MEMBER SPOTLIGHT - Let's Connect
The South Florida Healthcare Executive Forum (SFHEF) is the local chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). SFHEF’s mission is to improve healthcare delivery by providing members with access to educational, networking and career development activities.
It should come as no surprise to those who know Matthew Garner that he would end up in the healthcare field. Growing up with two parents working in healthcare exposed Garner to the field at a young age. His mother was a Rehab Director and his father was a social worker at a number of long-term care facilities.
“We have a family friend that was the CEO of a hospital in my hometown and, after discussing his role, I felt that healthcare administration was a natural fit that would allow me to have a positive impact on people’s lives without providing direct patient care,” says Garner, Chief Operating Officer for Florida Medical Center (FMC), part of the Tenet Healthcare System. “Hospital operations specifically is a passion of mine because of the fast-paced nature, the role I play in shaping the culture in the hospital and the opportunity to interact with the bedside caregivers and the physicians who provide quality care for our patients.”
Garner looks at hospitals as small, self-contained cities, and in his role, he is able to work with all the departments that ultimately contribute to providing high-quality care. Coordinating and ultimately leading the day-to-day operations is extremely gratifying, he notes, and he relishes the opportunities he has been given thus far in the field.
"I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else,” he says.
One of the most important lessons that Garner has learned in his career to date is how important it is to interact directly with patients.
“Patients and families in the hospital are dealing with great uncertainty and anxiety, so being empathetic and compassionate with everyone you encounter is extremely important,” he says. “Second, managing your day-to-day responsibilities is important, but you can never be too busy to get out in the hospital and interact with patients, families, employees and physicians. Being visible and available is one of the easiest things to do and it makes an impact with everyone around you."
Third, he adds, is to always focus on what is right for the patient and give your team the support they need to do their job to the best of their abilities.
“If you take the time to listen to the needs of your patients and staff, put a plan in place to address the need or issue raised and close the loop with them, you build an ongoing sense of trust and collaboration that drives a patient-first culture,” he says.
Lastly, he learned to work hard every day and ask questions. As a younger administrator, Garner feels that you need to establish a sense of competence with your counterparts, direct reports and physicians in order to effectively lead in his role. He does that by taking any issues that arise head-on and keeping a can-do attitude regarding anything that comes his way.
“Additionally, you must be self-aware regarding your abilities, so I tap into our subject matter experts on the clinical side when needed and ask questions to ensure we are taking the right course of action,” he says.
When asked what skills are essential for a health system COO in today's healthcare climate, beyond traditional financial and business acumen, Garner rattles off three skills.
“Interpersonal skills, time-management and a desire to continue learning and developing are three essential skills that come to mind,” he says. “Interpersonal skills are important because you need to build relationships to accomplish your goals and you must be able to clearly and concisely communicate with people at all levels in the organization to ensure alignment and create a transparent culture.”
Time-management is important because there are a number of things to do throughout the day, so you must be able to triage these tasks and determine a plan to address the most pressing tasks first, he says. “Being a lifelong learner is important because healthcare is an increasingly complex field, so you have to stay up-to-date regarding current events, what is going on in the communities you serve and changes in the regulatory landscape.”
Knowledge is essential to plan for the short and long-term, and if you are not up to speed regarding changes that may affect the operating or competitive landscape, Garner says that you put yourself and your organization at a disadvantage.
As he reflects on his last three years as COO at FMC, Garner says that his team has accomplished a number of things.
"We’ve made significant capital investments in the facility over the past three years, such as renovations of a number of areas to improve functionality and aesthetics, built out a new EP lab to support our cardiac service line and acquired a lot of the specialized equipment needed to provide the advanced level of care offered at FMC,” he says. “We’ve earned numerous accolades, including TJC Certification as a Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center and Core Certification for our Hip and Knee Joint Replacement program, that speak to the high quality care we provide. Our team has worked together to achieve so much and I am proud to be part of such a high-performing group of healthcare professionals.”
Driving quality outcomes, fostering a “No Harm” culture, providing access to care when/where needed, and growth are some of the overall focuses of Tenet. Accordingly, these focuses drive both short and long-term goals for Garner and his team at FMC.
“A few of our current short-term focuses are responding in a strategic way to ensure we stay competitive in light of the recent repeal of portions of the Certificate of Need (CON) regulations in Florida, determining how we can create new access points to care in underserved markets and working toward creating a more efficient means of caring for our patients while also sustaining and improving the quality of the care provided,” says Garner. We focus on these short-term goals daily because they ultimately drive our long-term strategies.”
According to Garner, the healthcare market in South Florida is extremely competitive and the change in CON regulations eliminates some of the barriers healthcare providers have historically faced when determining their strategies for long-term viability in the market, so continuing to ask the hard questions and developing strategies to address them is more important than ever.
From a long-term perspective, FMC is ultimately trying to position itself to be a provider of choice in the market, so focusing on developing new and improving the offerings of existing service lines to meet the needs of the population it serves is of utmost importance, especially since it is catering to a patient base that is more educated about their healthcare choices than previous generations.
“We anticipate an increasing shift to the outpatient care settings for lower acuity care,” says Garner.
The biggest challenge facing FMC and Tenet today, says Garner, is adjusting to the changing healthcare landscape and strategically implementing plans that will minimize the impact of these changes on its operations.
"The repeal of portions of the CON regulations in Florida has eliminated some of the barriers to entry in certain segments of healthcare and there is still some uncertainty about how everything will ultimately shake out,” he says. “Taking the time to understand the potential impact of the changes and determine how the market will respond is a daily focus for us as we plan for the future.”
Garner feels fortunate for having been afforded great opportunities along the way while with Tenet and FMC. A member of the American College of Healthcare Executives since October 2015, he joined the South Florida Healthcare Executive Forum (SFHEF) in July 2016.
“For anyone looking to get into the field of healthcare administration, I would recommend getting exposure to as many different areas of healthcare as possible, align yourself with like-minded people who can mentor and develop you, understand that you will never know everything, and always ask questions,” he says. “The business of healthcare is always evolving, but the focus on providing quality care for patients will always be a constant. As long as you keep the patient at the forefront, everything else will fall into place.”