A Maine community hospital couldn’t afford a long vacancy in its critically important Surgical Services Director position.

Next to its radiology department, surgical services is the biggest revenue generator for Pen Bay Medical Center  Rockport, Maine. Pen Bay is a 109-bed community hospital, a part of Northeast Health, serving a population of 50,000 in towns along the picturesque Maine coast. Its surgical specialties, technology and surgical capabilities have grown dramatically in recent years, along with number of cases and variety of procedures. The medical center recently recruited two new urologists and committed resources necessary to make it a center of excellence in urology.

When it became necessary to search for a new Director of Surgical Services in late 2002, administrators at Penobscot were understandably anxious to 1) find the right permanent replacement and 2) not lose hard-won momentum by allowing the position to lay vacant.

Tom Bosica, Vice President of Human Resources, and Mary-Anne Ponti, Vice President for Nursing and Patient Care Services, decided to look for an interim director. Both had limited prior experience using interim health managers, but fortunately someone had tucked away a contact number for the Nielsen Healthcare Group (NHG), a pioneer and leader in the industry.

Knowing a thorough search would probably take six months, Bosica and Ponti asked the Nielsen Healthcare Group to research the 10,000 names in its database and find an experienced Director of Surgical Services. Requirements: an experienced Director of Perioperative Services, able to manage OR, PACU, endoscopy and a new urodynamic center, supervise a staff of 41 employees, satisfy the often conflicting needs of surgeons, anesthesiologist and other medical staff, help with the RFP process for a comprehensive OR information system, get the department ready for a JCAHO survey in the spring, and break in the new permanent replacement.

An impossible quest? No, another day at the office for the folks at Nielsen, who quickly put Bosica and Ponti in touch with Fred D., a RN and MBA with 19 years’ experience and all the abilities required. Nielsen’s method of placement is to provide qualified, willing candidates and allow the client to negotiate directly with them. If and when actual placement occurs, Nielsen receives a small percentage of annual salary as its fee.

PBMC negotiated a six-month agreement with Fred D., with an option to renew for another six. He was on the job within three weeks and fulfilled requirements so well they tried (unsuccessfully) to persuade him to remain permanently.

“Fred was terrific,” said Human Resources Vice President Bosica. “We were impressed with his scope of knowledge and understanding of Surgical Services.”

Quick on his feet, on his second day at Pen Bay, the interim attended his first medical staff surgical department meeting. He was also very deliberate. “He spent his initial time just understanding what was going on,” said Bosica. The interim director went into not only every area he supervised, talking to employees, supervisors and physicians, but also into ancillary departments that impact OR such as environmental services and sterile processing.

“He nicely integrated himself into those services, did a thorough job, and in a very short period of time became an invaluable resource for them,” said Bosica.

With his wide experience and outsider’s perspective, Fred was able to troubleshoot problem areas and bottlenecks. Anesthesiologists felt overworked. Surgeons weren’t getting cases scheduled as they wished. Bosica said Fred investigated the concerns and made a formal analysis of workflow in the OR. “He developed a PowerPoint presentation,” said Bosica. It really helped us better understand where the problems were.”

Employees in PACU jokingly told Bosica, “Whoever you recruit as permanent replacement, please, make them a clone of Fred.” Seriously, he said, they asked, “Can’t Fred please stay?”

Interims on occasion convert to permanent hires, say Nielsen executives. More often, as in Fred’s case, their personal goals don’t include staying in one place forever. As in Shane, or perhaps Mary Poppins, they do good work and move on.

The interim director participated in the search, interview and orientation of the candidate eventually selected as Director of Surgical Services. That person is now enjoying the people, scenery and succulent seafood of The Lobster Capital of the World as she runs a busy surgical services department at Pen Bay Medical Center.

Thanks to a contractual agreement between the Maine Hospital Association and NHG, members are eligible for an 8% discount on this service. For additional information, contact Bruce Nielsen, President or Gregory Yank, Executive Vice President at the Nielsen Healthcare Group, 20 Allen Ave., Suite 330, St. Louis, MO 63119; email nhcg@primary.net phone 314-984-0910; toll-free 800-581-8901, fax 314-984-0820. When calling, please reference you are a Maine Hospital Association member.