Quality of care is top priority for new CEO of Southern Regional

Charlotte Dupré

RIVERDALE — Reducing wait times in the emergency department and improving the quality of care are two top goals for the new CEO of Southern Regional Medical Center — goals she said are already within reach.

Charlotte Dupré officially took the helm of the struggling Southern Regional Medical Center in April after being tapped in February as the interim chief executive officer of 331-bed hospital in Riverdale.

Dupré came on board with Southern Regional in December as part of the transition team with Prime Healthcare, which acquired the community hospital after it filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy last summer.

Prime Healthcare owns 43 hospitals in 14 states. It was founded in 2001 “with a mission to save hospitals, improve community healthcare and provide the very best care to patients,” according to its website.

With this mission, Dupré seemed a natural fit for Southern Regional.

With a degree from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in business education and a Master’s of Business Administration from Tulane University in New Orleans, Dupré has built a career in healthcare, education and quality development. She has a track record of helping to turn around failing healthcare organizations, including at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina and, most recently, at Central Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.

Dupré said the challenge of working with a team to bring an ailing entity back to robust financial health “is exciting.” For example, Central Mississippi Medical Center was a 420-bed hospital that was stagnating and not turning a profit. Under her leadership, the hospital secured certificates of need to expand by 33 beds and, by her second year, had made $38 million.

“It can be done here,” Dupré said. “I can’t promise $38 million in the first two years, but there is certainly opportunity. When I came in December, we were losing about $4 million. We broke even last month.”

With a little more stability with its finances - Prime Healthcare has committed to invest $50 million in capital equipment and infrastructure improvements over the next five years — Dupré is looking at more than just managing expenses.

“Now is the time for growth,” she said, pointing out that the first step is to invest in quality equipment.

Toward that end, Southern Regional has purchased several pieces of equipment, including MRI, CT scans, ultrasound and X-ray equipment, new beds and an entire new monitoring system.

Dupré is also zeroing in on the emergency department. She has a stated goal by the end of the summer to reduce the average length of stay to no more than two hours.

Currently, the length of stay at the emergency department is between seven and nine hours. While she said this is comparable to other hospitals in the metro Atlanta area, “it is too long. It’s not OK.”

Dupré is tackling the issue by first, speaking candidly about the problem with the leadership teams at Southern Regional, to “keep it top of mind,” she said.

Dupré said changing the mindset among the staff at the hospital to work together and “not work in silos” is crucial for making positive changes that will impact patient care.

“This is our challenge and we talk about it,” she said.

Each morning, Dupré assembles the hospital’s management team for what she calls “safety huddles,” where they focus their discussions on communicating about improving safety, quality of care and operations.

“You have to talk about it and live it or people don’t understand it,” she said.

Dupré said she is already seeing the efforts begin to pay off. She said the average length of stay has been reduced to about four hours, with some days reaching the two-hour benchmark she is aiming for.

Once that is achieved, Dupré said she will work to develop a seniors emergency department where any patient over the age of 65 will have no wait time, but will be immediately put in a bed, screened by a hospitalist and, if needed, admitted to the hospital.

Dupré said that while a number of physicians, nurses and staff left the hospital during its transition from filing bankruptcy to being acquired by Prime, the people who remained at Southern Regional have been the lifeblood.

“The people who stayed with the hospital were genuinely committed,” she said. “The leaders who stayed and are here now, they are really dedicated and love this hospital, and they want to see it succeed.”

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