Taking on a challenge

By Vicki Hyatt | Jan 16, 2013
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt Janie Sinacore-Jaberg

Before accepting the top job at MedWest-Haywood, Janie Sinacore-Jaberg did her homework. The thorny internal struggle that hangs over MedWest’s future, the financial difficulties now being worked through, the need for a larger market share and even the troubled times in 2008 when the hospital was decertified as a Medicare provider — none dampen her enthusiasm for her new challenges.

The past, she said, is over, and what’s important now is how the hospital moves forward.

The energetic new chief executive officer has been in the thick of things at three separate hospital mergers, and she built a $153 million hospital in the Charleston, South Carolina, area “on budget and on time,” she emphasizes.

“What is happening here has been going on at every hospital I’ve ever been at. Change the name of the hospital and the city, and you’ll have the same things,” she said.

Sinacore-Jaberg has a game plan to turn the situation around at MedWest-Haywood, and it includes not only involvement from the medical community, but the community at large.

While her primary focus will be on making the Haywood medical facilities successful, as a Carolinas HealthCare system employee, Sinacore-Jaberg will also be working toward the success of  MedWest, a private nonprofit organization formed three years ago when hospitals in Haywood, Jackson and Swain affiliated and signed a 10-year contract with Carolinas HealthCare system to manage the system.

“We fix things,” she said simply. “It’s not me, it’s the team. Do I like a challenge? You bettcha. It’s an adrenaline thing. ... As a system here, we need to get together with communities west of us. We’ve got to get everybody together to talk about it.”

The path forward will be spearheaded by Sinacore-Jaberg and the hospital's management team, one that's been in place at MedWest-Haywood for some time, but is "new to me," she said. The future direction will be charted after a reassessment of what the community wants its hospital to be.

Meetings with the organization’s staff are under way, and community focus meetings will start in February.

“I’m a firm believer we can’t be all things to all people. It’s not an option because we’re not big enough,” she said.

Once there’s a redefined vision at MedWest-Haywood, Sinacore-Jaberg and her team will be in the driver’s seat to accomplish the goals.

“I see so much opportunity here. Are we where we want to be? No. But we will be,” she said. “I saw an opportunity to bring together a community with their heath care and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

 

Changes on the way

While many top administrators come from the business or financial perspective, Sinacore-Jaberg is a clinician. That’s why she will be making rounds to visit patient at least once a week, and she expects everyone on her administrative team to do the same thing.

Having administrators visit patients isn’t always welcome at first, she admits, but then she shares a story about an IT director who was at the bedside of a seriously ill patient who he was able to comfort in her dying moments. It was a moving experience for him, and one that drove home the point of periodically visiting with patients, she said.

She has also started an early morning meeting — 15 minutes where nobody sits down.

“You sit down and you start doing this,” she said touching her fingers thumb together, indicating chatting. “It’s a morning huddle — a connection to see where everybody is at for the day.”

 

Patient care trumps all

In an interview last week, Sinacore-Jaberg said she never dreamed she would be a hospital CEO when she was working her way through nursing school as a surgical technician. But she did know early on she would choose a career in healthcare.

At age 16, her father had a massive heart attack, and she was with him. That tragedy sealed her future.

She worked her way up the ladder in health care — from nurse to chief nursing officer, chief operations officer and overall chief — and even briefly left the clinical side to try her hand as a regional sales representative.

“I missed being able to make a difference in a patient every day,” she said. “I was covering five states and was in charge of rescue squads, EMTs and paramedics. It was a great opportunity, but I wasn’t in a hospital. It’s in my blood.”

Sinacore-Jaberg is proud to say she maintains her nursing certification and is licensed in 13 states, something she intends to continue.

“There’s very little our system can say to me that, at this point, I haven’t done,” she said. “The skill set I bring to table is one that maybe others don’t have. I met with a potential who said it was “nice to talk to someone who knows that I’m talking about.”

New challenge

Sinacore-Jaberg’s excitement about her new position is palpable.

It wasn’t just getting back to the Carolinas that held appeal. It was the challenge. What sealed the deal for her was meeting the medical staff.

“I’m just in love with all of them,” she said, noting the medical staff here cares about one thing and that’s the patient. “Believe me, you don’t always have that.”

She is also excited to be working with Carolinas HealthCare System, an entity she competed against in South Carolina. She remembers thinking they were a high-quality organization and that she would like to work for them at some point.

Now that she has joined their team, it’s time for action. Community focus meetings will likely start next month where individuals will have a chance to weigh in on their healthcare future. If care in a certain area can’t be provided locally, Sinacore-Jaberg said, MedWest-Haywood will get the patient to where he or she needs to be.

“In every organization I’ve  been in, there have been challenges. Together you have to work through them,” she said. “This is not just about our physicians or hospital staff. This is about the entire community.”

Sinacore-Jaberg’s husband, Clair, is a retired physician recruiter. Their eldest daughter, Lauren, runs a medical billing company, and their other daughter, Julie, is completing her physical therapy doctorate. The close-knit family gatherings include a lot of medical talk, she confessed, along with a bit of financial discussion, as one son-in-law is a banker.

John Young, regional group vice president for CHS, will be working closely with Sinacore-Jaberg as she moves forward.

“You can tell a lot about someone in three weeks,” he said. “She’s engaged, and she’s engaging. She’s no shrinking violet, that's for sure.”

Mark Clasby, MedWest board chairman and Haywood has high hopes for the hospital's new CEO.

She’s a very smart lady,” Clasby said. “She has high energy and brings a lot to the table.  I have high hopes.

That Sinacore-Jaberg started as a surgical nurse and worked her way up through the ranks, is another reason for optimism, he said, noting she will be the first hospital CEO from the clinical side in recent history.

“I’m excited about her being here,” he said.

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