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FirstHealth of the Carolinas
Message from the CEO

Charles T. Frock
Chief Executive Officer
FirstHealth of the Carolinas

We all know about the weather.

When our favorite meteorologist tells us that it will rain sometime during the day, we tuck an umbrella under an arm as we head out the door. The rain may last for a few hours or even a few days, but we know that the sun will eventually reappear.

That’s what we expect with a change in the weather.

Climate change is more difficult to understand. It takes place over years. It’s subtle and hard to predict. And, unlike a change in the weather, it will be around for a long time.

FirstHealth of the Carolinas has historically been blessed with a very congenial climate. We’ve had little or no competition in many of our service areas and a healthy payer mix of privately insured and Medicare/Medicaid-covered patients. At the same time, modern science and technology have allowed us to grow and improve our services. When there were challenges, they were like the changes of a rainy day—mere blips on the FirstHealth radar.

That’s no longer the case.

The climate of health care has changed—not just locally, but statewide and nationally, and not just casually, but notably and significantly. More and more, FirstHealth—like health care organizations across the country—is facing what we have come to call “the new normal.” That means growing competition from physicians and other hospitals, slower increases in reimbursement despite increased costs to provide services, and increasing inpatient volumes of sicker patients who need more resources (staff, supplies, medication and technology) for their care.

At the same time, the public has become savvier about health care and expects—and rightly so—higher levels of quality and service. Medicare and some private insurers are linking reimbursement rates to performance levels—known as “pay for performance”—for some services.

These are all signs of health care climate change.

Like a good meteorologist, FirstHealth predicted the change and is preparing for the new climate. We are seeking and promoting ways to grow profitable services. We are reevaluating programs whose costs exceed their benefit to patients and other customers. We are reducing supply and contract costs in ways that won’t adversely impact our service and quality. We are also listening, even more closely than ever, to the expectations of our public, as well as to the suggestions from our staff.

FirstHealth has always been a successful operation, and I am confident that it will remain so. Three credit-rating agencies recently reviewed our financial outlook and reaffirmed our AA or AA- rating, and we still solidly dominate our market. We are also (in the words of our 2020 Vision) working together to address our challenges. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the 3-inch stack of ideas that FirstHealth employees have submitted to me about ways of improving our services to better serve our patients and other customers.

Dr. Wayne Sotile, a nationally recognized expert on workplace collaboration, recently visited the Moore Regional Hospital campus for a quarterly meeting of FirstHealth’s leadership. During his visit, Dr. Sotile shared what he calls “roadmaps for positive thinking through challenging times” and noted that even little changes make big differences.

That is, in a nutshell, what we are striving to do in this climate of the new normal—we’re making a lot of little changes, and a few bigger ones, in order to make big differences as we work together to remain first in quality, first in health.