Interview with Kenneth Bateman

What are the qualities that let SoutheastHEALTH stand apart in the healthcare sector?

Aside from our distinctive culture of family and trust, we seek partnerships with other organizations that bring economies of scale and value to our health system.

For example, we partner with Washington University School of Medicine, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, for case review, education and call coverage. Our partnership with Universal Health Services helped to build a 102-bed inpatient behavioral health hospital in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Kindred Health helps manage Southeast’s inpatient rehabilitation unit. Partnerships have been key to our success and the sizeable growth we have seen with our services in the  past few years.


What led you to become President and Chief Executive Officer of the company?

I joined SoutheastHEALTH after taking my previous hospital through a merger. My comfort level was working at the community hospital level, so my search focused on community hospitals. At that time, SoutheastHEALTH was experiencing severe financial stress due to a billing system conversion which did not go well. My core background is in finance, so I thought this was the perfect fit. That was almost seven years ago. Today, our organization has not only rebounded but is leading the region in market share among our core services!


In what ways has SoutheastHEALTH changed since you arrived in 2014?

Since arriving at SoutheastHEALTH, aside from partnering with other organizations, I have focused on lowering the cost of healthcare to employers in Cape Girardeau and the surrounding communities in southeast Missouri. As a result, we created a direct contract program with self-insured employers. The basic concept is a tiered plan with the tier 1 provider providing the lowest cost to the employer/employee. Hospitals in other markets are in tiers with slightly higher out-of-pocket costs. Southeast’s direct competitor is in the highest tier, which is either out-of-network or carries substantial penalties. To date, we have over 85 groups signed with over 36,000 covered lives. We have collectively saved employers in the area millions of dollars on their health benefit costs in the five years we have been working on this strategy.


Can you tell us about the work SoutheastHEALTH has done for the communities it serves in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?

This COVID-19 pandemic started with a great deal of fear and uncertainty throughout all aspects of our lives. Despite that fear and uncertainty, SoutheastHEALTH continued to move forward to keep our community safe. We were the first hospital in our region to receive equipment to test for COVID, the first hospital in our area to perform the COVID-19 rapid test and the first hospital in our area to test for COVID using saliva.

Today, we can perform over 2,500 COVID tests per day. Southeast was also one of only six hospitals in Missouri named early on as a COVID-19 vaccine pre-positioning site. As of the end of July, we have administered over 34,500 first and second doses of the vaccine.


How have you overcome the challenges that the pandemic has presented?

The pandemic with its labor shortages still challenges us. Hospitals across the country are experiencing the loss of staff due to burnout, retirement, wage wars, career changes, etc. This makes it very difficult to accept patient transfers from other facilities. In many markets like ours, there is not a bed shortage. There is a labor shortage.


Which of your career achievements are you most proud of having fulfilled?

The achievement I am very proud of is bringing the 102-bed behavioral health hospital to our community. It opened in March 2021 and could not have been more needed after a year of business lockdowns, remote learning and people struggling with emotional aspects of the pandemic. This hospital will be one of the few hospitals that will accept adolescent patients in the state of Missouri.


What is the first piece of advice you would give to a less experienced CEO?

The advice I would give CEOs early in their career is think strategically. You can surround yourself with experts in their fields, but someone has to be thinking about the future and where the organization needs to position itself. Otherwise, you are just putting out fires.


What is next for SoutheastHEALTH, and for yourself?

For SoutheastHEALTH, we recognize the world of medicine and how health care delivery is changing rapidly. We are always looking for great partners with ideas on digital technology, retail medicine and lowering the cost of care while enhancing patient safety, experience and outcomes.

For me, I am always thinking: “How can I make a difference?” So I am constantly evaluating ideas and opportunities to select our next significant initiative.

Recently, SoutheastHEALTH celebrated a step forward   with   Phase   2   of   its   $125    million West Campus expansion with groundbreaking ceremonies for a 70,000 square foot building to house the Southeast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center and Southeast Women’s Integrated Health Services. The multi-phase project is the largest in SoutheastHEALTH’s history.

Phase 2 includes $25 million for the new facility and another $50 million for renovations of the Southeast Emergency Services Department and conversion of semi-private rooms to private rooms. Completion is expected by mid-2023.

Phase 1 of the project, the $30 million Southeast Behavioral Hospital, was completed in March, 2021. Planning is underway for Phase 3, which will add a $20 million Ambulatory Surgery Center featuring surgical suites for specialties including Orthopedics, General Surgery and Women’s Health. As our region rebounds from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are pleased that this project also will add approximately 200 new jobs.

Women’s Health Services will bring essential women’s services together in one convenient location. It will house 30 exam rooms, five ultrasound rooms, two procedure rooms, four mammography rooms, two bone densitometry rooms, one stereotactic room and on-site lab services. Along with obstetric and gynecological services, pelvic floor and lymphedema therapy, there are “ ex” suites for physicians with subspecialties such as cardiac care, gastroenterology and endocrinology. A health education center and medical spa services will round out Southeast’s comprehensive approach to women’s health.

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