Just hours after her appointment Wednesday, The Medical Center of Central Georgia’s first new chief executive in 15 years said the hospital is on the right path for the future.
“There’s already a lot going on in the Medical Center, and the key is to continue a lot of those initiatives and if necessary tweak it a little bit until you find the optimum solution,” said Ninfa Saunders, who will be president and CEO of both the Medical Center and its umbrella organization, Central Georgia Health System.
The 60-year-old said she’s found the hospital has “a lot of gems” who reach out to a community outside Macon. She’ll take the place of longtime hospital leader Don Faulk.
Faulk said Saunders has both clinical experience as a nurse and plenty of administrative experience, including running a multiple hospital system, New Jersey’s Virtua Health.
“I think she is very bright, she is very experienced, she is energetic, and I think she’ll bring a lot of new perspectives,” Faulk said Wednesday.
Faulk said Saunders is well-positioned for a challenging future in health care, in which the Medical Center has been building new partnerships with hospitals in Peach and Tift counties. Faulk told the hospital’s board that “this is an opportunity to trade up for someone with multiple facility experience. That could be our future.”
Details of the transition haven’t been settled. Faulk said he expects Saunders will arrive around Oct. 1, with the major part of a transition completed by mid-November. Faulk, 62, said he’d be available to help Saunders settle in.
Faulk has worked 39 years at the Medical Center -- where he was born, helping build it into Georgia’s second largest hospital.
Starr Purdue, chairwoman of the board for Central Georgia Health Systems, the parent organization of the Medical Center, said Faulk has given the organizations a stability that’s now rare in health care.
“He has positioned us well for the future of health care,” Purdue said Wednesday afternoon.
Purdue said Saunders’ abilities will aid the organizations as the uncertainty of health care reform hits, retiring baby boomers need more health care but sap the ranks of employees, and the health system begins to manage the Peach County Medical Center once it’s completed.
“She brings a strategic perspective to the future of the organization,” Purdue said. “She’s had a lot of experiences with strategic planning, she’s had a lot of experience with broadening into a regional health facility, so we’re looking for her to really help us kind of expand a little bit and make sure we are a regional facility.
“She’s also thought a lot about health care reform challenges, so we expect her to be able to address the challenges of health care reform and to be able to take advantage of other opportunities.”
Saunders said she expects some of the biggest challenges will come from national heath care reforms. She suggested solutions including preventing avoidable hospital admissions and readmissions. But the answers may also lie outside the hospital itself, such as ambulatory care, care at home and easier access to diagnostics.
“Is the hospital the only way or the only place for you to deliver care?” she asked.
The Medical Center has more than 4,600 employees and 637 beds, a spokeswoman said. Other system facilities include a rehabilitation hospital, a children’s hospital, a hospice and a senior living community.
Saunders is a nurse with a doctorate in health care administration from the Medical University of South Carolina. She trained as a nurse in the Philippines and New Jersey, and she also earned a master’s of business administration from Emory University. She has worked in health care for 39 years.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.