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Stepping out with Russ: Baptist's restructuring includes higher profile for Russell Harrington.

Russell Harrington Jr. is addressing some of the 5,500 employees of Baptist Medical System, Arkansas' largest provider of health care.

Harrington has turned from his overhead projector and picked up a copy of a text by business author Philip Crosby.

Harrington begins reading from Crosby's book "Quality Without Tears ... The Art Of Hassle-Free Management."

"In the next decade, more products and companies will die from lack of quality than from lack of money," Harrington reads. "There will be a complete awakening to the significance of doing what we said we were going to do for our customers. Those who wake first will grab the market. Those who slumber too long will work in other people's branch offices."

Harrington looks up at his audience.

"I don't intend for Baptist Medical System to be anybody else's branch office," he says.

Not that Baptist is on the verge of closure.

Or merger.

Or mass layoffs.

Still, in the health care industry, these are the days of uncertainty.

Last fall, Baptist Memorial Hospital at Memphis, Tenn., the world's largest privately owned not-for-profit health care organization, closed its rehabilitation institute and laid off 300 employees.

Eleven hospitals closed in Texas in 1991.

Since 1986, 13 hospitals have closed in Arkansas.

Few industries will be more competitive than health care in the 1990s.

That's why Russ Harrington, 48, is taking on a higher profile.

The personable, 5-foot-6 president of Baptist Medical System is sending his company's message to the masses. The Baptist "vision" is the term used again and again by Harrington and his management team.

There are additional speaking engagements and business leadership forums to attend.

Are the media consultants making him the Lee Iacocca of Arkansas health care?

Not exactly, but it is safe to predict that more Arkansans will recognize the name Russ Harrington a year from now.

"Russ Harrington is Baptist," one hospital official says.

The key is to place that image firmly in the minds of consumers.

How does Harrington feel about it?

"Awkward," he says with a smile. "I don't like pushing myself. It's the organization we're pushing."

The Final Step

Harrington's emergence is the final step in an internal overhaul at Baptist.

The attitudes have been changed, not the employees, the folks at Baptist will tell you.

This new image of Baptist as the Health Co. -- as some employees have dubbed it -- will be marketed without the traditional mass media blitz.

Instead, management will spread the word through community outreach programs, a children's book titled "The Big Blanket," a few radio and newspaper ads.

And Russ Harrington.

The book, the story of a quilt that symbolizes Baptist's attempt to wrap the state in total health, will go to schools, day-care centers and churches.

The business community will be targeted through business leadership forums beginning June 17.

"We'll have some radio and print ads," says Gordon Hawthorne, senior vice president of corporate services. "We'll introduce the book. And there's Russ' message."

Russ' message.

Already, Harrington has delivered it internally. In addition to the employee gatherings, he recently began writing a regular column for the BMS in-house publication, The Healing Force.

"He knows his subject matter so well, and |health care~ is such a public issue today," says a Little Rock businessman and friend of Harrington's who looks forward to the Baptist president's higher profile.

It's not unlike the stepping out of Curt Bradbury, chairman and chief executive officer of Little Rock's Worthen Banking Corp., several years ago. You won't see Bradbury's face on billboards and television advertisements, but there is little doubt that he has become virtually synonymous with Worthen.

There's another common thread.

One of those who played a role in Bradbury's public emergence was Patrick O'Sullivan, former vice president and director of corporate communications at Worthen.

It was a double-edged sword since O'Sullivan was no longer needed as a Worthen spokesman once Bradbury began to handle all media inquiries.

O'Sullivan is now part of a team of corporate communications experts at Baptist, although he says the Bradbury-Harrington parallel may be "stretching it a bit."

Still No. 1

Baptist is healthy.

It tops Arkansas hospitals in the number of beds (739) and revenues (about $257 million).

The system includes Baptist Medical Center at Little Rock, Baptist Memorial Medical Center at North Little Rock, Baptist Medical Center at Arkadelphia and Baptist Rehabilitation Institute on the BMC campus at Little Rock.

Those four facilities admitted more than 36,000 patients in 1991 and had an occupancy rate of more than 60 percent.

No, things aren't bad at Baptist. Harrington just wants them better.

"I'm not saying we don't provide service," Harrington says. "But no matter how good you are, you must improve. In a competitive environment, you must improve."

Little Rock cannot compare with a Kansas City, Mo., where 30 health care facilities crowd the metropolitan area. Yet it is a highly competitive atmosphere.

A drive along Interstate 630 suggests as much. One can see Baptist's main campus, St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, Doctors Hospital, Arkansas Children's Hospital, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital.

Competition is stiff.

About three years ago, Baptist officials began an internal restructuring. Positions at the top were shuffled to remove a layer between employees and top management.

Those in the BMS hierarchy were instructed to adopt a more consumer-oriented and employee-oriented approach.

A system "vision" statement was drafted.

Harrington began a series of discussions with the employees of every system hospital and support center.

He ends with the passage from Crosby's book.

The buzzword at Baptist?

Total quality management.

"Total quality management is new to health care," says Hawthorne, one of eight BMS senior vice presidents. "You have to go to other industries to find out more about it."

Representatives of Xerox Corp., 3M Co. and Eastman Kodak Co. have visited Baptist to share their ideas about quality management.

"We don't want to restrict our vision to the health care industry," Harrington says.

Cold Food

At the core of the internal change is a simple philosophy -- listen to customers and listen to employees.

"Baptist was an organization ... with a strict protocol," one former employee says.

Too often that translated into a "we can't do it because" attitude.

That has changed, Baptist officials claim.

They give an example.

As part of a satisfaction survey, it was discovered that patients often complained of cold food.

An employee on the tray line suggested steps to simplify the system of getting meals from the cafeteria to patients.

The suggestion was followed. Steps were eliminated. The food is no longer cold.

"There are hundreds of ideas out there," Harrington says. "There is probably nothing we do that can't be improved."

At the forefront of the kinder, gentler Baptist is Harrington, the son of a Baptist minister who wanted to be a foreign correspondent when he was a broadcast major at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro.

He changed his major and went into what was supposed to have been a less stressful occupation.

It has been a good fit.

Little Rock attorney Buddy Sutton has known Harrington for two decades, long before the would-be journalist was named president of Baptist Medical System in 1984.

"He understands organization extremely well," Sutton says. "He delegates wisely and has a fine talent for supervising and bringing the best out in subordinates."

Although Harrington traditionally has kept a low profile at the top, he is no media recluse.

He shows a visitor a handful of newspaper clips.

"When I say it feels awkward to be in the public eye, it does not mean I'm uncomfortable with it," he says. "I've done that my whole career. This is a high-profile position ... There's no way you can avoid it.

"This is the continuation of a message. It's not so much about the spokesman. But that's my lot."
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Baptist Medical System; Russell Harrington Jr
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:May 11, 1992
Words:1309
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