Q&A with Gary Payne, Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital president and CEO

Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital president and CEO Gary Payne started his job in October. With him in the spinal cord unit recently were registered nurse Anita Shepherd, seated, and licensed practical nurse Pat Cox.
Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital president and CEO Gary Payne started his job in October. With him in the spinal cord unit recently were registered nurse Anita Shepherd, seated, and licensed practical nurse Pat Cox. HERALD-LEADER

Gary Payne has been at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital since late October. Although new to Lexington, Payne, a pharmacist who later became a hospital administrator, has been working to familiarize himself with his new home hospital and city.

"I got a little tired of the traveling work and wanted to get closer to my family. ... By moving here, ... I found the ideal job and also am closer to my family."

Payne arrives at a prosperous time at the rehabilitation hospital, which treats stroke and brain-injury patients in inpatient and outpatient capacities.

Cardinal Hill's Lexington hospital, at Mason Headley and Versailles roads, is finishing a nearly $50 million renovation and construction project that has changed the face of the rehabilitation center — adding beds, wide corridors, a new pool complex and an atrium down the center of the building, with a tall fountain as a centerpiece.

It is Cardinal Hill's first major renovation since 1987. The hospital now has about 400,000 square feet, and its effective capacity has increased from 80 to 112.

Payne spoke with the Herald-Leader:

Question: Tell me what the challenges are for you, and the possibilities — particularly since the massive renovation is almost done.

Answer: As I was interviewing here, I saw the wonderful support that we have in this community. I was compelled to do my darnedest to be the final candidate. We have a state-of-the-art hospital and outpatient facilities, but more importantly, I saw the heart of the people here — the staff, the medical staff, the professional therapists and the nurses. There's a real commitment to people who are coming to us with new disabilities and just an amazing commitment to help those folks reach maximum medical improvement as soon as possible through their efforts. So that was real compelling. ...

It seems like every day that there are new pressures on our reimbursements, to be able to provide the services we do here with ever-shrinking reimbursements. I was probably on the job a week, and I was writing and talking with our representatives in Washington about pending legislation that was going to affect us adversely, as well as beginning to have dialogue with our board and medical staff to help them have a keen awareness of what some of those issues will eventually be. ...

We've invested heavily here, and we have to not only be able to get the reimbursements that we need, that we forecast when we did the investment, but we have to grow our volume here to sustain the new facility. One of the reasons the board decided to go forward with this building project is because we have such demand here. We have people on waiting lists to come to this hospital. We didn't have the capacity, bed-wise, to take care of all the demand that was out there.

As soon as we achieved our appropriate staffing level for these beds, we're running well above 90 percent occupancy for these beds. It's just a validation of what the board thought, that if we provide the capacity, there is the demand out there. And sure enough, there is the demand.

Now, we haven't opened all of our new beds yet, primarily because we are working on growing our staffing to support the additional beds. ...

We've really expanded our effective capabilities there, and there is demand for us to open our remaining beds as soon as we hire the appropriate staffing for those beds.

We are hiring, which is highly unusual, I know — registered nurses, therapists, certified nurse assistants, pharmacists and other support staff as we open those beds. We need additional persons in our kitchen and in our security and maintenance areas as well. We've been in a hiring mode since before I got here.

Q: Let's talk a bit more about the pressures on you. Health care is in at least a state of flux right now. What do you see happening over the next few years, as this is being sorted out?

A: Health care has always been in a state of flux, whether it is what we're facing today, with the Affordable Care Act, or what we faced 25 years ago, or what we face every day with the advent of new technologies, and how we're going to bring those technologies to our community — to be able to afford the technologies as well as the staff you need to deliver those technologies. It's really another side of the same coin. ...

In order to be an effective leader in health care, you have got to be a premier change agent. We are always looking down the road and trying to anticipate, but there are never any guarantees on what's going to happen, so we have got to be flexible enough to cope with the times. We also have to try to influence what's going on in our business sector, as well. We'd be naive if we just let things happen to us. We've really got to try and get out front.

But there are many, many things that conspire to change our plans overnight, and we just have to be ... ready to change our plans at a moment's notice. If you didn't embrace that, if you were an individual or a leader who really couldn't live in that world, if you needed things to be more regimented, this would be a stressful business to be in.

Q: How much was this renovation?

A: It was almost $50 million, with the new building and the renovation.

Q: Your calendar is jammed from before 8 a.m. through the day. Tell me about your schedule. Obviously, you are one of these seven-day-a-week people.

A: The work week for me is fairly long, but at the same time, the way I look at it is, when you start a new position like this, you really have to get to know your organization. Understanding our history, and also getting to know the staff here at the hospital, as well as our medical staff and our board members, that requires a lot of long hours initially. And the community, as well. But they're all enjoyable, and I don't see that lasting forever.

I do like to play golf every now and then, so I will be getting out when the weather is good. I like to fly-fish. So I'm figuring I can do all that hard work early on, and that may free up some time later on to get back to some of those hobbies.

Q: What was the last book you read, or what book affected you most?

A: I read a lot of professional journals, and things like that. Actually, most recently, I got on a kick. I got an iPad, so I've been downloading books like crazy. The last book that I read was an old history of the United States, written by an English author, Cecil Chesterton (A History of the United States, first published in 1919). It's really good.

I love Civil War history, so I've downloaded a ton of those, and I really do like technology. So while you're reading whatever novel you've got, you can also get your email, right?

I'm a mystery guy, so I like Tom Clancy. I like history and mysteries. I've read just about everything about Abraham Lincoln.

Q: You've just started in this job, so it seems premature to ask you if you're going to stay in this job for a long time. But do you see yourself here for the next decade?

A: It's a perfectly legitimate question to ask. As I told the board when I was being interviewed, I fell in love with this place the first time I came to interview and got to know the staff and the board and medical staff. So I was committed to be successful in being selected for this position and, lo and behold, I was successful.

This is a job that I'm going to stay in until I retire, and it's a very exciting time for this organization, and it's going to be a privilege to be its leader until such time as I retire. But I'm one of those guys who really have no goal of retirement. I'm not looking forward to my retirement day. I just enjoy what I do, and get so much value out of work, and especially this kind of work.