Riverside adapts to changing times

February 18, 2019

With 3,200 full- and part-time employees, Riverside Medical Center is Kankakee County’s largest employer.

Riverside has just passed its 55th year anniversary. Incredibly, in that span of time, the hospital has only operated under three presidents: founder Robert Miller; Dennis Millirons and the current president and CEO Phil Kambic.

Kambic has been president for the past 13 years. He spoke recently to the Kankakee Kiwanis Club about developments at Riverside. He was interviewed by Think to expand those comments.

The questions were posed by Phil Angelo and answered by Kambic. Both are edited for length and continuity.

You said everything in medicine now is changing. Give us an example.

On Christmas Day — Christmas Day — a man comes into the emergency room at 9 a.m. He is diagnosed with an infected appendix. At this point, he has a choice. It can be treated with antibiotics or he can have it taken out by the surgeon.

He has it taken out. He is back home by 5 p.m., opening his Christmas gifts. Now in the old days, having your appendix taken out was a three-day stay in the hospital. Now it is outpatient surgery in an afternoon.

What is happening in orthopedics?

We have hired five orthopedic surgeons. They are supported by another 20 people hired in the office and 19 hired in physical therapy.

In this area, we have an aging population. It also is a population that wants to be active and one that has a risk of being injured.

There was a lot of out migration of orthopedic patients — with one out of every five leaving the community for treatment. There was a need there.

We use data available, not on individual patients, but on statistics, so we know where patients will go when they need treatment.

A big investment also is being made in heart treatment. What is changing there?

Our heart program has been honored in the Top 50 in the country four times in the last eight years.

There is a need for cardiac services here — related to the aging of America. We are slightly older than the rest of the country. Obesity is a chronic problem, along with diabetes and high blood pressure.

Riverside currently has three cardiac cath labs. We are installing four brand new ones and renovating one of the current labs as a hybrid for cardiac cath and surgery. In 2018, we handled about 3,000 cath cases, where we open up a blockage with a stent or a balloon. This is a life-saving technology. Years ago, before cardiac cath, many of these patients would have died.

This will be an $8 million project, yet, has a shelf life of only six to eight years because the technology is changing so rapidly.

The cardiac cath work, you said, is part of a larger hospital renovation?

The total project, renovating the north end of the hospital, is $15 million. That includes reconfiguring space for more recovery bays after surgery, making it easier for patients and for staff.

The role of the hospital is changing, and you also noted that the way society employs doctors also is changing.

Riverside now employs 155 medical providers. That figure includes doctors, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants.

Today’s doctors want a work-life balance. We had a just-retired doctor who was putting in 16 to 18 hours per day. The government paperwork required makes it increasingly difficult for a physician to be an independent operator. The required shift to all-electronic records is expensive. If doctors work for a hospital, the hospital provides the clerical support.

Is it difficult to recruit doctors and other employees to Kankakee County?

We have three physician recruiters and another staff recruiting other employees.

I believe we are a great employer with a great culture. We track what we are doing through satisfaction surveys.

I went to eat lunch in the doctors’ lounge and struck up a conversation with a new cardiologist. He came here, he said, because the staff made him feel welcome. We have a two-day interview process that includes a basket of goodies and a dinner with other physicians. If the doctor has a spouse, we have a tour of area neighborhoods.

A big point for us is that we are an hour away from Chicago. You can fish here if you want. You also can go up to Chicago for a show. It is really the best of both worlds.

Your said today’s consumer gets his or her health care in different ways. Explain that further.

Riverside now has eight urgent care sites where we see people seven days per week (hours vary slightly by location). The sites are at Meijer, the Walmart in Bourbonnais, Monee, Manhattan, Coal City, Dwight, Gilman and Watseka. They are busy. These facilities appeal to people 25 to 55 and to parents with young children. We are considering additional sites in Frankfort and Kentland, Ind.

We have MyChart software, where people can see their lab work and schedule an appointment.

We are rolling out — for our own staff — a video visit with a provider. That is not open to the general public because Medicare won’t pay for it, but it might be a step toward the future. Sixty-four percent of the public would be willing to try seeing a provider for a video visit.

Part of your job is to anticipate the future?

Yes. Everything is changing. People would rather go to a neighborhood center than a big hospital. Yet, you always are going to need the hospital for severe cases.

How is the state doing paying its medical bills for Medicaid?

Historically, Illinois is the lowest paying state and one of the slowest paying states. You can submit a bill in January and not get paid until August. It is one of the reasons a lot of smaller hospitals and independent providers are struggling.

Our job is to provide high quality care. Some of that is paid for. Some of that is not. In a year, we provide $45 million in pure charity care because of shortfalls in payment.

What does it mean to be president-elect of the Illinois Hospital Association?

The association represents 210 hospitals. I have been on the board for the past six years and moved up through the ranks. It is not a full-time job, but it does involve lobbying, meeting with the governor and with legislators to better serve residents.

What other new project is on the horizon?

We are installing new boilers, new chillers and new electrical substations. That doesn’t sound very exciting, but it is very necessary. We had ones that had been here 50 years, and our hope is that these will last another 50 years.

I also want to add in that I am very bullish on the future of Kankakee County. Business is expanding here. Great things are happening.