Health system CEO sees major needs for region

NASHUA – As the president and CEO of SolutionHealth, a new entity combining Southern New Hampshire Health of Nashua and Elliot Health System of Manchester, Sherry Hausmann has quite a bit on her plate.

Not only did she recently move from Kansas with a mission of integrating the two hospitals, she also comes to New Hampshire at a time when the state is facing multiple health care obstacles, including the opioid epidemic, as well the increasing cost of health care and what she calls a number of “underinsured” residents.

Nevertheless, Hausmann said she is ready for the challenge. After accepting the position in May, she began work a few weeks ago.

“We have a duty to reduce the total cost of care, to make care more affordable, and bring specialty care to where people live,” Hausmann said in describing her goals.

When Hausmann considered leaving her job in leadership at a health care system of more than 140 hospitals in 23 states for SolutionHealth, something struck her about the meetings she had in the Granite State.

“It’s people at two hospitals serving their communities and neighbors,” Hausmann said in describing the employees.

Hausmann previously worked for Via Christi Health, the largest integrated health delivery system in Kansas and a member of Ascension Health.

Ascension is one of the largest nonprofit health care systems in the U.S. Coming to New Hampshire, Hausmann sees the opportunities in being able to focus on one region.

“The focus here, what had been so apparent, is how focused on our local communities that these two health systems have been able to be,” she said.

Elliot and Southern New Hampshire combined forces last year to create SolutionHealth, allowing the two hospital systems to combine efforts and staff to deliver health care to the Nashua and Manchester region, while serving more than 500,000 patients. This partnership is going to allow SolutionHealth to grow and expand, Hausmann said, at a time of challenges for patients, doctors, hospitals and communities.

“The board really had a vision of making strong institutions stronger,” she said. “Coming together allows both systems to become stronger together.”

Hausmann started work in July, though she is still learning about Manchester, Nashua, and the many other communities served by the new health care company. She’s also learning about the challenges and priorities ahead of her. Her plans right now are:

to be involved in creating solutions to the state’s behavioral health crisis – including the opioid epidemic,

to make sure health care is accessible and affordable, and

to fully integrate the two new health care systems and help patients navigate their way.

Hausmann has been in contact with Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig to discuss the opioid addiction crisis.

“We’re going to partner with others in the communities on stronger and better ways to address (behavioral health and addiction) needs,” she said.

Both Elliot and Southern New Hampshire recently opened specialized units within their emergency rooms to treat behavioral health patients waiting placement in the state mental health hospital. With a shortage of beds at the state hospital, these units serve a real need to give behavioral health patients a safe area for treatment.

“The board has committed that SolutionHealth will be a key driver to meet mental health needs in the community,” she said.

She is also focusing on making medical care more accessible and affordable. With the advent of changes to the Affordable Care Act and expanded Medicaid in New Hampshire, there are still many people who cannot afford health care, she said. Many people have high deductible health care insurance that require large out-of-pocket outlays. This means people wait to get help until there are in crisis.

“There’s now a significant problem with people who are underinsured,” she said.

Her other priority is getting the two health care systems integrated and working together. There are currently software upgrades planned for both Elliot and Southern New Hampshire to better share electronic medical records.

Though there are obstacles along the way, Hausmann sees an expanding SolutionHealth overcoming those bumps.

“We believe there’s significant growth opportunity,” she said.

Growing will mean hiring more people to meet the needs of the patients. Currently, there is a shortage nationwide for psychiatrists, and New Hampshire is experiencing a nursing shortage. Hausmann said SolutionHealth will find ways to hire and keep employees to meet the growing needs of the region.

“As we endeavor to grow and meet more needs, we’ve got to be able to recruit and retain quality employees to help us have that happen,” she said.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245

or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.

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