(This is the second of two articles about FirstHealth of the Carolinas’ volunteer leadership. Profiled
in this issue are the chairs of the Boards of Trustees of FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital and
FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital.)
FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital
By Brenda Bouser
PINEHURST—Fred Ritchie knows about change.
He has lived on both the East and West coasts of the United States. He has served on Navy destroyers and seen the occupied Japan of post-World War II. He has worked in an industry so wracked by change that he now collects a pension from a company for which he was never employed.
Ritchie has also seen plenty of change as chair of the Board of Trustees of FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, but he considers change in health care healthy, especially when it focuses on quality.
“There’s been immense pressure on clinical people and hospitals to improve quality,” he says. “The patients and consumers have been very fortunate in this. There’s a lot of attention today to that subject, much more than there was a few years ago.”
According to Ritchie, FirstHealth of the Carolinas focuses on quality “from the top down.”
“The staff is very motivated toward continuing quality efforts,” he says.
Stuart Voelpel, FirstHealth’s chief operating officer and president of Moore Regional Hospital, calls Ritchie a champion of Moore Regional’s quality efforts. “Fred has a real passion and a personal interest in quality and for efficient processes in evidence-based medicine,” Voelpel says. “He’s been our catalyst for directing the board’s focus on placing greater emphasis on quality.”
From west to east
Ritchie started out life in California, in San Jose, to be precise, where the hub of Silicon Valley has since replaced the fruit orchards he knew as a boy. It was where he first had thoughts of what he might want to do professionally.
“As a boy, I always thought it would be great to be a forest ranger,” he says.
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College took him first to the University of California at Berkeley, where he spent a year before getting a congressional appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Although accepted in 1941, he didn’t actually enter the Academy until 1942, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had propelled the United States into war.
He graduated in 1945 with a degree in engineering and was assigned to destroyer duty in the Pacific. “It was the tail end of the war,” he says. “I never saw any action.”
He did see a lot of the Far East, though, in Japan, China and Hong Kong.
Ritchie resigned his Navy commission in 1948, married, started a family and worked for several engineering firms before starting a career in the paper industry with Container Corporation of America. A company transfer eventually took him, his wife and their three children to Pennsylvania. Several years later, another job move took the family to Connecticut and Ritchie to Federal Paper Board Co., where he retired as vice president of manufacturing after 24 years.
Since moving to Pinehurst, Ritchie and his wife, Patricia (Pat), have enjoyed many of the amenities that drew them to the place. “Golf was an attraction, and my wife is an equestrienne, and that attracted her,” he says. “The only drawback is not seeing more of our children and six grandchildren.”
Ritchie enjoys reading and begins each day by perusing several newspapers, the Wall Street Journal as well as local and regional publications. Aside from the golf that he says “gets a little worse every year,” he also does “a little gardening” and enjoys painting in watercolor, mostly landscapes.
He brought a history of volunteer leadership to the Moore Regional Hospital Board after serving several years as a councilman for the City of Saratoga in his native California.
Ritchie’s interest in FirstHealth of the Carolinas and Moore Regional Hospital actually began with the Foundation of FirstHealth and service on the Foundation’s Investment Committee.
“I served as chair of the Foundation Board for a couple of years,” he says. “With that, I got exposed to the Moore Regional Hospital Board as an ex officio member.”
His interest in quality parallels the appointment of Cindy McNeill-McDonald as FirstHealth’s vice president of quality and the development of a systemwide QualityFirst Committee, a group made up of the board chairs of all the FirstHealth entities.
According to Ritchie, any discussion of quality in health care should involve the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve and control) approach that encourages striving for near perfection with the systematic elimination of errors. “Under the guidance of the QualityFirst Committee, many groups in the hospital are striving on a continuing basis to attain the highest degrees of quality achievable, well over 99 percent,” he says.
Ritchie spends a lot of his time on Moore Regional Hospital matters. During just one recent week, for example, he was at the hospital for three evening meetings. But it’s time well spent, he says.
“As a community, we are very fortunate to have such an outstanding health care complex as we do,” he says. “In turn, we are very fortunate to have such a supportive community.”
FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital
By Brenda Bouser
Paul Smart is neither Richmond County born nor Richmond County bred. For all practical purposes, he probably should have been.
The mid-Carolinas community of Rockingham has been home to the South Carolina-born/Virginia-raised Smart for almost 30 years. He and his wife, Susan, have put down strong roots in Richmond County, and it’s where they plan to stay.
“I have enjoyed being here,” Smart says. “When we moved here, the community felt like the right place.”
Smart feels just as comfortable about FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital. He has been a patient in the hospital, has used its outpatient services and now chairs its Board of Trustees. He speaks with authority about the hospital and its programs as a result.
According to Smart, Richmond Memorial is a great facility that just keeps getting better. “I always ask people if what we want to be is just as good as anybody else,” he says. “If so, then we can be better. I think that’s what we have to strive to do, and I believe the members of our board feel the same way.”
RMH President John Jackson has known Smart for many years and thinks that he brings a unique perspective to his role with the hospital board.
“When I think of Paul, I think of his last name,” says Jackson. “He’s very smart, very sharp, a quiet man who really thinks through the issue at hand before he comments. He has a very good understanding of the hospital, how it runs and what it needs to be successful.
“I suppose because of his engineering background, he also has a real interest in how the facility actually operates and in our various construction projects. But most of all, he’s always able to put the best interests of the organization at the forefront of any discussion. He’s just a good man.”
Born in Union, S.C., Smart was 10 years old when his family relocated to Clarksville, Va., just across the North Carolina line from Raleigh, because of his father’s job with Burlington Industries.
“That’s what I call home,” he says of Clarksville.
College took Smart to Virginia Tech for a degree in mechanical engineering. He graduated in 1968 and moved to Newport News, Va., for a job with Newport News Shipping & Dry Dock Co. During his three and a half years there, he worked on a variety of projects that included the design of the company’s first nuclear-powered submarine.
There was one drawback to the position. “I didn’t like being in an office so much of the time,” Smart says.
The need for more open spaces drew Smart to facility engineering and his first job with Burlington Industries, the company that had employed his father for so long. The plant was in the North Carolina mountain community of Hot Springs. But Smart and Washington, D.C.-native Susan—the William and Mary teaching graduate he had married shortly after graduating from college—decided to live in the larger Newport News, Tenn.
From Hot Springs, Smart transferred with Burlington Industries to several other communities—always in plant engineering and always to lead a particular installation project—as his standing with the organization grew. The 1978 move to Rockingham, and a new Burlington automated weave facility there, would be his last.
“I’ve been asked to move many times since and didn’t feel good about it,” he says. “I turned them down and stayed where I was.”
Smart’s sons—Adam, now married and a lawyer with the Justice Department in Washington, and Jeremy, a pharmacist in Greensboro—consider Rockingham their home. “They’ve never known any place but Richmond County,” their father says.
Smart quickly found his new job, as well as his new community, fulfilling. As plant engineer for the Rockingham operation, he is involved in the daily upkeep of all the facility’s auxiliary equipment and is responsible for state- and federally mandated environmental and safety issues among other responsibilities.
Unlike hundreds of similar operations that have fallen victim to significant industry change and offshore competition, the Richmond County plant moved into the 21st century with an eye toward distinctly modern markets.
“Our facility is presently adding equipment to fabricate side air bags, and this has demanded a lot of my time over the last six months,” Smart says. “I stay very busy, but I still feel it is important to give part of my time back to the community.”
Smart chooses to “give back” to his adopted community in many ways. Foremost among his concerns are his church, Rockingham’s First United Methodist, and Richmond Memorial Hospital. He got involved with the hospital board after being approached by a friend at a volatile time in the facility’s history.
“A lot of things were going on,” he recalls. “We spent a lot of our time talking about financials.”
Much has happened during Smart’s tenure on the hospital board, including the March 2001 completion of the merger with FirstHealth of the Carolinas. In the six years since, the hospital has added a variety of services: wound care, pulmonary rehab, a pain clinic, stereotactic breast biopsy and a sleep lab among them. It has also invested in a CT scanner, a full-time MRI, an enlarged and renovated Emergency Department, a fullservice Center for Health & Fitness and other capital improvements.
The time has also been highlighted by considerable improvements in patient and employee satisfaction. The hospital earned national recognition a couple of years ago when its patient satisfaction scores on inpatient, ambulatory and emergency services hit the 99th percentile, and employee satisfaction consistently hovers in the high and abovesystem range.
According to Smart, none of these achievements would have been possible without the work of a qualified and committed hospital and medical staff.
“That says a lot about how a facility operates,” he says.