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New leader of UH Ahuja Medical Center: ‘It’s alive. It’s real. It’s happening.’

Jim Benedict is excited about being in the driver’s seat at UH Ahuja Medical Center — the first brand new hospital to be built by Cleveland’s University Hospitals in at least a decade. Benedict is trying to listen to what employees, doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, patients — and the community — want as his institution creates its medical care campus in Beachwood.

BEACHWOOD, Ohio — Jim Benedict is excited about being in the driver’s seat at UH Ahuja Medical Center — the first new hospital to be built by Cleveland’s University Hospitals in at least a decade.

It’s also the first new hospital Benedict has helped to plan and build. “Having the opportunity to do that in one’s career is very intriguing and interesting and quite frankly, special, because not many people get the chance to do a green-field hospital,” the newly appointed president of the Ahuja center said during a Thursday interview.

The $230.5 million medical campus taking shape in the Chagrin Highlands development of Beachwood is named for businessman and philanthropist Monte Ahuja and his family. A University Hospitals trustee, Ahuja and his family gave $30 million to the hospital system for the project, part of its $1.2 billion strategic plan called Vision 2010.

The hospital and medical office, expected to be completed late next year, are “truly remarkable,” Benedict said, giving credit to the architects and workers who are building the campus. “We’re on time, we’re on budget, things are moving along exceptionally well.”

But the Ahuja project and Vision 2010 mean more than bricks-and-mortar to Benedict, who agreed to lead the hospital building and operations more than two years ago. “Everyone’s excited about where UH is going, in terms of the building of Vision 2010,” he said. “It’s how we’re defining ourselves as a health system.”

Benedict sat down with MedCity News to talk about his new job title and continuing responsibilities.

Q. What year did you join University Hospitals?

A. 2004. I came as general manager of operations for the academic medical center … now Case Medical Center. I was recruited primarily to run operations for Dr. Rothstein (president and CEO of UH Case Medical Center). And the reason I came was that I was very impressed with the mission of UH: to heal, to teach and to discover.

I came at the right time as the health system was expanding. That provided a tremendous amount of opportunity. I think the organization was able to fit my skill set and my experience …  So I had had experience in development of ambulatory networks both at the Cleveland Clinic and the development of its family health center network and the regional surgical network, and also at MetroHealth with the development of its centers for community health.

Q. Do you recall your first conversation with University Hospitals executives about leading the Ahuja project?

A. It’s been maybe two years ago or so. I think for the most part the idea of the hospital probably was in (UH chief executive) Tom Zenty’s mind for awhile. He’s very strategic in his thinking. Through my work at University Hospitals at the main campus and through my work at ambulatory development, Tom Zenty and Dr. Achilles Demetriou (president of University Hospitals) had asked  if I would be interested in undertaking the operational development of the new hospital.

Q. What are the opportunities of building a brand new hospital?

A. You have the opportunity to build a culture from the ground up; it’s a blank slate. And so you can work with different people and their specialties and expertise to create something that is efficient, that’s patient-centric, that’s truly mission-directed.

Q. So, what’s the biggest challenge of building a hospital from the ground-up?

A. It’s challenging because of the number of steps one has to take in terms of being able to integrate all of the different disciplines that are required to make a health care delivery through an in-patient setting appropriate, and meet the goals of quality, patient-centric care. We’re really making sure we’re responsible for every dollar that we get, and that we’re using in consideration of the mission that we have.

Q. How do you prioritize those challenges?

A. We broke it down into modules of each of the disciplines within the hospital. So we looked at cardiovascular as a discipline, you look at surgery as a discipline. And we also broke out the operations, so things like patient transport, environmental services, nutrition services. And then we met with the leadership across our health system. At the latest count, 300 or so people have touched this project. And there’s been tremendous input from the community. 

Q. How would you describe the process of UH defining itselve as a health system?

A. We listen … to feedback from our patients, our employees, our physicians, our nurses, our allied health professionals, and we get them involved in who we are. The other thing is Tom Zenty has really set a vision for us. And Tom listens. He’s very much a participative CEO. He helps the whole organization forge a direction based on the vision that’s been articulated. I think there’s a very good synergy now that exists among our ambulatory network, our community hospital network, and the academic medical center. And what that enables us to do is have a more efficient delivery system and to manage the costs associated with health care today.

Q. As continuing head of UH’s out-patient health centers, how will your new health center in Concord Township collaborate with UH Geauga Medical Center, which is in a neighboring county?

A. The ambulatory network really is a way to put diagnostics and physician services and urgent care in a convenient setting close to patients. When that testing or diagnosis for a particular patient … requires an in-patient stay, we have the ability by having that continuum of care in a defined geographic area  to deliver the care closer to home. So it really creates an environment where people begin to see the UH health system as a destination for their physician, for their diagnostics and for their in-patient care.

Q. How do you market a new hospital?

A. We have what’s called the Ahuja Leadership Council. That’s a council of members made up of the community. Right now, it’s upwards of 40. That council is a community-based group which enables us to work through and solicit their inputs on the operations and the positioning of the hospital.

Q. What’s involved in planning for the hospital’s clinical operations?

A. We gauged our clinical leadership … when we developed a design. Now, we’re starting the work flow processes. How does the patient move through the system? Where are there efficiencies that can be garnered? Where do we have the work flows that are going to bump up against the electronic medical records? And the other thing is to make sure that where there are the patient contacts — transporters spend a lot of time with patients moving them around the hospital. They have the opportunity to create a great experience for people.

Now, the thing that’s a little bit of a challenge for us, at the same time we’re building a hospital, we’re implementing electronic health records. So our electronic health record is going to change the way we do work-flows. So we have to constantly be making sure our work-flows bump up against the changing variables in our electronic health records.