September 2010

Q&A With Mark O'Neil - The New CEO Of Hilton Head Regional Healthcare

Author: C2 Magazine

C2: Where are you from originally and what made you want to get into this profession?
Mark O’Neil: I am originally from upstate New York. I spent my first 25 years in hospital leadership at the University of Rochester and as a CEO of a multi hospital system in Binghamton, NY. Immediately before coming to Hilton Head Regional Healthcare, I was the Chief Operating Officer of Catholic Health East, an organization with over 100 health care facilities in 11 states on the East Coast.

I got into health care with my first job coming out of the Air Force, working several entry level jobs while finishing my MBA. The more I worked in the profession, the more I loved it. It’s about caring for people and working with people. The feeling of coming home every day and knowing you have been working to improve the life and health of people is richly rewarding. I get a kick out of it.

C2: Describe a typical day in the life of a hospital CEO.
MO: One of the great things about my job is that there is no “typical day.” There is constant change in our profession, and leading our organization through operational, budgetary, and regulatory challenges today, while planning for the future keeps me busy. Staying connected to our colleagues providing care and removing the barriers to them providing the highest quality, safest care possible is my day-to-day focus. Keeping our organization connected to the community also is a key part of my day.

C2: Do you have any big plans for 2011 for Hilton Head Regional?
MO: We have set a collective vision for our hospital to be a great place for our colleagues to work, our doctors to practice medicine and our patients to receive care. To that end, we will be growing our services in several areas, including OB/GYN, cardiac services, spine surgery, oncology and primary care to name a few. I came to Hilton Head with the belief that the hospital is a treasure for this world-class destination, and we want to continue to build the reputation of our hospital to fulfill that promise. We have several activities planned, in partnership with our sister hospital, Coastal Carolina Hospital, to assure that people in our community and region do not need to leave to receive care that we provide here.

C2: From what you understand of the new healthcare reform bill, will it affect the hospital positively or negatively?
MO: For the most part, positively. The burden of a large and growing uninsured population using our hospitals as a place for treatment of last resort is a significant problem here and nationally. While there is much detail to be understood, overall, the uninsured problem can no longer be ignored, and regardless of political belief, the Health Care Reform Act begins to address this for hospitals.

C2: About what percentage of your billing do you have to write off as uncollectable debt for underinsured patients?
MO: Four percent was written off to bad debt in 2009. We are well aware that many families struggle with bills for medical care and indeed, few of us are immune to rising healthcare costs. At Hilton Head Regional, we have a program in place for patients without insurance called Compact with the Uninsured. The Compact provides patients without insurance with fair and respectful treatment regardless of their ability to pay, financial counseling, reasonable payment schedules and helping such patients and their families qualify for local, state and federal assistance programs or our own charity care policy.

C2: What is the number one reason for emergency room visits in this area?
MO: Actually, it depends on the time of the year. Our emergency room team is excellent and is prepared to deal with almost anything. Except for major trauma, they see it all. We have award-winning services for the treatment of heart attacks and GI emergencies and excellent diagnostic capabilities in our emergency and x-ray departments. In the summertime, we see the snake bites, heat exhaustion and the need to stabilize our visitors who may have chronic conditions that become acute while they are here.

C2: Has it been more effective to outsource the emergency room? Have you been pleased with the results since this happened?
MO: We do contract with a nationally recognized emergency physicians group and they are excellent. It’s important to emphasize that a good emergency department has several components, including everything from registration, environmental services, nursing and all of the departments such as lab and x-ray that support them on a 24/7 basis. A great partnership with the EMS community is also essential. All of these professionals, including the contracted physicians, live and work in this community.

C2: Did you use a model when implementing new procedures to reduce the rate of infection at your facility?
MO: We are obsessive about monitoring dozens of indicators for patient safety, including infection rates. When we do find a problem, we are transparent about reporting it internally and externally and have zero tolerance for lapses. We are constantly searching for the best practices nationally and implementing them here. One example would be our participation in the Johns Hopkins STOP BSI protocol for preventing potentially serious central line infections. When we identified a problem with this type of infection, we implemented the Hopkins protocol and have had zero of these infections in our intensive care unit for well over a year. Hospital acquired conditions are a problem nationally, and we take them very seriously locally.

C2: Is there anything you would like our readers to know about hospital visits, in general?
MO: We want to be active partners with our patients and their families when they need to use our services. There are several ways to let us know how we are doing, both during a visit and after. We treat every compliment that we get as an opportunity to thank and reinforce our colleagues for a job well done and every complaint as an opportunity to improve, without being punitive. I personally review every compliment and complaint and am easy to reach directly. I can be reached at or

C2: Do you think the new four-year nursing plan at USCB is going to help the pool of applicants you have to choose from locally?
MO: We’re quite proud of our partnership with USCB and pleased that the new nursing program will shore up our ability to recruit and retain nurses locally.

C2: Do you have any plans to affiliate Hilton Head Regional with any larger medical research hospitals/centers in the future?
MO: In fact, we do have a strong affiliation with the Medical University of South Carolina. This has, most recently, allowed us to significantly strengthen our services in such areas as breast surgery. We intend to grow this relationship over time. We have also just implemented a partnership with a group of radiologists that, through innovative technologies, allows us to have x-rays interpreted by nationally known radiologists from all over the country, many of whom have strong academic connections.

C2: This is just really a fun question, but how many babies were born last year and how do we stack up against other communities of our size?
MO: Seven hundred forty-one babies. It’s important that patients have confidence in the hospital where their child will make his or her entrance into the world. Our team of physicians, nurses and other staff are committed to providing high quality, family centered care and we want patients to know that they are in good hands. Our patient satisfaction in the women’s center is consistently five-star.

C2: Last question! What do you like to do in your spare time when you aren’t looking out for the well-being of our local community?
MO: My first love is to stay connected with my family. I have four daughters and one grandson. One of my girls is here with us and still in high school, but the others are in other places. So we’ve learned to “Skype” and try to live by what we call the “30-day hug” rule!

I am also an outdoors person and love to hike, bird watch, fish and play golf.

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