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Patient access tops new Stamford Hospital CEO’s focus

October 4, 2018

STAMFORD — Kathleen Silard has a long to-do list as the new CEO and president of Stamford Health, but one of her top priorities is breaking down barriers to care and improving the interface between patients and hospital staff.

“Sometimes hospitals are cumbersome places to interact with,” said Silard, 59, who now oversees the city’s largest private employer, Stamford Health — a network that includes the Stamford Health Medical Group, ambulatory services, and the hospital.

One of the ways to improve the experience for patients, she said, is using technology to better communicate with them. That means making it easier to make appointments, access records, and figure out where and how to get care.

The goal is “connecting the medical group, the hospital and the ambulatory networks so that patients experience us seamlessly,” she said.

Aside from patient care, Silard faces a number of budgetary challenges, from serving a large population that can’t afford service, to grappling with a state hospital tax and managing fallout from the expiration of the individual health insurance mandate.

But the focus of her first 100 days won’t be all on number crunching. It’s much simpler than that.

“The first thing I’m focusing on is getting people excited about the vision,” Silard said. That vision, she said, is laid out in painstaking detail in the hospital’s new strategic plan, which Silard helped spearhead.

While most of the plan deals with abstract concepts, the core of the strategy is building trust, creating a more inviting space for patients, as well as a shift toward treating patients as consumers.

“There are so many choices about where to go and we want to be the first choice for our patients,” Silard said in an interview at her office on Thursday.

The Greenwich resident became the first female CEO and president in the hospital’s history on Monday. But she’s no newcomer to the hospital, having served as the institution’s chief operating officer since 2003.

She replaced Brian Grissler, who had been president for 17 years and retired on Sunday.

As COO, she led initiatives to create a central location for a heart and vascular institute, expanded women and children’s services, built relationships with Dana Farber and the Hospital for Special Surgeries and helped the hospital earn a Magnet designation, the highest award for nursing.

Silard, who made $1.2 million last year as COO, was instrumental in opening the new Stamford Hospital — a 13-floor, 650,000-square-foot complex — on time and under budget in 2016.

In recent years, Stamford Hospital has experienced budget shortfalls, however, and has had to lay off employees. Twenty workers were laid off last year to account for a $25 million deficit. In 2015, the hospital also laid off 20 employees.

Hospital officials, at the time, partly attributed the budget shortfalls to the state’s hospital tax.

“The hospital tax was very impactful for us,” said Silard.

Last year, the hospital was taxed $29 million by the state.

“The state of Connecticut has some severe financial challenges and we’re hoping that with a new governor we’ll be able to look at ways to eliminate that tax,” she said.

She said the tax was unfair toward hospitals.

“We exist for a charitable purpose and we are committed to provide care to the community, and we just think it’s very unfair to tax those that are providing care, especially for someone who provides so much charity care, like we do,” she said.

Charity care, or uncompensated care, refers to services provided for no payment.

Last year, the amount of “bad debt and charity care” expended by the hospital equaled $70 million, she said. A large portion of that was undocumented immigrants who do not have health insurance.

Nonetheless, even with all of the budgetary obstacles in the way, Silard said the hospital has weathered the storm.

“We’re recovering and getting back to financial good health,” she said.

The hospital has continued to expand throughout the growing pains, increasing the workforce by 21 percent in the last five years, said Christina Scott, spokesperson for the hospital.

Most of the growth at Stamford Health, Silard said, is with ambulatory services in the hospital’s service area, which is primarily Stamford, Darien and the Rowayton area of Norwalk, but also includes greater Norwalk, Greenwich, New Canaan, and Wilton.

Silard has a clinical background, having started her career as a nurse in the pediatrics and neonatal intensive care unit at Albert Einstein Hospital in New York.

While at Einstein, she became executive director of clinical operations and then worked as executive director of the Montefiore Medical Group in the Bronx. Prior to Stamford Hospital, she was executive vice president and COO at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey.

Now, as she oversees the sprawling Stamford Hospital campus, Silard wants everyone to know what the health organization can offer.

“I’m very proud of this place,” she said. “I want to get our story out there.”

ignacio.laguarda@stamfordadvocate.com

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