SARATOGA SPRINGS —Saratoga Hospital President and CEO Jill Johnson VanKuren has worked in the role for just over a year, and on Tuesday, she reflected on her first 365 days in the Spa City among other topics as part of the ‘Serving Saratoga’ series hosted at Caffè Lena.
The series is a collaboration between Caffè Lena and the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, and was hosted by Caffè Lena executive director Sarah Craig. The event also touched on topics such as current issues in healthcare, and the mindset of managing and collaborating with a team.
During the conversation, VanKuren said her first year in the role has been “wonderful,” noting her past roles helped prepare her for a position as CEO. She also discussed Saratoga Hospital’s affiliation with Albany Med, which she said allows the hospital more opportunities to offer and expand services in the community.
“We’re strategic partners, but we maintain our independence,” VanKuren said of the partnership. “So it keeps our focus on community needs, but we have the partnership with Albany Med to add activity to this community. We are able to bring more specialists, where, as an independent, we wouldn’t be able to hire some of those providers. We are purchasing and installing an electronic medical record together, which is an extremely difficult and expensive endeavor that we wouldn’t have been able to do on our own.”
She said this model provides strong benefits for the hospital, noting that partnering with other area hospitals allows their focus to remain local.
VanKuren also made note of some of the struggles currently facing the healthcare industry, saying that Saratoga Hospital is dealing with many of the same issues faced by hospitals across the country.
“We are suffering from a negative bottom line, just like every other healthcare institution in the nation right now. So there is that fear, ‘Can we continue to do what we’re doing as we are losing money?’” VanKuren said at the event. “That is difficult. I think we do have a way forward. It’s going to be, probably another year until I think we can get back above that line to profitability, but it will take some sacrifice, some change.”
She said the hospital is looking to focus on what services the local area may need moving forward.
“It’s challenging to think of our facility not being, at least, breaking even or profitable, because that’s not something that’s really happened before,” VanKuren told Saratoga Today. “... So, looking at a way forward, a lot of the things we talk about are, ‘What does this community need into the future?’”
She mentioned services for those who wish to age in place, as well as optimizing the hospital’s staffing and supply chain. VanKuren noted they had been working to expand outpatient and ambulatory services in recent years, but the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a sudden shift back to more inpatient demand.
“So we had to go from really focusing on ambulatory development to going back to being a jam-packed inpatient hospital again,” VanKuren told Saratoga Today. “But now the pendulum’s coming the other way, so we need to shift our focus to that ambulatory network, and continue that service.”
She also noted during the event that she has felt embraced in the community since arriving, saying Saratoga Springs is “unique.” VanKuren said that it is meaningful to hear from people who have utilized the hospital’s services.
“Your best day and your worst day can be the same day in a hospital, so it always gives me such a sense of pride listening to the stories,” VanKuren said during the event. “And it’s always about how we made you feel. Not just about the healthcare we provided, but the staff and their connection with you and your family. That is the most important thing, and I think that is what makes Saratoga Hospital unique and special.”