AUGUSTA, GA (WJBF) Dr. Lily Henson is the new CEO at Piedmont Augusta. She visits The Means Report to talk about her role at the hospital. Dr. Henson discusses her goals as they relate to the patient experience, and employee well-being. Enjoy this interview and please join us Monday afternoons at 12:30 on WJBF NewsChannel 6 for The Means Report.

Hello, everybody, and welcome once again to the Means Report. We certainly appreciate you spending part of your day with us. Today we’re gonna focus on two interesting things that are going on in our community. First, the excitement and the growth that’s going on at Piedmont Augusta. You know, there’s been some changes there. This was University Hospital forever. It’s Piedmont Augusta. Now we’re gonna talk to the brand-new CEO about the happenings there. Also, we’re gonna talk about a brand-new degree program at AU, one that really kind of ties into hospitals because it protects the data and the information systems that are used in the world of healthcare, everything from the data that hospitals store on you at the hospital itself to devices that you might have to wear, an insulin pump, that somebody could hack into. We’re gonna find out how they’re teaching ways to thwart that bad activity and teach our leaders of the future how to handle it. And then, of course, we’ll always wrap up the Means Report with ways that you can stay in touch with us. It’s super easy to do that. And we’ll tell you at the end of this broadcast. But, first, a very special welcome to Dr. Lily Henson. Dr. Henson is the new CEO at Piedmont Augusta. Comes here by way of the Piedmont Operation in Henry County, Georgia. Dr. Henson, thanks for what you do and thanks for being with me.

Well, thank you for having me.

Absolutely. All right, so I’m guessing one of your top priorities is patient care. Correct me if I’m wrong. If not, what is your focus when it comes to caring for the patients who use Piedmont?

Sure. Well, you know, at Piedmont, our focus is quality, safety, and service. And patient-centered care is at the center of everything we do. So, you know, one of the easy things is that University Health has had a wonderful, long, long history of providing excellent care to the community. And our partnership with Piedmont is really to continue that and to enhance that.

So what’s that looked like? Does it start in the waiting room, right when I walk in your doors, whether it’s ER or a doctor’s office where things are more pleasant for me? How do you do it?

Well, you know, we’re really looking at how to make the process more comfortable for the patient. Unfortunately, we are having difficulties with the emergency room. It’s very, very busy. And it’s not always the experience that I think we would want for our loved ones. But we’re spending a lot of energy looking at how do we walk the patient through the process. And quite frankly, one of the first portals for a lot of patients is not necessarily through the emergency room, but through our primary care and prompt care clinics.


Right? And so having easy access for our patients to get seen readily and quickly for their needs is something that’s really important. Trying to understand when they do come into the emergency room, how do we get them quickly triaged, evaluated, and then upstairs if they need to be admitted to the hospital. Overall, you know, hospitals are really full these days because of a lot of difficulty with getting patients discharged, because of insurance authorizations, and whatnot. But we’re looking very carefully at that because that’s something that’s really, really important. Making sure that the patient experience is something that we would want for all of our loved ones.

You know, we could probably spend the whole interview together talking about this. But I do wanna stay on this subject of patient care and ask you how we can help you. Is it, don’t come to the ER-

Oh gosh.

if you just have the sniffles? Is it, don’t take an ambulance to the ER so you can be at the top of that triage list even though your ailment isn’t that serious? What can we do to help our fellow patients and you?

Well, you know, it’s interesting that you say that, because a lot of people do think that just because they call 911 and they show up in the emergency room via ambulance, that they will go to the front of the line.

That’s what I thought.

Yeah. And that’s actually not the case. And so unfortunately, that puts a burden, right, on our 911 service and on our ambulance companies. When patients come through the emergency room, whether they walk in through the door or come in via private vehicle or via ambulance, they are triaged based upon the acuity of illness. And obviously if you’re having a heart attack or if you’re having a stroke, we put you at the front of the line because time is, at that point, heart or brain. If you come in for an itchy toe, you’re obviously gonna go to the back of the line. It’s unfortunate that, you know, a lot of people do feel like they have to come to the emergency room for care that otherwise might be more appropriately managed in an urgent care or in a primary care office. You know, due to lack of access, right, for a lot of patients in the community, the emergency room is the only portal to healthcare. At the end of the day, we will take care of all patients. So, you know, we never want to say to a patient, don’t come into our emergency room. Hopefully they have better access for things that are less urgent. But at the end of the day, we’re here to serve the community.

Well, we appreciate it, too. What about when it comes to doctors and nurses? Are you feeling a shortage in those areas? And is recruitment and retaining those professionals gonna be one of your priorities here as you start to get going?

Absolutely. So, you know, even before the pandemic, we had a national-

Retention, I’m sorry, was the word I was looking for? Excuse me, okay, go ahead.

That’s okay. I went right over that. So, you know, even before the pandemic, there was a national nursing shortage. We all knew about it. But obviously the pandemic really created a really difficult environment where a lot of nurses who could retire retired. And a lot of nurses made the decision to try travel rather than staying put within the organization, within where they previously worked. And we’re not unique in that the labor across the country for hospital systems is really, really problematic. The emotional toll that the pandemic has taken on our healthcare providers is also something that’s really been impactful. So, yes, it’s a big problem. My goal is to ensure that we have a work environment that is as positive as possible so our staff want to stay with us. But, you know, unfortunately, the reality of the labor market is that it’s just very difficult. So lots of energy and focus on that.

Yeah, I was gonna ask you about, you know, moving from patients to your team at Piedmont, what can be done to make employees love to come to work there? And I know most of them do anyway, but to make sure it’s a happy, healthy work environment. Is it more vacation days? Is it longer breaks? Help me with that one.

Well, you know, I am a firm believer that the culture of the organization is really the most important thing why people come to work. It’s not how much you pay them. It’s really that they are happy to work in that environment. I love the environment, the culture at Piedmont. We are very, very mission-driven. Our goal is to make a positive difference in every life we touch. And although this sounds like a logo, right, that you’ve read on a sign or something, it’s something that I focus on every day and really focusing on the values that we have. So we have four values within Piedmont. The first one is championing patient-centered care, putting the patient in the center of everything that we do. Number two is exemplifying teamwork and connections. Healthcare is a team sport. And so all of us, whether we’re administrators, or physicians, or nurses, or environmental service workers, work together as a team to take care of the patient. Being an owner, you know, when I’m walking down the hall and I see a piece of trash on the ground, I need to pick it up because it’s my job, it’s my home, right? And being empowered at every level of the organization to do what you have to do to take care of the patient is really important. And then embracing the future, recognizing that there’s a lot of good things that we’ve done in the past, but we need to figure out how to move forward in the future. Piedmont Augusta’s done a fabulous job of embracing those values. The integration of Piedmont and University certainly shows the emphasis on embracing the future. And the team has really done a spectacular job.

All right, that’s encouraging to hear. What about the pandemic? You mentioned it. Are any protocols still in place at Piedmont or is that phase of our lives over?

Well, unfortunately, you know, COVID is still here. Fortunately, it isn’t as bad as it was previously. So we have a protocol in which we we monitor the community transmission level. And if it stays stable for two weeks, then we look to see whether or not our masking protocol is consistent with what’s recommended. We don’t make a change every week because you couldn’t imagine how, you know, your head could spin around trying to keep track of-


Oh yes. Trying to keep track of the community transmission level. But we monitor. And once the transmission level is stable for two weeks, we make changes.

Goodness forbid, we have another global event, like the COVID-19 pandemic. But if we did, do you think that Piedmont and other hospitals are much better prepared to handle it because of what we learned?

Absolutely. You know, one of the wonderful things about being part of a large organization like Piedmont is that we actually have a lot of resources that help us figure out what to do. Even early on in the pandemic, things as confusing as trying to keep track of the PPE requirements, right? Trying to purchase PPE, being within a large organization allowed us to be able to focus on hospital operations and taking care of the patients while the people who are the experts in the area of supply chain and the area of infectious disease and epidemiology to work on the protocols and help us figure that out. That was actually how Jim Davis and I met, was, you know, the former CEO at University Health. You know, as an independent organization, they really had to try to figure out how to manage all of that. And so we worked together on a couple of projects and really showed the value of being part of a larger organization.

Well, you did an amazing job with that down in Henry County. And I’m glad you brought that expertise here. Let me ask you about, probably as my last question, how we can help you, what does Piedmont need from the community to help you all keep going strong?

Well, we want your feedback. We know that there are areas for improvement. And so please let me know, let my team know where we don’t meet your needs. And recognize that this is a time of transition for my team where we’re working to incorporate a lot of the new processes that are inherent within the Piedmont system. So the team are all learning new steps. But our healthcare workers are extremely dedicated. They’re really, really motivated. And I’m really proud. You know, one of the cool things, we talk about the labor market. I’ve been so impressed with how many people here within Piedmont Augusta have been here for such a long time. So even though the signs may have changed, it’s the same folks who are taking care of the patients. And my expectation is that we will move forward and become better together.

Yeah, there’s a real family feeling over there.

Oh my goodness. It’s been amazing. I have felt so blessed in the last two months with meeting the teammates that we have and seeing the dedication that’s there.

Well, Dr. Henson, thank you for what you’re doing. Welcome to the CSRA.

Thank you.

Glad you’re here and appreciate you stopping by the Means Report.

Thank you.

Dr. Lily Henson, CEO of Piedmont Augusta.