With eyes and ears open, Sunny Eappen takes the helm at UVM Health Network

Sunil “Sunny” Eappen, president and CEO of the University of Vermont Health Network, speaks at an event in South Burlington on Thursday, December 15, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Dr. Sunil “Sunny” Eappen spent his first weeks on the job as the new leader of the UVM Health Network crossing Lake Champlain from Vermont to New York and back, visiting all six hospitals under the network’s umbrella. He expects to make frequent trips, having committed to visiting each hospital “every, ever,” Eappen told VTDigger last month.

This visit will not be as material as what he did during his 14 years as a hospital administrator in Boston. An obstetric anesthesiologist, Eappen scheduled one day of work and one day on call each month in the busy birthing center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But the goal is the same: to get an accurate and quick idea of ​​what a typical day is like for staff and patients.

“It made me feel what it was like to keep working,” said Eappen, 56, who began his new role as president and CEO on November 28. Whether it was during a pandemic or during the implementation of a new medical record. program, “when people complained, I really understood.”

Wanting to meet and listen closely to as many people as possible is a key aspect of who Sunny Eappen is, according to longtime colleague and recent boss Ron Wells, CEO of Mass General Brigham, Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s parent organization. He thinks that momentum is part of what makes Eappen so effective.

“He is a great listener. He is a quick adapter. He is ready to take feedback and change his approach if he needs to do that,” said Wells. “He is one of the most selfless leaders I have ever worked with in medicine.”

As chair of the emergency medicine department, Wells collaborated with Eappen in organizing and coordinating how anesthesiologists participate in emergency rooms, saving precious minutes in getting a trauma patient to surgery. In 2018, after taking over the administration, Wells hired Eappen to return to Brigham to serve as chief medical officer — a position he held at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Moving from a small specialty hospital “was a big step,” Wells said, perhaps even bigger than moving from Brigham to flagship UVM Health. But Eappen took it in stride, according to Wells. “You could have sworn that Sunny has been in that role for five years if you met him three weeks after he joined,” he said.

Also Read :  Mental health crisis: PM Jacinda Ardern says more research is needed into rising rates among young Kiwis

In fact, in terms of scale, Brigham is slightly larger than the UVM Health network. The former had a cost of $4.5 billion by 2021, about 21,000 employees and 1,000 licensed patient beds, while UVM Health’s cost was just under $2.4 billion, with 15,000 employees and 620 licensed patient beds. The Boston hospital trains doctors in partnership with Harvard Medical School, similar to the partnership between UVM Health and the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine.

Eappen’s accomplishments at Brigham over the past four years — 10 months of which he served as interim president — included a complete reorganization of pharmacy operations, making them patient-friendly and efficient, Wells said. Eappen also tackled “the most challenging professional issues” with empathy and an even hand.

“He was really good at that because he always put the patient first,” Wells said. “He always cared about the providers, too, and he cared about them a lot, but the patients were his trump card.”

Sunil “Sunny” Eappen, president and CEO of the University of Vermont Health Network, speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony to announce the second investment in new housing in South Burlington on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Eappen says his model for patient care is his father, a Chicago-area pediatrician in a solo practice who rarely went through the night without getting up to attend to a family with a sick child. Eappen’s compassion and calm demeanor were informed by the public tragedy years ago that rocked his young family.

In 1997, her eight-month-old son, Matthew, died from injuries associated with being violently shaken. Later that year, a jury convicted a British couple, who were hired to care for the infant and his older brother, of second-degree murder in her death, although the jury reduced the charge and sentence. The case attracted international media attention at the time, drawing radio talk shows and hate messages, directed at his wife, Debbie, an ophthalmologist, Eappen said.

The loss changed both of them and shaped the way they work with family, Eappen said. It put aside all other concerns and rearranged its priorities. The couple both changed their medical plan to part-time to share care for their three other children, all of whom are now adults.

They also established the Matty Eappen Foundation, named after their late son. The all-volunteer organization, in which his wife still works, is dedicated to educating the public and medical professionals about traumatic brain injury, also called shaken baby syndrome, and supporting victims and their families.

Also Read :  Q&A: Dr. Michele Arnold, VP and CMO of St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction, on her new leadership role and continued commitment to patient care - State of Reform

Eappen is still feeling the impact of the balance they both worked to achieve. “I don’t really press the things that are happening,” he said. “I think it brought a certain sense of peace and calm to me and the people around me, and a good feeling that I’m happy about.”

Those qualities will come in handy as Eappen tackles the financial and staffing challenges facing UVM Health and other hospitals around the country.

The health network ended its fiscal year with an operating loss of $90 million, largely due to paying higher rates to traveling clinical staff due to an inability to find enough local staff. Most importantly in Eappen, the operating margin of the hospital is now so low – and has been for so long – that it is difficult to invest in the buildings and people needed to deliver high-quality care to patients.

One result: A report from the Vermont Agency of Human Services found that getting in to see a medical specialist at UVM Medical Center for most people takes about three months or more, the longest wait time in the state.

Eappen says he sees at least two key areas where the effort could bring improvement. First, the program needs more staff, so it must do what it can to make UVM Health a place where doctors and their support staff want to work. That means more projects like the one just announced will build 120 new apartments and a daycare center in South Burlington.

Sunil “Sunny” Eappen, president and CEO of the University of Vermont Health Network, center, visits with Maida Townsend, left, and Anya Rader Wallack after a groundbreaking ceremony to announce the second investment in new housing in South Burlington on Thursday, Dec. 15 , 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Joining a group of part-time doctors at Brigham in the late 1990s exposed him to issues related to working parents, especially mothers.

“At that time, it was me and 28 women,” Eappen said. “The challenges they had really shaped the way I think about diversity and equality in the workplace.”

Drawing a long-term workforce is about fostering a mission-driven culture, he said. “When you clean a room or serve food, you don’t just do that. “You’re actually helping families and helping each patient get better,” Eappen said. “When you work in offices, you don’t just do (information technology). He makes it easy for patients to see the information they need to see.”

Also Read :  Madras HC Issues Directions For Effective Implementation Of Health Insurance Scheme In Hospitals

Second, practitioners such as doctors and nurses can be widely supported by community health workers, pharmacists and social workers in providing care, so they can focus on what they are trained to do.

“Patients can be connected to the entire health care system, or (multiple staff) in the office they go to, instead of feeling like it’s just me and the doctor,” she said.

That expanded view of care resonated with the UVM Health staff she interacted with during her two visits, Eappen said. The fact that they already see their jobs as supporting health in whole communities and not just responding to people visiting a hospital or a doctor’s office is what makes him so interested in taking on this job.

“The idea that we provide care for everyone, that we’re willing to do that, and the quality of care is the same no matter where you live, what color you are, that’s the dream,” Eappen said. “It’s a really different business when you start thinking like that, that the whole community is ours and we have to take care of it.”

Mike Fisher, a state health care attorney who works for Vermont Legal Aid, welcomes Eappen to a very difficult task. No doubt his biggest challenge will be addressing the real needs of the state’s largest health care system without making care too expensive and out of reach for Vermonters, Fisher said.

Vermont hospitals often look to the regulatory Green Mountain Care Board for permission to raise commercial insurance rates as a primary source of revenue. The annual health insurance survey showed in 2021 that while only 3% of Vermonters are uninsured, nearly 40% of those with insurance are considered underinsured, meaning the cost of premiums, deductibles and co-payments totals more than 10% of income home. .

“They may really need a rate increase in their opinion, and that rate increase will cost many Vermonters without the ability to get the care they need,” Fisher said. “That’s hard for someone who really wants to do both.”

The University of Vermont Health Network called Dr. Sunil “Sunny” Eappen as its next president and CEO on Thursday, September 8. Courtesy of UVM Health Network.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.