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Epic EHR Implementation Cited in Denver Health CEO’s Departure

Retirement of the hospital's CEO is drawing speculation about several major initiatives at the hospital, including an Epic EHR implementation.

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

UPDATE: Denver Health has issued an official statement on the departure of its CEO.

Denver Health Epic EHR implementation drawing criticism

Is the forthcoming retirement of Denver Health CEO a sign of bad things to come for the health system which is set for an Epic EHR go-live in a week's time? Two reports lean well toward the affirmative.

On Wednesday, the hospital's CEO Arthur Gonzalez announced his decision to step down from office on June 30.

"I am proud of all that we have accomplished together during the years I have been at Denver Health, and I am excited for the future of this great organization," he was quoted in The Denver Post. "After 43 years in health care administration, I have been giving a great deal of thought to the right time to retire and decided that now is the time."

That same report refers to the outgoing CEO the "embattled Denver Health chief" and connects his retirement announcement to "a time of strife" following the recent revelation that several neurosurgeons and department heads were submitting letters of resignation. The report ties the turmoil to decisions including reductions to operating-room staff and the handling of relations with the University of Colorado Hospital.

READ MORE: Top Ranked Cancer Hospital Completes Epic EHR Implementation

Despite the flak, Gonzalez drew praise from Denver Health officials praised the retiring CEO for his implementation of the Affordable Care Act, improvements to hospital finances, reductions in primary care appointment waiting lists, and giving the go-ahead for the upcoming Epic EHR implementation set for April 8. The hospital itself had this to say of the announcement:

After 43 years in health care administration, Dr. Arthur Gonzalez announced his retirement this week. He will remain with Denver Health until June 30. In the coming days, the Denver Health Board of Directors will be naming an interim CEO while a search for a new leader is conducted. Denver Health has accomplished a great deal under Dr. Gonzalez’s leadership and the organization is well-positioned for success moving forward. We will continue to deliver on our mission to provide world-class health care to all of Denver’s residents and to prepare the next generation of medical providers through our extensive education and research programs.

An earlier report published by The Denver Post linked the Epic EHR implementation to the layoff of 122 full-time nurses, which Gonzalez refuted in a weekly email update to staff on January 11:

First, the article states that Denver Health had a reduction of 122 full-time nurses in 2013 and suggests that this reduction correlates with our decision to implement Epic.

As you may remember, 2013 was a financially challenging year and we did, in fact, have to reduce our personnel expenses as a result. This was done through a combination of attrition, reduction of new hires and, as a last resort; we had to make the difficult decision to lay off 34 employees.

READ MORE: Mercy Extends Epic EHR Services to Californian Health System

We decided to move Denver Health to Epic because it is the preferred electronic health record system used by more than 295 health care organizations nationwide. Upon implementation, Epic will allow for one chart to follow our patients throughout the multiple areas in which they receive care.

The cost of Epic is $170 million spread over seven years – not the $300 million suggested in the article. Most of the cost is an investment into our infrastructure and staff. While we are bound by a confidentiality agreement with Siemens (LifeLink), we can tell you the cost to amend our contract is significantly less than the $70 million mentioned in the article.

Finally, turnover at the top occurs for a variety of reasons. While turnover results in a loss of tenure and talent it also creates opportunity. Denver Health continually attracts top-rated talent because of its reputation for high-quality care and we are currently reviewing resumes for our open positions.

 Going into 2016, we are in a solid financial place and looking forward to opening the Southwest Clinic and launching Epic!  As we have grown in the last year, we have added approximately 593 positions and look forward to continuing our mission to provide world-class care to vulnerable populations.

A Denver Business Journal report, meanwhile, refers to Gonzalez imminent departure as a "surprise" given several high-stakes initiatives currently schedule to take place at Denver Health.

READ MORE: South Dakota Health System Goes Live with Epic Implementation

"Gonzalez’ surprise exit comes as the health system that serves more than 225,000 patients a year goes through several major initiatives," writes Ed Sealover. "They include implementation of a $175 million electronic records system, early-stage development of a plan to completely remake its inner-city campus, and the growth of programs such as expanded community clinics and new revenue generators for the sometimes cash-poor hospital."

According to Sealover, the decision to implement an Epic EHR follows the hospital's previous attempts at designing its own custom EHR system with an unnamed company, which ultimately led Denver Health to reach a settlement with it.

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