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December 11, 2023 5 We Watched

Trinity Health of NE's CEO Carter focuses on worker recruitment, community access, new parking garage amid financial headwinds

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Trinity Health Of New England President and CEO Montez Carter is a sports fan and collector of vintage sports memorabilia.
Montez Carter
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Montez Carter became president and CEO of Trinity Health Of New England — the third-largest hospital operator in Connecticut — at a precarious time, as the industry adapts to post-pandemic life and contends with various headwinds, including inflation and workforce shortages.

Carter moved from Georgia to the Nutmeg State to helm the Catholic healthcare system, which owns four Connecticut hospitals — St. Francis and Mount Sinai Rehabilitation in Hartford; St. Mary’s in Waterbury; and Johnson Memorial in Stafford — and one in Massachusetts.

His official start date was Oct. 3, 2022.

After a little more than a year in the position, Carter said he’s proud of the equity work the organization has accomplished.

In April, Trinity Health partnered with national nonprofit RIP Medical to erase $32.76 million worth of liabilities for 22,300 patients. RIP Medical typically pays pennies on the dollar to purchase, and then forgive, medical debt.

Carter said it helped lift a burden off patients who may have delayed or forgone medical care due to financial uncertainty.

“It was more than worth it for what we were able to accomplish from a mission perspective,” Carter said. “For us, it was absolutely the right thing to do. ... We don’t want people not seeking the proper care that they need, because of their concern about their ability to pay.”

Re-imagining care

To address the ongoing worker shortage, Trinity Health has ramped up employee engagement and retention efforts, along with recruitment — “so that we can stabilize our workforce, because everything is foundational to that,” Carter said.

Carter said Trinity Health has launched a virtual nurse program, which delivers care to patients through a team approach that includes a direct-care registered nurse, an on-site nursing assistant or licensed practical nurse, and a registered nurse who appears virtually in a patient’s room.

Virtual nurses, who are stationed at local campuses and have full access to patient records, provide mentoring and support to direct-care nurses, especially new graduates.

“We’re really just continuing to re-imagine and transform how we can continue to bring expertise and experience into the room with our patients, to continue to deliver safe, quality care and service,” Carter said. “It’s been great to be a part of rolling out a new transformative care model that really takes advantage of virtual work and very experienced nurses.”

In some areas, worker shortages have improved, he said. But hospitals are continuing to lose workers to other industries.

“There’s a lot of competition everywhere, because we’re not just competing against the healthcare industry,” Carter said. “We’re competing with the retail industry and a lot of others.”

He said Trinity Health has made progress filling nursing positions by hiring recent graduates. The organization is looking at ways to help new hires build career pathways and access tuition reimbursement.

“We want to be attractive, not just from a compensation perspective, but from a cultural perspective, to be able to recruit and retain people who are connected to our mission,” Carter said.

Financial hurdles

Carter has faced other challenges such as executive-level personnel changes, including the upcoming departure of Thomas Burke, president of St. Francis and Mount Sinai Rehabilitation hospitals.

Burke’s departure was announced in October, but he will remain in his position until the end of the year to assist with the transition to an interim president. An executive recruitment firm is working with stakeholders to search for a permanent replacement, Carter said.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Schneider left her position as Trinity Health Of New England’s regional chief financial officer, a role she held for the past four years. She has relocated down south, according to Trinity Health.

Trinity Health is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and is looking to improve its financial footing, since reporting a $46.7 million operating loss and $78 million overall loss in fiscal year 2022. (That fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, 2022, before Carter’s arrival).

Carter said inflation, along with the workforce shortage, have increased labor costs, which represent about half of the health system’s expenses.

“The shortages that we have, not just in nursing, which is key, but other areas, have caused us to continue to take on higher-cost labor to ensure that we’re meeting safe, quality needs of patients,” Carter said.

Carter also said rising supply costs, including the price of medications, continue to put pressure on hospitals as insurance reimbursements aren’t keeping pace.

In fiscal 2023, which ended Sept. 30, Carter said Trinity Health’s financial performance was “somewhere in the range” of last year’s, although the organization is seeing “glimmers of hope.”

He didn’t provide specific numbers.

What’s new

Despite financial challenges, Carter said the healthcare system has worked to reach patients in their communities, such as by opening an ambulatory access center in Bloomfield in August. The facility, at 852 Cottage Grove Road, has both urgent and outpatient care centers.

Trinity Health also completed a $6 million renovation and expansion of its Enfield campus, including the revamped Karen Davis Krzynowek Cancer Center.

A new Trinity Health Of New England Mobile Healthcare location recently launched at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford. It consists of two ambulances and two non-transport paramedic intercept vehicles, which can be used for interfacility and critical care transfers, and to transfer patients being discharged from the hospital to another facility or their home.

Another mobile healthcare location will be opening in Hartford, Carter said.

“It allows us to continue to expand our ability, not just to provide emergent care, but to actually start to use this to provide non-emergent care, closer to home for patients,” Carter said. “It’s another way that we can provide more preventive services, and lower acuity services, to meet patient needs, at a lower cost point.”

Moving forward, the healthcare system plans to complete work by the end of 2024 on a 554-space, three-story parking garage at St. Francis Hospital, he said.

A rendering of the new 554-space Frank Capasso & Sons Visitor Parking Garage that will debut at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford in 2024.

Once the Frank Capasso & Sons Visitor Parking Garage opens, employees will be able to park on the hospital’s campus instead of being shuttled from remote locations, as they are now.

He also said the healthcare system is working to upgrade its electronic medical record system, called EPIC, which is expected to go live in May. It will improve patients’ access to online scheduling and the way information is exchanged between providers and patients, he said.

Carter worked for Trinity Health Of New England’s Michigan-based parent company, Trinity Health, for more than a decade, most recently as president and CEO of St. Mary’s Health Care System in Georgia.

He began his career as a pharmacist, then moved into a leadership role at St. Mary’s Hospital. He was chosen as Trinity Health Of New England’s president and CEO last year after a national search that included about 50 internal and external candidates.

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