Paul O’Sullivan is not from around here, which becomes obvious as soon as he starts to speak.
But the Irishman is no less a Houstonian, having worked in the Memorial Hermann Health System for nearly 20 years. In barely six months as the senior vice president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, he already has a keen understanding of the community it serves.
O’Sullivan has observed the development and demographic shifts throughout the area during the last decade or two and, like everyone else who lives or works in this part of the city, marvels at it.
“It’s amazing what’s going on. We’re delighted to be a part of it,” O’Sullivan said. “As healthcare changes, frankly, and we’re kind of reimagining our mission, you know Memorial Hermann is more than just the bricks and sticks and the big building. I think that’s important because it’s kind of a community anchor in some respects.”
O’Sullivan intends to keep it that way at Memorial Hermann Greater Heights, which opened more than 50 years ago and now has 260 beds and more than 600 affiliated doctors. The hospital regularly examines the needs of the nearby community, gathering feedback from patients and residents, medical staff and demographic studies.
The results have shaped the hospital’s recent initiatives to focus on outpatient care for a population that by and large is young and reproducing. Its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was recently designated as a special care nursery for newborns by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Memorial Hermann Greater Heights operates a Convenient Care Center at 1431 Studemont St., where patients have access to imaging services, physical therapy and 24-hour emergency care. The hospital’s ER treated more than 70,000 patients last year, making it one of the busiest in the health system.
“The needs for the people in the Heights right now are in ambulatory care,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s a population that’s not at an age where there’s necessarily a high disease burden that calls for inpatient care. That’s why convenient care centers, that’s why urgent care.
“If you look at that population and the demographics of that population, that 100,000 or so people, they’re pretty young. If you look at the healthcare needs that they use, probably the biggest reason for that population to visit a hospital is to have a baby.”
O’Sullivan merged his responsibilities at the Greater Heights location with his existing job as senior vice president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, where he began working in 2015. He said the dual role allows him to pool resources between the two hospitals and utilize best practices from both.
The not-for-profit health system as a whole recently entertained a merger with Baylor Scott & White that would have included nearly 70 hospitals across Texas. The $14 billion deal, announced in October, was called off earlier this month.
O’Sullivan said the health care giants essentially decided not to fix what wasn’t broken, determining they operated just as well independently as they could have together.
“The ask from both boards was prove the value in doing it together,” O’Sullivan said. “So it’s not the case of it necessarily gets done better on our own, but it does not necessarily get done any better if we merge.”
O’Sullivan said a focal point of the hospital’s future is virtual care, which utilizes technology to allow patients to be examined by physicians without leaving home. It works through phone calls and video chats.
While that type of care comes with inherent limitations, the benefits include shorter wait times, faster diagnoses and smaller crowds at the hospital.
“There’s a lot of things that by asking a few questions a physician can make a pretty informed decision with the patient about where they need to go next,” O’Sullivan said. “So if you really need to go to an ER or if it’s a case of, ‘OK, this is all right, I can hold this until tomorrow morning and make an appointment to see someone at a more convenient time.”
O’Sullivan said insurance companies also like virtual care, because it increases customer satisfaction and keeps costs down. Rising healthcare costs are a concern for the hospital, too, so it tries to mitigate them by helping people stay healthy.
That is the overriding objective for Memorial Hermann’s neighborhood hospital and its new leader, who is new to the neighborhood but already understands its needs.
“Our mission statement if you look at it … talks about improving the health of the people in southeast Texas,” O’Sullivan said. “So for me, this patch of grass in this part of town is the population that I think about when we talk about improving health. And a certain amount of that is treating illness, but a certain part of that is helping people live best lives.”