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Big, booming Baptist.

Big, Booming Baptist

The ceremony is as impressive as any grand opening, ribbon cutting or county fair.

Baptist Medical Center at Little Rock is announcing a $2.4-million construction project to expand health services for women.

A festive atmosphere greets those who wander to the fourth floor of the parking deck overlooking the construction site.

Balloons, cups, caps and T-shirts (all with the "BMS" logo) are handed out. There are exhibit booths and a video show.

Employees, friends, family and media are treated to pizza, popcorn and soft drinks.

As people mingle, Baptist Medical System President Russell D. Harrington Jr. steps behind a microphone attached to a makeshift podium.

"We're excited about the future. and what we're trying to accomplish," Harrington says. "If you look at the past, we've been in the business since 1920. We started with a mission that we continue today - comprehensive care for all of Arkansas."

Bold words?

Not from Baptist, the largest private, not-for-profit health care system in the state.

Baptist owns more than $8 million in land and $70 million in buildings in central Arkansas.

And it's still growing.

Its roots stretch from Little Rock to North Little Rock (Baptist Memorial Medical Center) to Arkadelphia (Baptist Medical Center).

Branches include the Baptist Rehabilitation Institute next door to Little Rock's Baptist Medical Center, four outpatient therapy centers in central Arkansas, a corporate health services firm in Russellville and the Parkway Village retirement center in west Little Rock.

Baptist Medical System also touches hospitals and medical centers at Mountain Home, Conway, Jonesboro, Stuttgart, Fayetteville and Searcy. All are resource-sharing affiliates.

Biggest In Arkansas

"I really hope we never stop growing," Harrington says.

He recently was approached by a friend ogling the new, five-level, 756-car parking deck that was built on the Little Rock campus at a cost of $3 million and completed in March.

"Gosh, you seem to have something going all the time," the man told Harrington.

"I don't think of it in those terms," Harrington says. "But I really hope that never stops.

"If it does, it will be a different world for us."

And what would this little corner of the world be without Baptist Medical System?

It is (pardon the denominational difference) the Notre Dame of Arkansas hospitals.

One almost expects BMS employees to shout in unison, "We're No. 1."

That's not to say there haven't been growing pains. A restructuring last year reportedly cause some gripping and created hurt feelings.

There are seemingly countless vice presidents, and most of them are young. Yet so is Harrington, leading observers to wonder if BMS will be able to provide the incentives needed to keep the best and the brightest on board.

Baptist is extremely sensitive about its image. That's because even the name "Baptist" has value.

Two years ago this month, Memorial Hospital at North Little Rock changed its name to Baptist Memorial Medical Center on the advice of the hospital's community advisory committee.

Harrison M. Dean, senior vice president and administrator of Memorial, believed that with Baptist in the name, the hospital - built and owned by the city - would benefit.

He was right.

Almost immediately, public perception changed.

"It's remarkable," Dean says.

Robin H. Hagaman, senior vice president and administrator of Baptist Rehabilitation Institute, relates a telling story.

One caller told Hagaman he was glad BMS took over Memorial because Baptist would get things rolling.

Baptist had operated the 260-bed hospital for the city of North Little Rock since it opened Jan. 29, 1962.

Dean says a poll conducted in north Pulaski County and surrounding counties prior to the change indicated that 50 percent of the residents were unaware of Baptist's association with Memorial.

"It's a perception thing," Hagaman says. "The name |Baptist' is what we want to get out there."

It's out there.

The brightly lit "Baptist" sign atop the flagship Little Rock facility shines like a beacon of success for miles over Interstate 630.

You can't miss it.

In central Arkansas, the word "Baptist" brings to mind health care almost as much as religion.

Always Expanding

Around Little Rock, it seems as if Baptist Medical System is everywhere - and involved with virtually everything.

One longtime employee remembers telling a friend where she worked.

"Oh," the friend replied. "They own Little Rock, don't they?"

Told that, Harrington laughs.

"Not yet," he says.

Baptist owns property along Kanis, Labette, Colonel Glenn and John Barrow roads in Little Rock.

It owns land in Maumelle and an office building in North Little Rock.

That's all in addition to the growing concrete colossus that emerges from the trees off Interstate 630.

The Baptist boom was spurred by its west Little Rock location, the result of a move from 13th and Marshall streets in 1974.

"It started when we moved to the new campus," says Harrington, who joined Baptist that year. "Prior to that, we were at a disadvantage with our facilities. When we moved out here, it was a catalyst."

Plans called for Baptist to relocate its Little Rock operations on about 70 acres near the Prospect Building off University Avenue. But John Gilbreath, the 74-year-old president emeritus who gave way to Harrington in 1981, worked out a deal to buy an old quarry in far west Little Rock.

"There was nothing out here then," Hagaman says. "It was just a line on the map. Little Rock basically ended at University Avenue.

"One of the smartest moves we ever made was realizing Little Rock was heading in this direction."

Once settled, Baptist grew.

A parking deck and the under-construction labor-delivery-recovery suites are the newest additions to the Little Rock campus.

Baptist recently opened its fourth outpatient therapy center in central Arkansas.

"Growth" is a buzzword at Baptist.

Another word that comes to mind is "money."

The bottom line there is simple - Baptist makes lots of it.

BMS is a not-for-profit corporation, which is not to be confused with a non-profit corporation. The system makes a healthy profit each year, which is justified as income needed for upkeep, expansion and improvement rather than money for private owners or shareholders.

An arm of the system, Multi-Management Services Inc., is a for-profit organization.

Battling Medicare Costs

Harrington readily admits that a for-profit arm is needed as unreimbursed patient care costs soar and health care competition increases.

"We recognized years ago that we couldn't be totally dependent on revenues we could create from patients lying in bed," Harrington says. "We were an early participant in developing [diversified] services. It's now paying off for us."

For all its growth, Baptist is not as profitable as it once was.

BMS had profits of $18.4 million in 1984. The system had a net income of $10.8 million in 1990.

Harrington blames the losses on the federal government's prospective payment reimbursement program for Medicare.

"It's only a good system if the government is fair in the annual increases it gives us for serving the Medicare population," Harrington says. "Every year, since [the current Medicare reimbursement program's] inception, the government has given us substantially less than the increase in the cost of living. Our costs continue to go up, but the increase in reimbursements hasn't matched the increase in the cost of living."

Regardless of Medicare and Medicaid problems, Baptist Medical Center at Little Rock ranks first among Arkansas' hospitals in profitability. It is just ahead of St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center at Little Rock, which had profits of $10.5 million in 1990.

Baptist Medical Center boasts an occupancy rate of 71.2 percent for its 739 beds, the most beds in the state.

It has 2,711 employees, more than any other Arkansas hospital.

Baptist also can brag about operating the largest diploma school of nursing in the United States.

Physicians at Baptist Medical Center performed the first heart catheterization technique in Arkansas and delivered the first test-tube baby.


But Baptist has a few blemishes.

Two years ago, BMC was ruled negligent in the 1986 death of a Little Rock man. It had to pay $135,000 to the man's widow.

The sale of 2,600 SF of office space in Little Rock's Medical Towers II to two doctors for about $190,000 several months ago caused a stir.

And, in an embarrassing moment this April, a decorative, 6,200-pound concrete slab fell from atop a building on the Little Rock campus. Luckily, there were no injuries. But the incident made headlines.

Perhaps most significantly, in March 1990, a realignment among senior vice presidents, vice presidents and assistant vice presidents caused some morale problems within the system.

One source says more than 10 executives were demoted or shuffled, much to their disappointment.

The realignment was announced by Harrington in the March 5, 1990, edition of The System Connection, Baptist's in-house publication.

Harrington says the realignment was an attempt to redirect Baptist toward being "a customer-oriented hospital."

At times, the system centered its efforts on the hospital rather than the customer, he says.

Asked if the realignment has been a success, Harrington says quickly, "Yes."

"We believe it will make us more efficient," he adds. "In the long term, it will allow us to take on additional work volume without adding people."

At Memorial, Dean says the changes have been positive.

"I am not aware of anyone below the level of vice president or director who has come up and said, |I don't like it,'" Dean says. "And most here are fairly open. I don't see resentment or disenchantment.

"[But] it was more dramatic at other places within the system."

Steve Lampkin, senior vice president and administrator at Baptist Medical Center, says an example of the realignment at work is the expanded women's services department. For that department, there will be one vice president overseeing operations and reporting directly to Lampkin.

He, too, believes Baptist is moving in the right direction with its restructured chain of command.

Harrington's Touch

Lampkin preaches the Baptist philosophy with the conviction of a true believer.

Although he took over as senior vice president from Dale Collins less than two months ago, Lampkin has been with the system since 1982.

He returned last year to Little Rock from the previously Baptist-managed White River Medical Center at Batesville.

"Having looked at the Baptist system from a 100 miles away, I have a totally new appreciation for it," Lampkin says.

He says he came back to Little Rock for several reasons, one of which was the "visionary leadership" of Harrington, the charismatic, 47-year-old president.

The Baptist president does not look the part at first glance.

Harrington is not tall. He greets visitors with an eager smile and an eager handshake, perhaps a product of his Arkansas upbringing.

Born in Jonesboro, educated at Arkansas State University and later at the University of Missouri at Columbia, Harrington says the thought of coming home was enough to draw him back to Baptist from a Kansas City, Mo., hospital in 1978.

A genuine man, Harrington has a genuine rapport with Baptist's employees.

Once, shortly after Harrington took over Gilbreath's job, he was visiting departments at Baptist Medical Center.

As he was making his rounds, the power went off in the lobby.

A nurse felt comfortable enough to ask Harrington, "Russ, did you forget to pay the electric bill?"

"I might have," Harrington answered.

Dean says, "I guess the thing that comes to mind most when I think of Russ is a quote from [legendary football coach] Vince Lombardi: "The quality of a man's performance is a reflection of his commitment to excellence."

Team Baptist

At times, Baptist Medical System takes on the persona of a top-ranked football team.

"Commitment to excellence," "teamwork," "vision," an organization that's "driven."

These are terms frequently used by the members of Team Baptist.

Like any highly visible, highly ranked team, one must go through the proper channels to reach the proper people.

Interviews with the key players must be set up through the system's public relations department.

An interview with Harrington and Lampkin is conducted in front of the public relations director.

A direct call by a reporter to another vice president within the system is not appreciated.

Words are chosen carefully at Baptist.

Very carefully.

For the most part, what has been reported in the Little Rock newspapers during the past several years has come directly from the press releases.

The public relations department at Baptist has managed to send exactly the right message.

The public has responded.

Baptist would not be the health care giant it is today if patients were not getting the message.

There are more than press releases, however.

There are the more than $5 million in improvements at Baptist Memorial Medical Center during the past 18 months.

There's the Baptist Medical Center parking deck.

There's the expansion of women's health services.

What's next?

Harrington won't say, although expansion plans always are in the works.

"I don't think there is a fear of getting too big," Harrington says. "But there is a fear we'll get complacent. We're constantly looking for ways to ensure we're providing the personal touch.

"There's no question, it's more difficult as you get larger."

Back at the parking deck, the pop-corn and pizza are going fast.

Lampkin has followed Harrington to the podium, echoing his boss' statement that Baptist is the "most comprehensive medical center" in Arkansas.

Behind him is additional evidence.

The words don't seem so bold anymore.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Baptist Medical System
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jul 29, 1991
Previous Article:Wrong numbers.
Next Article:Baptist is biggest.

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