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Healthcare in Greenwich

Heated debate may continue to swirl around Obamacare, and in many other parts of the country there is concern over the availability of quality healthcare, but here in Greenwich we can count our blessings. We are served by one of the very finest community hospitals to be found anywhere.

Those of us who were here twenty-five years ago will recall that the creation of our current modern facility did not come about without birth pains, and had it not been for the concerted effort of a few, could have been stillborn. With hospital president Ed Kenny retiring, the trustees were locked in heated debate over whether to launch a search for his replacement or to promote Senior Vice President and CEO Frank Corvino from within.

Leading the effort to promote Corvino were Bruce Warwick, hospital chairman and a construction professional who later headed the building committee; Dick Pivirotto, who had served with Warwick on several town projects including the conversion of the old high school into the present Town Hall; and Peter Griffin, a dedicated trustee and longtime hospital supporter. They were impressed by Corvino’s vision of the kind of hospital required by the fast-changing environment of healthcare delivery. He was already deeply involved in planning the hospital’s future, and Griffin described him as a “street fighter,” which was just what the doctor ordered to push the project through town government and to win public support. Their recommendation carried the day, and it is no coincidence that the $60 million plan for total replacement of the aging multi-story buildings began soon after the board appointed Corvino president and CEO in 1991.

The proposal to demolish the two existing buildings and replace them with an entirely new facility was controversial, to say the least. Exhaustive research was conducted, including the alternative of complete renovation of the existing high-rise structures. After consulting with experienced hospital administrators in other towns, the trustees were persuaded that renovation was not the answer. What was needed was a totally new building designed to provide the flexibility necessary to accommodate technological advances and adapt to the rapidly changing structure of the healthcare industry.

“We faced a major job educating the public,” admits Warwick, “but the first obstacle to overcome was gaining approval for the parking garage.” He recalls many late nights at P&Z meetings facing vociferous opposition from some neighbors. “There never was enough parking available in the area,” Warwick pointed out, “and the approval of the garage was the lynchpin for the whole project.” Then, Perryridge Road residents objected to the size and placement of the proposed new building, with the result being that the whole structure was relocated farther from the road at additional cost for redesign.

Finally, construction was approved. Because it proceeded at the same time that the old buildings were in various stages of abandonment and demolition,  careful planning and close coordination were required to maintain hospital services without interruption and to prevent displacement of patients before moving them to the new facility. It was accomplished
with few complaints.

Raising the original $60 million was no less a challenge. But our town citizens opened their purses and met the ambitious goal. A major donation from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust earned it the privilege of naming the main medical building the Helmsley Medical Center. Its opening in 1999 was soon followed by plans for the Watson Pavilion, honoring Tom and Olive Watson for their generous gift capping that $40 million campaign. Sixty-three percent of the $220 million cost of the new buildings and surrounding park was covered by private donations, with the balance paid through bonding. The Bendheim/Smilow Cancer Center across the street became part of the new Greenwich Hospital campus.

Frank Corvino had two main objectives for the hospital: The first was to create a highly service-oriented culture, to set a new standard for how patients viewed the care they received; the second, to bring Greenwich into the era of new technology.

His success is well-documented. HCAHPS, a patient survey, ranks Greenwich Hospital No. 1. of acute care hospitals in both Connecticut and New York states for patient satisfaction and willingness to recommend to others. The Press Ganey survey, which has consistently ranked Greenwich in the top 10 percent of all acute care hospitals, recently presented it the Summit Award, its top national prize for patient satisfaction.

Anyone who has spent a night or more as a patient, or was even treated as an outpatient, will not be surprised. Every effort is made to create a warm and cordial environment for you. The nurses are trained to establish an empathetic relationship with their patients; doctors and staff are accessible; the food is excellent. Corvino calls this the Greenwich Hospital experience.

Of course, a hospital has to offer not just comfort but also cure. Those that did not keep up with the latest medical practices and technology wouldn’t survive in today’s market. The closing of United Hospital in Port Chester in 2004 was an ominous example. Founded in 1889, it was forced to declare bankruptcy. It was unable to invest in the latest technology and had trouble recruiting new doctors.

This supported Corvino’s conviction that Greenwich Hospital had to be on the leading edge of medical technology and innovation. Under his direction Greenwich has received numerous awards and “firsts” among hospitals in the state. It was the first hospital in Connecticut, and only one of thirty-six in the country, to achieve the highest level of a fully integrated medical record system; the first in the state to receive the Gold Seal of Approval for excellence and safety in spinal fusion and total hip and knee replacement; and one of the first to acquire the advanced da Vinci robotic surgery technology. A tour of its operating rooms leaves no doubt that it has the latest technical equipment to handle most acute care diagnostic procedures and a wide range of surgical operations.  

Still, there are some demanding procedures, such as open-heart surgery and transplants, which only large teaching hospitals with staffs of specialists are equipped to handle. This was one reason that joining with Yale-New Haven Hospital was an important strategic move. Besides in depth access to its medical specialists and latest procedures, it gave Greenwich greater leverage in dealing with suppliers and the insurance companies. With managed care accounting for 65 percent of hospital revenue, the ability to deal with the insurance companies is a critical factor in its economy. At that time the board seriously considered a merger of Greenwich and Stamford hospitals, but partly due to opposition from the medical staff, that plan was abandoned.

Joining the Yale-New Haven Health System was an accomplishment of which Corvino is justifiably proud. It has proven to have made great economic sense and helped usher in important advancements in our hospital’s operations. For years Greenwich had a closed system of doctors, a virtual monopoly that existed in only 5 percent of the country’s hospitals. In the 1990s there were only some 150 physicians on the medical staff. Today, unrelated to the New Haven Health affiliation, there are over 560, nearly 400 of which are active staff members, and the area the hospital serves has expanded dramatically with patients from Westchester County representing half of admissions.

There is no question that Greenwich Hospital benefitted from the closing of United Hospital, especially the maternity department. Since 2004 annual deliveries have increased from 1,500 to a projected 2,800 this year. At the same time the hospital’s emergency room admissions have risen from 19,000 to 43,000.

Some have said that we could never have created a first-rate hospital if it had not been for Frank Corvino. He would be the first to demure and point to the many people who helped make it happen. But there is no denying his contribution. Peter Griffin sums up Corvino: “He is a great communicator, open and tenacious. He cannot be subdued. He has been the ultimate patient advocate, while anticipating the future healthcare needs of the community.”

When I asked Frank if, in retrospect, there was anything he would do differently if he were to do it again, he immediately replied, “Yes. I would have fought harder for more parking!”