The place you once knew as Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital – if you ever knew the place – is no more.
Before you hop in the car and drive to the intersection of Ella and 610 in search of wrecking balls, hold on a second. The hospital isn’t going anywhere, nor is the nationally respected brand of Memorial Hermann. But CEO Susan Jadlowski, now 18 months into her administration, has surgically taken a scalpel to nearly everything else.
Start with the name. As of Oct. 14, that awkward “Northwest” – a better indicator of neighborhoods that begin with the letters “Cy” – has been erased. Introducing Memorial Hermann Greater Heights.
“It’s really hard to resonate with a community when the name isn’t representative of who we are,” Jadlowski said. “At one point, this area was the northwest part of Houston. [But with growth], it’s not anymore.”
Making a name change wasn’t easy in these parts, either. For starters, those neighborhoods north of 610 don’t exactly call themselves the Heights, and Jadlowski knew that going in.
“We aren’t like other suburbs of Houston,” she said. “It’s easy to name a hospital in Pearland or The Woodlands. But we have several small communities, and we had to figure out how to [change the name] without offending anyone.”
So hospital administrators hired a professional consulting firm that hosted six focus groups over three days. And they didn’t find much resistance to the name, given that many people already refer to this area as the Greater Heights (e.g. the Greater Heights Chamber of Commerce.)
Slapping some new letters on a marquee hardly represents a fundamental change in the way a hospital operates, and Jadlowski knows that better than anyone. She has been at the Greater Heights hospital for nearly nine years, and as she describes it, the demographics have changed “wildly.”
“When I came here, we all but closed the pediatric floor back then,” she recalled. “We didn’t grow pediatrics at all.”
Today? Toddlers fill every park from Donovan to Candlelight and the demographic swing in mothers and their children all but mandates a pediatric and OB/Gyn floor in today’s hospital, which is why the hospital is shifting emphasis to that specialty.
Here’s another example: The healthcare demographics suggest this area “is full of diabetes,” Jadlowski said. “And when that happens, it becomes a vascular issue.” And that’s why Memorial Hermann Greater Heights has recruited vascular surgeons to its campus.
“We are a community hospital,” she said. “We have to be responsive to what this community needs, and that’s one of the greatest changes we’re trying to make.”
Turning it around
In the figurative sense, Jadlowski and her team of administrators (whom she calls “the best I’ve ever worked with”) are trying to turn around the community’s perception of what they once believed about the old “Northwest” campus of Memorial Hermann.
“A lot of people we’ve talked to didn’t even know we were here,” she said.
But in the literal sense, the hospital is going to – get this – turn around. Currently, the front doors of the hospital face north, situated somewhere among an interstate bypass and an emergency room entrance. By July 2016, a projected date by Jadlowski, the new Memorial Hermann Greater Heights will move its front door to the south side of the hospital, eventually situated between a less-traveled access road (26th Street), green space, and an easy drop-off and pick-up location.
For her part, Jadlowski said the new entrance is going to be “gorgeous.” Even better, visitors to the hospital won’t have to dodge ambulances as they walk to the front door.
Coupled with a multi-million dollar upgrade of the emergency room, along with refurbished patient rooms (all the way down to the hard-wood flooring), the new entrance to the hospital is just another change designed to lure local patients back to a hospital that desperately wants to be the first source for healthcare.
The Greater Heights area of Houston sits in an interesting place. Depending on the time of day – forget rush hour – the world-class Houston Medical Center isn’t an impossible drive for patients in these parts. Jadlowski and her team know that, and they realize they lose patients to the Medical Center.
Changing names, buffing floors and moving the front door won’t convince people to use their local hospital for everything. But if Jadlowski got one wish with the community, it would be to have folks at least give Memorial Hermann Greater Heights another try.
“One of the things that has been incredible is the support [the Memorial Hermann] board has given to everything we want to do here,” she said. “In our system, most of our play has been in suburbia. We are the only hospital [in the urban part of Houston].”
Sure enough, the entire Memorial Hermann system has supported a “northwest” hospital that takes in an enormous amount of patients that have little or no insurance. The emergency room, in the past year, saw 60,000 patients, which tends to happen at a hospital sitting squarely between three major transportation arteries of the city.
But over the past 50 years, Memorial Hermann has ridden the same roller coaster as the neighborhoods in this area. When the Heights was “down,” so was the hospital. When property values were a fifth of what they are today, Memorial Hermann stuck to this community, offering top-line healthcare in a part of the city that sometimes couldn’t afford it.
Now, as demographics continue their shift upward, Memorial Hermann is following the community in lock-step.
How much improvement should residents expect?
“In three or four years, you won’t know this campus,” Jadlowski said, a smile completely overtaking her face. “Sure, the look is all part of it, but that’s just part of it. Our primary job is to give great care; to be excellent always.”
For the Greater Heights administration, that means offering necessary medical services. It also means improving the family experience, communicating with both patients and families, and offering the small things that set one hospital apart from another.
“We understand it’s been difficult [at this hospital] in the past,” Jadlowski said. “But do give us a try. Watch how we grow in the next few years.”