Making Care Accessible and Convenient
“There was no private hospital facility between Greenlane, Auckland, and Hamilton, there is quite a big gap, geographically speaking, without a private surgical health care options for the population of the South and East of Auckland. This particular area in Auckland is growing at an extremely rapid rate,” says Watson, pointing to the need for an extension of health care outside of the publically funded system. “Back in 2007 it was recognized that there was an opportunity for someone to build a hospital in the South and East Auckland area due to the rapid growth that was expected over the next few years with the planned execution “of a number of big projects” being developed by the local authorities. “We saw a need, we chose to fill it.”
These projects included a number of housing, commercial and retail developments that Watson described as “right next door to us”. However, these plans were put on hold due to the global recession. Watson knew that they are still on the books, and decided that although some people might hesitate in taking on this opportunity. “There is still a huge growth in population expected in this area in the next 10-15 years,” he says, so new homes or not, south-east Auckland will still need health care providers. In fact the population expected to grow by at least 170,000 in the next 15 years. It is a clear indication that an expanded health care system will be needed in the near future- if not already. With more than 50 surgeons credentialed to work at the hospital, the project already seems to be a success. With a joint venture partnership solidified with Southern Cross, they have been able to expand their original plans and provide more services. On June 20th 2009, Ormiston was opened as Auckland’s first private hospital, the ceremony was propitiated by Prime Minister John Key. The notability of this achievement was obviously not lost on government officials. This year marked the one- year anniversary of the company, one that was celebrated in local papers and events. “We also celebrated with our staff taking them out on a nice boat trip, we kept it small but I think everyone had a good time,” he says. “We celebrated with the staff who really make [Ormiston] work, to be honest and we really wanted them to make them feel appreciated.” The 90 staff members that make up the economic workforce of Ormiston are either nursing staff or allied health professionals workers. These employees make up the backbone of Ormiston’s plan for success.
“Clare McArthur, my predecessor, and John Edwards along with a few clinicians got together with a couple of local GP practices and went out and sold the idea of building a private hospital in the area. This hospital was to be guided by the clinicians and local GP’s, and owned by the clinicians and local GP’s.” The purpose, he says, was to serve the community of South and East Auckland, and the community is important to us. The founders saw that transportation to a major medical centre might present a problem to patients who required minor or cosmetic surgery. “We wanted to offer a solution that would mean that they didn’t have to travel to central Auckland to get their medical or surgical procedures done,” says Watson. South and Easte Auckland, specifically the Counties Manukau region represents about 11 per cent of New Zealand’s total population.
A “double boost”
Planning for the hospital began in late 2006 and carried on through 2007. During the final stage of building the stake holders were approached by Southern Cross Hospitals Limited.
Southern Cross represents New Zealand’s largest private hospital network, they are a not-for-profit group who focus on affordability in health services and any surpluses that they may achieve are reinvested into their group of affiliates and partners. Part of this reinvestment into private health care took the form of a formation of a partnership with Ormiston. “They wanted to invest into this facility,” recounts Watson, “they put a significant investment into this building and became a 40 per cent shareholder of the organization. By doing so, we became another joint venture with Southern Cross, of which they now have four all around New Zealand and this means that they don’t directly control the management of the hospital, but they have a seats on the board.”
Watson says that the investment and operational support that Southern Cross provided gave them a “double-boost” that let them expand far beyond what they had first planned.
“Originally we had planned for four operating theatres that would deal with mainly day case medical procedures. With Southern Cross we were able to add two more theatres, and improve our facility but allows us to do what we do now, which is not only day case surgery but more complex surgery and overnight stay ward facilities,” he says, very enthusiastic about what this means to the facility.
The building itself was completed in early 2009. Watson laughs when asked if it still has that new hospital smell, “it does,” he chuckles “just like a new car.” The hospital boasts some of the most technologically advanced operating theatres in New Zealand, attracting professionals to the private facility from far and wide. The preference that surgeons have placed with Ormiston speaks to the efforts that Watson and the staff there have made in providing the best facilities and support. “Of course one of our biggest challenges that we faced was that we open smack-bang in the middle of the recession,” although New Zealand has escaped much of the worst of this economic down-turn, people were worried about the possible effects. Many down-graded their health insurance policies and put off elective surgeries. “Obviously people thought that they needed that money somewhere else in their household spending,” says Watson, he has also seen a reduction in the funding the Government has supplied for letting public health patients have access to private hospitals, as well as significant case review processes within ACC .
“These are the main areas that have affected our patient throughput numbers, but to be honest since the beginning of this year we have noticed a plateau of patient numbers. This is actually quite pleasing because last year we were seeing dips and spikes, now we are actually levelling off with a regularity in our patient throughput,” Watson says he is very pleased with the progress he and his team have made in the last 12 months. On approaching the community, Watson says they are being quiet successful in developing ties with all the local GP practices and a certain trust in their care. “Because we have both a public and a private healthcare system here, what we have been trying to show them that we are that ‘comfort blanket’ should they require surgery or medical treatment,” he says.
Spreading the word
The General Practitioners that Ormiston depends on are also its biggest evangelists. By having some of them as shareholders in the hospital, they are also motivated to see the project succeed. “We also market to the community, as a service that is available and convenient to their local area. We really try to push that aspect as part of our overall marketing strategy,” Watson says. “Certainly we have been successful in this because the community is a lot more aware of us and our services than they were 12 months ago. If they ever need a private hospital, they know that they have one on their doorstep rather than having to go all the way into Auckland City, through some terrible traffic at certain times.”
One of the goals for Ormiston Hospital is to become part of the overall health system for Counties Manukau, working in partnership with the public health system in providing quality healthcare to the community. Though situated in Counties Manukau, Ormiston reaches into the surrounding area, such as Northern parts of Waikato and the Coromandel Peninsula. “What’s unique about Ormiston is that if you get your surgeons to invest in the operations of the organization by way of shareholding, which then allows the surgeons to more incentivized to bring patients to this hospital, which becomes a facility that they know and trust.”
Another aspect that separates Ormiston from the rest of the herd is that they are “brand new, chic and contemporary in the design and layout of the hospital. We have a significant amount of state-of-the-art and cutting-edge medical equipment that a number of other hospitals have not moved on to yet,” says Watson. Trust and convenience means a lot to the patients that Ormiston serves, with consistently positive feedback from both patients and doctors.
“We have concentrated on improved models of patient flow, high standards of care, and judging from our patient satisfaction surveys, and from the feedback we get from our surgeons we are very well regarded at the moment, with an outstanding clinical reputation,” he says, quite pleased with the results. He also points out that their clinical reputation has also been very high amongst their peers in the industry. “Certainly, many of the doubters we may have had 12-months-ago appear to have all silenced.”
For this year Watson says that their main focus will be on the consolidation of services, and getting the existing facility operating to its full potential. Watson says that the next year will also help determine the growth rate of the hospital for the next 5, and even 10 years. With their expanding reputation, Ormiston sees that the more surgeons that want to be part of the hospital, the busier the hospital will get.
Is Watson proud of what Ormiston has accomplished? Simply put: Very. “I am extremely proud of our clinical reputation in the workplace that we have at the moment. I am very proud of the level of experience and skill that we have in our staff, we put a lot of effort in to acquiring the best staff that came from this area, we have even attracted a lot of care professionals from other hospitals to come and work for us. We rely on the skills of our specialists that choose to work in our facility, but we also treat them like our customers.” Watson thinks they have been particularly successful in building up their confidence in the service they offer and making their staff and physicians happy. “I think this makes us unique because this way we really have two types of customers. The first of course is the patients, the second is our specialists. If we keep them happy, they will come back to us and bring their patients.” Each set of customers, says Watson, is equally important to them.