A 242-bed acute care facility based in the beach town of Cape May, N.J., Cape Regional Medical Center serves a patient population that hovers under 100,000 during the off-season before swelling to more than one million during the summer. But for CIO Rich Wheatley, the operational challenges associated with a fluctuating patient base pale in comparison to the complexity of New Jersey’s HIE environment, which is about as “clear as mud.” Throw in Cape Regional’s plans to bring on physician practices, the challenges of juggling different systems, and the Meaningful Use timelines, and it’s safe to say that Wheatley’s job is no vacation. In this interview, he discusses his plans to integrate physician practices with the inpatient Siemens Soarian system, the use of Allscripts in the ED, his thoughts on the merits and weaknesses of Meaningful Use, and how he docked in Cape May.
- Thoughts on interim CIO roles
- Career paths
- Difference between working at a large health system versus small community hospital
- Working with NJ HIMSS
I came down to talk to them and basically said, ‘Thanks, but I’m not really looking for a director role. However, I am unemployed, and while you go ahead and figure out if you folks want a director or a CIO, I’d be happy to fill in that interim role.’
A large health system like St. Barnabas, as you can imagine, has lots of politics and bureaucracy. That’s just the way it is. And that’s fine; you just need to understand that and navigate that.
At Cape Regional Medical Center, the decisions are easy to make. I don’t have a lot of layers of bureaucracy to go through. If it’s the right thing to do, we do it, and we execute it fairly quickly. The negative side is that I don’t have a lot of resources and I run a lean staff.
The conference has been phenomenally successful, both in terms of the feedback we get about the education and content that we provide, and the fact that it is financially successful and enables us to do things like offer scholarships to up-and-coming health information technology students.
Guerra: I’m saw on your LinkedIn profile that you started there as the interim CIO.
Guerra: Tell me about that—I wonder if some people who are looking to move or take on new challenges see an interim role and decide they’re not comfortable with that. Maybe some people would rather take a CIO role at another place rather than an interim CIO role. What was your thinking there?
Wheatley: I was working for IBM, and prior to that, I had worked for the St. Barnabas Health System for about 13 years. I had left them to pursue an opportunity with IBM as a business development executive. Timing is everything in life, and at the time that I made a move to IBM, the economy went to the toilet. I felt like I was selling homes to the homeless. IBM went through layoffs, and I was a let go. So I was unemployed.
The opportunity here came up when I was contacted by the CEO of Saint Barnabas Health Care System, who was the executive director at one of their affiliates. They had just lost their IT director and were looking to replace that position. At that point in time, the director was reporting to the CFO and they did not have a CIO. So I came down to talk to them and basically said, ‘Thanks, but I’m not really looking for a director role. However, I am unemployed, and while you go ahead and figure out if you folks want a director or a CIO, I’d be happy to fill in that interim role.’
So basically that’s what happened. I took the interim role, and when they went ahead interviewing for other candidates, trying to figure out the level of candidates out there at the director and CIO level, and figuring out where IT really fit in the organization. Once they came to the conclusion that they wanted a CIO, I formally threw my hat in the ring.
Guerra: Was it just a difference in title, or was it a difference in reporting structure and responsibility, which would really make it a different position?
Wheatley: It really was a different position. The director was reporting to the CFO. I am now reporting to the CEO as part of senior management. The CFO was more than happy to get rid of IT.
Guerra: I loved your phrase when you said, ‘I was unemployed. I decided to be a bit more flexible.’
Wheatley: Exactly. Destiny is the mother of all invention.
Guerra: So you were at Saint Barnabas. That’s a big organization—they have seven hospitals. And you were regional CIO?
Wheatley: I was regional CIO. I had responsibility for what they informally called the ‘southern region,’ which was the community, Kimball, and Monmouth Medical Centers.
Guerra: Tell me about the differences between working for a large health care system and working for a smaller community hospital?
Wheatley: There’s good and bad. A large health system like St. Barnabas, as you can imagine, has lots of politics and bureaucracy. That’s just the way it is. And that’s fine; you just need to understand that and navigate that. And the decision-making process tends to be elongated as a result of that, because you’re not just making a decision for a single affiliate if you’re making an IT decision. You’re looking at what are the larger implications across the health care system. And that’s the right thing to do in the environment.
On the flip side, being here at Cape Regional Medical Center, the decisions are easy to make. I don’t have a lot of layers of bureaucracy to go through. If it’s the right thing to do, we do it, and we execute it fairly quickly. The negative side is that I don’t have a lot of resources and I run a lean staff. We watch every nickel.
Guerra: We mentioned that you were involved with New Jersey HIMSS. I believe you’re the treasurer?
Wheatley: That is correct. I’ve been the treasurer for eight or nine years now.
Guerra: Yes. And you’re properly managing? I’m just kidding. There’s no missing money?
Wheatley: Right, the trip to Hawaii that I’m planning. But in all seriousness, the New Jersey HIMSS organization has been phenomenally successful, beyond my wildest dreams. Previously we were HISMA (health information systems management association) which had been around for a number of years. I joined them in 2001 or 2002, and shortly became treasurer, and then we transitioned to be a sub-chapter of the HIMSS organization. We have membership of about 1,200 now. We have our annual conference in Atlantic City. This year I believe its September 22 and 23 at the Caesar’s Hotel Casino. And every year, it gets bigger and bigger. We’re to the point where we are in danger of outgrowing it and will have to look at a different venue. But the conference has been phenomenally successful, both in terms of the feedback we get about the education and content that we provide, and the fact that it is financially successful and enables us to do things like offer scholarships to up-and-coming health information technology students.
Guerra: It certainly is a great group. There’s a good chance I’ll be down in Atlantic City this year and see you down there.
Wheatley: Excellent; looking forward to seeing you.
Guerra: Yeah, it’s a great group. I know Rich Temple, your president, and I’ve interviewed quite a few of the members. There are a lot of CIOs, so I would imagine that’s a great for you to network. And when you were out of work, I’m sure you pinged a lot of your contacts. So it’s got to be nice to have that network.
Wheatley: It is, and it is a great networking opportunity. And actually, Rich Temple has just stepped down as president as his term ended, and Dave Dyer is now president and Al Campanella is our vice president.
Guerra: And Neal (Ganguly) is now your past-past president?
Wheatley: Yes, Neal is a past president as well.
Guerra: That’s a good group.
Wheatley: Yes, they are.
Guerra: Okay, Rich, is there anything else you want to add? I think we’ve pretty much covered everything I was looking to discuss today.
Wheatley: I can’t think of anything. This has been a good discussion. I enjoyed it.
Guerra: It was a real pleasure. I want to thank you for your time today, and I look forward to catching up with you again soon.
Wheatley: Great, thank you.