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The Journal Gazette

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  • Patel

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Sunday, October 01, 2017 1:00 am

New Lutheran hires say patients, not office drama, priority

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

From the beginning of the year through Aug. 31, Lutheran Health Network has hired 234 new nurses in Allen County alone, spokesman Geoff Thomas said.

In addition, the local health care provider has promoted 81 caregivers into registered nursing positions. Those staff members worked in various positions while attending nursing school. After they graduated and passed board requirements, they were eligible to work as RNs.

Throughout Lutheran's footprint, the medical group has added 16 new physicians this year. Eight more doctors have accepted employment offers and are scheduled to begin by the end of the year.

Lutheran's network is recruiting for doctors to fill 38 additional primary-care and specialist positions.

The system has also hired 13 other providers, a combination of nurse practitioners and physician assistants, this year.

Each person, each situation, is unique.

Maybe that explains why new hires continue to sign on at Lutheran Health Network even as numerous employees, including some top administrators, have been terminated or have left in recent months, citing lack of investment by the corporate owner in Tennessee.

The newbies join about 7,000 current Lutheran employees who work in eight network-owned hospitals and various clinics and physician practices. That total includes about 4,300 in Allen County, making it the county's second-largest employer.

Lutheran's network has made several hiring announcements in recent weeks, reflecting two dozen physicians who have accepted positions with the system since the beginning of the year and more than 230 nurses who have hired on in Allen County alone.

Gossip and gripes about parent company Community Health Systems are just background noise, said three medical professionals who spoke to The Journal Gazette about the career choices that landed them – and keep them – at Lutheran.

Focusing on patients fills their days.

The cardiac kid

Melissa Willard never met her maternal grandfather. He died of a massive heart attack before she was born. But his legacy lives on.

“I always felt like that was my calling,” Willard said of becoming a caregiver.

Willard, 44, began her nursing career 20 years ago at Kosciusko Community Hospital, part of Lutheran's network. She stayed in school, earning bachelor's and master's degrees, even as she spent 2004 to 2012 working in Lutheran Hospital's coronary intensive care unit before returning to the Kosciusko hospital.

In May, the Warsaw native completed training at the University of Saint Francis to become a cardiology nurse practitioner. The degree allows her to treat patients who have heart conditions.

On July 31, Willard came back to Fort Wayne, taking a position with Lutheran Health Physicians' cardiology group. The North Webster resident always intended to return.

“I have a profound, great respect for the cardiology group,” she said. “They've taken care of my family. If not for them, my mom wouldn't be here.”

It turns out her grandfather wasn't the only family member with heart problems. Willard's mother has had double heart bypass, and grandmother had triple-bypass surgery. Her paternal grandfather was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

“I feel like I'm able to relate to my patients on a personal level because I have experience with it,” she said.

That extra dose of empathy helps Willard soothe worried family members who can be taken aback by the numerous wires and tubes attached to their loved one in the hospital.

Willard works with patients in hopes of keeping them out of the hospital. After a cardiologist diagnoses cardiac patients and creates a treatment plan, Willard steps in, meeting regularly with patients to ensure they're following that treatment plan.

If there's an obstacle, such as a prescription that's too expensive, she looks for ways to cut costs. Willard also encourages patients to do all they can to manage their conditions.

That includes getting regular exercise, following a healthy diet and reducing stress.

But what about the stress that some people claim is swirling around the Lutheran workplace?

“It didn't really factor into my decision,” Willard said about accepting her new job. “I love what I do. I absolutely love it.”

The hometown boy

Dr. Vinit Patel brings an impressive résumé to Lutheran Children's Hospital, where he will start work as a pediatric critical care specialist Monday.

For the past decade, he has treated young patients at Riley Hospital for Children, which is considered Indiana's most advanced hospital for pediatrics.

The demanding pace at Riley was a factor in Patel's decision to look for another position. He and his wife, who is also a physician, began that search about a year ago.

“I guess our schedules just got extremely busy,” he said, adding that work commitments were making it challenging to parent their 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.

“It really was a tough decision, one of the toughest we've had to make,” Patel said, adding that he has nothing against Riley.

The Fort Wayne community offered an attractive option for the 39-year-old Homestead High School graduate who completed a pediatric critical care residency at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. His parents, who are eager to become more involved grandparents, live here.

When Patel accepted the position, he wasn't aware of tensions between CHS and some members of the local community, including some Lutheran doctors. But hearing about them now doesn't scare him. He worked at Riley when it was acquired by IU Health, a change that sparked some concerns among co-workers.

“There was a lot of chatter, and I knew it was a big thing, but it didn't affect me in any way,” he said. 

Patel is more concerned about access to technology and equipment necessary to take care of kids. He has been told Lutheran imposes a process to request new items, but it's not “overly complicated.”

A physician Patel trained under at Riley was already working at Lutheran and could vouch for the children's hospital and its resources.

“Critical care is very much dependent on the resources that are available,” he said.

Although Riley recently announced plans to open a local office that will give its specialists a place to treat patients living in northeast Indiana, the new clinic is not being billed as a competitor to Lutheran or Parkview Health.

Patel's goal is to help transform Lutheran Children's Hospital into a health care provider that rivals Riley, providing a similar level of care to northeast Indiana families.

It's a good time, he said, to bring his medical expertise home. 

The social butterfly

Ann Grubb followed an unconventional path to health care.

After earning a bachelor's in electrical engineering from Purdue University, the Kokomo native realized her software engineering job wasn't a good fit.

“I wasn't getting enough social interaction,” she said.

Following a stint as a paramedic, Grubb pursued a medical field that incorporates her electrical training. The 48-year-old earned a master's degree last year from the University Saint Francis in physician assistant studies.

Now, Grubb treats cardiac patients, a job with Lutheran Health Physicians that includes reading strips from electrocardiograms, the machines that check for problems with the heart's electrical activity.

Grubb married a Fort Wayne native, but the couple live in Wolcottville in LaGrange County. That translates to a one-hour commute, but she doesn't mind because Lutheran was her first choice of employers.

“As a student, I had an opportunity to work at different places, and I just felt like this was home,” she said of her two years as a Saint Francis student. “I like the people here better. I just had better experiences here than other places where I worked.”

As far as corporate investment, Grubb doesn't share the concerns some have expressed. She isn't aware of any unmet needs in her corner of Lutheran's network.

“We have some cutting-edge technology here in the electrophysiology department,” she said.

Grubb hired on full time last December, before some staff concerns about Lutheran's parent company, CHS, became public. But rumors and ongoing speculation about the future haven't dimmed her enthusiasm for the job.

She said: “It really doesn't affect us on a daily basis.”

sslater@jg.net