Ed Phillips – Mon Health
- Written by: Mary Raitt Jordan
- Produced by: Dave Gushee & Anders Nielsen
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
Nothing fills the heart of Ed Phillips like seeing a mother cradle her newborn or watching a patient successfully work a new set of crutches after a hospital stay. Both instances, he says, show elements of renewal and healing, what Mon Health is all about.
His introduction to hospitals traces back to his rough ‘n’ tumble days growing up in a family of four boys in West Virginia. He jokes that his multiple hospital visits—and more than 500 stitches with scars to match—are a testimony to his experience with frontline healthcare professionals. He says with his mother working as a nurse and his father a civil engineer, he grew up seeing care delivered and things being built.
That passion for healing and building translated into a 35-year career within health care, with more than half of that time spent as a healthcare lawyer. He has been serving as the chief legal officer for the growing community-based Monongalia Health System, Inc.—known as “Mon Health”—in Morgantown since 2014.
As Phillips explains, Mon Health prefers to deliver care closer to patients’ homes rather than sending them to one centralized urban hub. People quickly feel uncomfortable outside of their home environment, he says, and may avoid healthcare visits they really need.
“Our priority is the health of the community, and we do that one patient at a time by making services accessible to residents,” Phillips says. “People used to have a trusted country doc, someone who treated generations within families. Mon Health is the community-focused healthcare provider, bringing high-quality care and state-of-the-art treatments to the community.”
Bringing the mountain to Mohammed
During a trend of larger healthcare systems absorbing hospitals and local practices, sending most patients to a centralized hub, Mon Health remained opted to keep patient care and providers in the communities where patients lived.
“You can still have your hospital and your care local. We’ve created a supporting system that capitalizes on efficiencies so we can do just that,” Phillips says.
Currently Mon Health has three hospitals—a 164-bed Mon Health Medical Center in Monongalia County, a 25-bed hospital in Preston County, and a 70-bed hospital in Lewis County. Added to that are more than 52 locations with primary and specialty care providers, in addition to Mon Health’s delivery of services through telemedicine, a godsend during the pandemic, he says.
Mon Health is also managing another rural hospital in Taylor County and will soon add a fourth “micro hospital” in Marion County. Now under construction, it will open in late summer of 2021, along with a newly renovated medical staff office nearby.
“We carefully analyze how best to deliver services locally, managing common functions at a system level so duplicated efforts and costs are minimized,” Phillips explains.
Tapping into talents
Phillips knows what he’s talking about, having earned three degrees from West Virginia University.
After his degree in exercise physiology in 1985, he added an MBA in 1998, acquired at night school while working full time. His JD degree came in 2004, after he had turned 40. Adding to his credentials, Phillips started the first wellness corporation in the state in 1985 and has held executive leadership roles in several healthcare entities throughout West Virginia over 35 years.
He regularly taps into those experiences to incorporate tools, create efficiencies, offer advice “and to be an agent of change.”
“You can’t change what’s not measured,” he says. “Everything you do must support the mission.”
His current marching orders include overseeing legal services, compliance, risk management and governance, and “keeping forefront the idea that every action should ultimately benefit the patients we serve and care for.”
Perhaps nothing put everyone’s skills to the test more than the current pandemic.
All of Mon Health’s hospitals have protocols, plans for emergencies and disasters as well as a command center, which were put into effect in early March.
“We were two weeks ahead of the game with the groundwork we already had in place,” Phillips says, noting that Mon Health had protective equipment and was checking temperatures for staff and visitors. It also initiated a color-coded identification system, to limit access, reduce visitation hours and the number of visitors, and quarantine people as necessary.
“This is a pervasive virus. We’ve worked closely with the local and state health departments and other governing agencies to keep pace with regulations, limit exposure and develop tracking,” he adds.
With the rapidly changing pace of the projects and diversity of healthcare concerns, Phillips reflects on the early lessons he gleaned from his childhood that have helped him during these difficult times—namely understanding how to play a musical instrument.
“I learned how to watch the conductor, keep step with the cadence of music, develop an ear for tone and learned to be flexible, quick and light in my approach,” Phillips, a trumpet player, says. “Health care by comparison is like an orchestra: we have an exceptional team making beautiful music together.”
In his work it’s about looking at all sides of the equation, allowing the patients to take center stage. As he says, he’s there to conduct the legal, compliance, risk management and governance issues to support the rest of the team as a trusted advisor.
“We should never lose sight of the fact that we need to do our part to care for one another,” Phillips says. “Every life is important and needs to be cared for. We should never forget that.”
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