Leaders in the business community heard an update on the local hospital Wednesday morning.
Luis Fonseca, interim CEO at Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin, served as the guest speaker for the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Eggs & Issues series. He spoke to a room full on the local Central Georgia Technical College campus, sharing updates on the hospital and introducing himself to the community along the way.
Fonseca told The Union-Recorder that he took on the interim CEO role in November following the departure of former CEO Todd Dixon, who had been in the position since June 2018.
“He’s a phenomenal individual,” Fonseca said of Dixon during his hourlong presentation. “He decided to take on a different role and a different challenge with a different company.”
The local hospital is no stranger to change in both leadership and name. Before Dixon, multiple CEOs cycled through in fairly quick succession. All the while the 140-bed facility underwent a couple of name changes as its ownership changed hands. What was for a long time known as Oconee Regional Medical Center became Navicent Health Baldwin and eventually Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin, which is where the name stands today.
“I think there’s wagers on how soon before we change the name again,” Fonseca joked. “I’m hoping that doesn’t happen because we spent a ton of money changing all the signs.”
Atrium Health Navicent did undergo another change at its top-most level recently. In December it was announced that the company merged with Advocate Aurora Health to create new parent company, Advocate Health. Advocate Aurora is based out of Wisconsin and Illinois. Fonseca detailed the new partnership by saying hospitals in the system’s midwest region will continue under the Advocate Aurora banner while those in the southeast will continue to use Atrium Health Navicent.
“We’re not changing the signs,” Fonseca said. “We are now the fifth-largest health system in the entire nation.”
Fonseca came to Georgia from the Alameda Health System in Oakland, Calif. He has more than 24 years experience in health care administration, and in addition to his interim CEO role also serves as a member of Atrium Health Navicent’s central and south Georgia executive team.
During his address Wednesday, he mostly gave a big-picture look at the hospital system’s efforts in this region with the occasional focus on the local hospital. The interim CEO shared that Atrium Health Navicent’s footprint covers about 20 counties in this region with facilities in Macon, Baldwin County, Peach County, Monroe County, and Putnam County. Together they see nearly 1 million patient encounters per year and create an economic impact of about $1.6 billion. Locally, Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin averages between 90 and 100 emergency department visits per day, Fonseca said. The hospital system as a whole employs more than 12,000 people at its regional facilities.
Fonseca pointed out that the medical care realm is experiencing many of the same challenges as other industries — rising costs and difficulty recruiting employees. One way Atrium Health Navicent is combating the latter is through raising its minimum wage. Pay has gone up from $10 to $12.50 and now to $14 per hour starting out, representing a $180 million investment from the company.
The hospital administrator took a few minutes to speak about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on health care. While it certainly was a difficult period, it did create some learning opportunities like integrating technology to increase accessibility.
“In the past, health care was very face-to-face,” Fonseca said. “For people in remote and rural areas, it was very challenging.”
He added that health care has been “dabbling” in virtual health for years, but mechanisms were not in place for those visits to be covered by insurance like Medicare and Medicaid. The pandemic made that a possibility, so significant strides are being made on the virtual health front.
Fonseca asked for the audience’s help before he left the podium.
“It’s telling our story here,” he said. “We need everyone’s help to tell that story. If I could leave you all with some homework, that is to spread the word. We are here to support this community. We are invested in this community. We’re continuing to expand services in this community, and we want to continue to be that anchor institution to support all of you and everyone else in this entire community.”
Chamber President and CEO Kara Lassiter thanked Fonseca for serving as guest speaker, and made sure everyone knew that next month’s Eggs & Issues on Feb. 22 will be on the state of Baldwin County given by county government leadership.