy Tiffin in August 2003 and CEO in October that year. The decision to build a new hospital required purchasing property, enlisting local companies to do construction and organizing people and equipment for the move.

“It really brought our leadership team and our staff together, because there was so much to do. But it was exciting. It really was a very vibrant period of our history. In some aspects, it was intimidating because we were leaving the hospital that’s been a fixture in the community for 95 years, which the sisters started here,” Thornton said.

One of the biggest challenges was locating and sorting all the medical documents that had been stored for years in the old building. People in each department had to check the dates to see which records could be eliminated and which had to be kept. Volunteers spent weeks shredding discarded files.

“Chris Rizzo did a very nice job of leading that effort. I just wonder how many tons of documents we destroyed in the move,” Thornton said. “I think everyone learned through that experience that it’s easier to do it every year.”

When moving day came in August 2008, employees and administrators were able to relocate without interrupting patient care. Thornton was pleased at the support he received from the Sisters of Mercy and the rest of the community.

The capital campaign for the new building exceeded its goal. About 4,000 people toured the facility during an open house. Thornton said he heard only one negative comment.

Many changes have occurred in the past five years, but the departing CEO said everyone has been very pleased with the building.

“I think we got 98 percent of it right … there was so much good planning that went into this. We had help from the board of trustees and people in the community,” he said.

Electronic storage has transformed the task of record keeping. The Ambulatory Electronic Health Record and the Inpatient Health Record have been installed and the staff has been trained. Thornton said the transition was frustrating for employees nearing the end of their careers but not so bad for people just coming into the health care field.

“It might inconvenience people, but it’s where we need to go” he said.

The former sleep lab and Mercy community center have been sold to the Allen Eiry Center. Thornton said Mercy’s partnership with the center enabled Allen Eiry to purchase the buildings, which are to be remodeled and repaired.

Mercy has retained ownership of the former Optima building. Long-range plans are to expand the cancer center, with space for art therapy, yoga and other activities for cancer patients. The Mercy Office Building is filled, and the dialysis center has moved onto the campus.

Another partnership was formed with the Seneca County Park District to open the Mercy Nature Preserve more than a month ago. The natural area promotes wellness by giving the community a place to walk and a spot for employees and families of patients to relax.

“My 15 years here with the Mercy system, both in Willard and Tiffin, have been extraordinary. I’m very happy to have been part of this organization for the last 15 years,” Thornton said.

Looking ahead, Thornton said a second Mercy Office Building is likely to go up to consolidate more health care entities on the campus. Right now, Mercy and all the other providers are concerned with adapting to the government’s new programs. The current fee-for-service model is shifting to focus on value-based health care. Government reimbursement will depend on variables.

“The payment will be based on the quality of your care and the satisfaction of your patient, not on how much you do for patients,” Thornton said. “The effort is to get to know that patient and help them to get through their entire continuum of care rather than them moving without any guidance through the system and getting tests ordered by multiple physicians for the same thing.”

In addition, Catholic Healthcare Partners has a new operating model that calls for restructuring and consolidation. One by one, offices such as human resources, finance and marketing, are to be centralized at one site within the system.

“Things that we do in all 24 of our hospitals can be done more efficiently. … That makes it a challenging period right now to get from where we are to where we need to be,” Thornton said.

While some positions are to be eliminated, Thornton said displaced employees would have priority for open positions in another Mercy facility. Depending on the person’s years of service, he or she could be eligible for severance pay. Also, an employee assistance program can help people find other employment.

Lynn Detterman, CEO at Mercy Willard, has been named interim CEO for Mercy Tiffin. She is on the Ohio Hospital Association’s Small and Rural Hospital Committee and serves as president of the Northwest Ohio Council of Hospitals.

“She knows what’s going on in the hospitals, but she’ll need to learn more about the (Tiffin) community as a whole … learning all the personalities, where the hot buttons are,” Thornton said.

He plans to spend his last day saying goodbye to employees and volunteers he has worked with for the past 10 years. He and his wife have some travel plans to visit their three grandchildren and to take a cruise along the East Coast.

“It’s been a privilege to be here for 10 years … it’s a partnership between everyone businesses, schools and the community itself,” Thornton said. “I find this a wonderful community, very supportive of one another. That’s why Frazene and I have decided to stay. Tiffin offers so much more than many other communities we’ve seen.”