When Learning Never Stops

Thanks to one supply chain executive, Westchester Medical Center has brought cutting edge to the bucolic Hudson Valley, with new automated processes for capturing expenses and updated resource maps.

Jim Connor, vice president of supply chain operations at Westchester Medical Center (Valhalla, N.Y.), is a perfect example of why change is good. What began as a post-high school job on the production floor of a manufacturing corporation eventually transitioned into a career in healthcare supply chain management. For Connor, one of the best parts of his current role is the opportunity for “perpetual learning” and continual challenges.

“After high school, I began working in manufacturing with Sperry Corporation (now Unisys),” he says. “I worked on the production floor for a very short time before moving into the warehouse.” He devoted the next 10 years to learning everything about inventory, item masters and manufacturing processes, and became particularly interested in computer programming. “I learned how to write code in an AS400 (IBM) environment,” he recalls. “After realizing a code writer was a perpetual education – and after a short time with a couple of other small manufacturers – I became even more interested in the implementation and process aspect of inventory and spend control. I landed in healthcare in the ‘90s, and have been implementing process change, material requirements planning concepts and supply chain management in several institutions ever since.
“After learning the ins and outs of the supply chain, the next logical step was to understand revenue capture and budget parameters,” Connor continues. “Concentrating on the systems and software programs used by hospitals helped me map out change in a fast and efficient manner.”

An outdated system
Connor joined Westchester Medical Center (WMC) as an implementation consultant. He describes his first 2 ½ years with WMC as the “standard fly-in on Monday and return home late Thursday night.” The facility was implementing a computerized scheduling, billing and surgical event recording system, he notes. “The decision was made to use the current MMIS system as a base for building the process,” he says. However, the 8-year-old base system was no longer functional and needed to be populated with basic item master data components. “As a result, I was assigned the task of building the item master for all supplies used in multiple surgical locations. I was part of a five-member team assigned to fast-track the process, activate the clinical data recording and create a computerized billing process as quickly and efficiently as possible. After the revenue capture process was stabilized, the next logical step was to assist the institution with budget and spend controls projects for the IDN.

Today, Connor is responsible for ensuring that the 643-bed facility’s spend is captured and monitored daily. “WMC is a public benefit corporation in the state of New York,” he explains. As such, “it is imperative that our facility follows New York procurement guidelines to ensure it is contractually compliant. All purchasing and distribution functions for the entire health system report to me, and my department is responsible for the budget process for all consumable spend, [as well as] working closely with the finance and IT departments in all spend and revenue cycle projects.” Currently, WMC boasts $2.5 billion in revenue, with a yearly spend of $110 million on consumable goods.

Challenges and rewards
Connor’s most challenging – and rewarding – project at WMC has been to create an automated process for capturing expenses and mapping them to the billable revenue. “Working with the finance department, we have been able to restructure our item master to include revenue codes in our major spend categories,” he says. “Building transparency in the flow of expenses, and revenue generation with an embedded system structure, ensures we have an accurate forecast of both for our spend revenue generation.

“For the past three years, this project allowed us to monitor the budget and the variance, and reduce spend,” he continues. “Working with our group purchasing organization, MedAssets, by service line, and having the visibility at a granular level, has really accelerated the savings. We are averaging over 10 percent in cost reduction.”

Connor looks forward to working with the surgical teams at WMC to “take control of updating the resource maps and pick ticket process,” he says. “We have always been on the sideline of the problem, and now we are getting ahead of the curve and becoming the go-to people in the organization to make change happen faster. Without a fluid process to maintain accuracy of the requests for products in the surgical service locations, the variability is wide.”

Indeed, he believes the clinical staff’s primary concern should be the patient, followed closely by the surgeon. “Clinical personnel should never be concerned with having supplies or equipment available, and they should not have to focus on chargemaster management,” he points out. “We need to become better manufacturers of surgical events, and the variability needs to be reduced between comparable surgical events – not only regarding supplies, but labor as well.

“It is important for our supplier partners to have an understanding of our current capabilities so that an accurate business plan can be developed,” he says. “If both parties understand the weaknesses and strengths, then better process changes can happen in a more efficient manner, leading to better results.” By attaining price transparency, supply chain executives can focus on “the real dilemma – outcomes” – he adds.

About Westchester Medical Center
Westchester Medical Center serves over 3.5 million people in the New York Hudson Valley. More than 120,000 patients receive care annually in every clinical specialty – from cardiovascular diagnostics to cardiothoracic surgery, vascular surgery, vein treatment, neurosciences, neurosurgery, neuro-psychology, neurovascular intervention, heart, liver and kidney transplants, advanced obstetrics and gynecology, and robotic surgery – at the central hospital, as well as the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital and the Behavioral Health Center. In addition, the hospital system offers a level I trauma and burn center, a bariatric surgery center, and advanced imaging centers.

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