December 10, 2018
Health Care Heroes Awards 2018

Kyriacou a beacon for Gaylord, long-term care hospital industry

Photos | HBJ File
Photos | HBJ File
Gaylord Specialty Healthcare President & CEO George Kyriacou (center) accepting a hospital donation.

Category: Corporate Achievement — Innovation

George Kyriacou

Employer: Gaylord Specialty Healthcare

Title: President & CEO

George Kyriacou will retire as president and CEO of Gaylord Specialty Healthcare Dec. 31, having made a profound mark not only on the Wallingford-based long-term acute care hospital, but on the broader sector.

Dr. Peter Deckers, a Gaylord board member, executive director of perioperative services at UConn Health and former dean of the UConn School of Medicine, said Kyriacou set a strong course for Gaylord, which focuses on rehabilitating some of the most seriously ill or injured patients, including those with spinal and brain injuries and stroke victims.

"I don't think I've ever worked with anyone who has been as intensely concerned with positioning the hospital for the future, long term," Deckers said.

Deckers said Kyriacou has helped demonstrate the value of long-term health care's intensive rehabilitation on improving patients' lives, gaining a reputation in the field regionally and nationally. Deckers also praised the vision and leadership of Kyriacou, who will consult part time for Gaylord after retiring, and remain involved in advocating for the industry.

Kyriacou improved the 137-bed hospital's finances after arriving in late-2011, making it profitable within his first year. That opened the door to invest in Gaylord's future and Kyriacou focused on measurable patient results.

"I think what I contributed to the organization was really bringing it to a current state-of-the-art approach to delivering care, measuring care and achieving results clinically and operationally," Kyriacou said, crediting staff for helping forge Gaylord's success.

As he settled into his new role — his first in the long-term healthcare sector after a career in short-term acute care hospitals in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania — a priority was finding technologies that would make a significant difference for critically ill or injured patients, helping them recover the highest quality of life possible.

Gaylord pioneered the use of bionic exoskeletons to help people with spinal-cord injuries stand and walk. They're also used now for stroke patients.

Benefits include reductions in comorbidities, such as pulmonary problems, but the mental effect is also huge, he said.

"Every one of the patients that has gone and used the exoskeleton has commented to me about what a difference it makes to be able to stand up and look you or I, the healthy people, in the eye instead of having us looking down at them," Kyriacou said.

Gaylord's Ekso Bionics exoskeleton recently surpassed 1 million steps, making Gaylord among the highest utilizers of this technology nationally, he said.

Other technologies Gaylord invested in include anti-gravity treadmills that support body weight during rehabilitation. Gaylord has inpatient and outpatient services at its main campus in Wallingford and outpatient services in North Haven and Cheshire at Gaylord Physical Therapy, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine offices. Cheshire was added and North Haven expanded as Kyriacou saw health care's increased focus on outpatient services, a key growth area for Gaylord.

He also oversaw installation of a spinal-cord unit for adolescents, catering to their special physiological and psychological needs, including creating one room with attached family quarters.

"That is incredibly conducive to an improved healing environment because many adolescents want their family members with them 24 hours a day, initially, just to get that comfort level and to really accelerate the healing process," Kyriacou said.

For other visiting families, Gaylord recently completed the remodel of a two-bedroom home on campus and construction of another building for four families.

"Even for adults, what we have found is that having family involvement/engagement during the recovery process is critical," Kyriacou said.

Gaylord also has expanded telemetry units to better monitor stroke and cardiac patients and included telemetry in a new unit it opened last year for the most complex and medically fragile stroke victims.

Additionally, it achieved Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) certification for inpatient rehabilitation, spinal cord, stroke and brain injury specialty programs. CARF is considered the gold standard for rehabilitation facilities, Kyriacou said, and allows Gaylord to say "we're the best, we're the most expert and there are external entities that are evaluating that and validating it."

Beyond Gaylord, Kyriacou took a leadership role in a consortium of 21 long-term healthcare facilities nationally. He saw a need for better data supporting the sector, acquired the Medicare database and engaged a firm to examine several years of data.

"What we've clearly demonstrated is that long-term acute care hospitals achieve better outcomes for the most acutely ill patients than if those patients either stayed in a short-term acute care hospital or went to another post acute care setting," he said.

"Having this type of objective data … I think will result in better outcomes for patients — and that's what we're here for, that's what we're ultimately all about," Kyriacou said.

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