Hospital’s new CEO makes growth priority

Posted: February 1, 2018 at 1:04 a.m.

Larry Shackelford, new CEO at Washington Regional Medical Center, discusses Friday his goals and expectations for the hospital while at the hospital in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Washington Regional Medical Center’s new CEO wants the not-for-profit health system to be the best place to give and receive health care even as the region needs more and more of it.

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More about Washington Regional Medical Center’s services and locations can be found at wregional.com.

Larry Shackelford fully stepped into his role late last year after a three-month transition under the guidance of retiring CEO Bill Bradley. In an interview last week, Shackelford said he expects the 2,800-employee system’s biggest challenge in the coming years will simply be keeping up with Northwest Arkansas’ booming population.

The system in recent years has expanded past its original Fayetteville footprint, adding clinics in Springdale, Farmington and elsewhere. Shackelford said beyond adding facilities, he plans to focus on recruiting more technicians, physicians, therapists, nurses and other providers by keeping their compensation competitive and emphasizing chances for advancement to leadership positions within the health system.

“You try to create a culture that people want to be a part of,” Shackelford said. “We’ve got some really good people here at Washington Regional.”

That kind of culture must be combined with top-notch care for patients, he added. The system takes in all patients regardless of ability to pay.

“You’ve got to keep those things in balance.”

Shackelford, a Northwest Arkansas native, was the rare student who decided in junior high school that he would go into accounting. A good friend of his father told him learning finance, unlike something related such as banking, can be useful in any kind of work or industry.

Health care didn’t come into the picture until years later, when Shackelford was out of school and working as a certified public accountant. He started taking on medical clients, doing tax returns for the doctors at Fayetteville Diagnostic Clinic, for example. The clinic later became part of Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas, or MANA, a regional partnership of physicians forming in 1998 with Shackelford as CEO.

The health care industry then was becoming increasingly complex and time-consuming for doctors with new electronic records and the financial pressures of managed care, Shackelford said. But people such as himself with expertise in finance could help deal with that side of the business.

“The idea of MANA was to bring all those groups together and allow the doctors to do what they went to medical school to do, which is take care of patients,” he said.

Shackelford was “instrumental” to MANA’s formation, CEO Jason Wilson wrote in an email in April after Washington Regional announced Shackelford’s promotion.

“Larry was a visionary leader with a good grasp of the healthcare market and the changes that constantly occur,” wrote Wilson, who’s also a certified public accountant.

Shackelford stayed at MANA until joining Washington Regional in 2010 as a senior vice president overseeing outpatient care. He spent much of his transition time last fall learning about the health system’s other arenas, such as inpatient care, the emergency department and maintenance at the health system’s primary Fayetteville campus.

A Friday night emergency room shift from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. was particularly eye-opening, he said. One patient had been stabbed in the chest; a dozen providers met that ambulance at the door and succeeded in stabilizing the victim, Shackelford said. In the same shift, the department also treated the person suspected in the stabbing.

On the other end of the urgency spectrum, a mother came in that night scared because her baby kept crying. She just needed to be reassured her baby was fine.

Shackelford said he was glad the hospital could help her, but the visit highlighted the need to teach people some concerns don’t belong in the emergency department. Washington Regional’s urgent care clinics accept Medicare and Medicaid recipients, can cost less and can save emergency resources for the stabbings and the like, he said.

In a similar vein, Washington Regional is one of several providers in the region and state taking part in state-led programs aiming to reduce society’s overall health care spending. The programs work in part by paying a set amount for certain health care needs rather than paying for every individual test and procedure, which is meant to give hospitals an incentive to streamline and improve their work.

“We believe that’s going to be a much better system,” Shackelford said.

Steve Clark, president and CEO of Fayetteville’s Chamber of Commerce, called Shackelford “absolutely the correct person” to take on Bradley’s old post because of his compassion for patients and vision of health care’s future. The industry is one of the area’s fastest growing and touches countless lives, he added.

“He’s one of the guys in the boat who picked up an oar and said, ‘Let’s row,’” Clark said of Shackelford. “All I want to say is, how can we help?”

Dan Holtmeyer can be reached at dholtmeyer@nwadg.com and on Twitter @NWADanH.