Andre Cromwell, Delta Medical Center's new CEO, usually selects education as his tool of choice for resolving many of the challenges healthcare professionals face today as they attempt to deliver the best possible patient care.
Atlanta-born, Cromwell pursued his own education at Washington Adventist University, where his undergraduate studies in healthcare administration led to an MBA and, later, a Master of Science degree in nursing and business leadership (MSN-BL).
Work as a business analyst for an IT firm and also for Blue Cross-Blue Shield of North Carolina expanded his perspective from both sides of healthcare reimbursement. He subsequently served as Chief Nursing Officer at Millwood Hospital in Arlington, Texas -- a comprehensive behavioral health center -- before making the move to Delta in August.
Cromwell plans to implement Acadia Healthcare's high-level vision for Delta, blending it with his own vision and goals. His vision embraces a plan for a new Delta state-of-the-art facility on the current campus within the next two or three years.
Delta's closure of its ER on June 30 acknowledges this community's need for enhanced behavioral health services, and reflects its intent to lean more on its psych capabilities, Cromwell explains.
"There's no need to try to compete with Methodist, Baptist or other big med/surge (medical-surgical) acute care hospitals. We have the expertise in behavioral health to provide the services that are needed in our community-- and within a 50-mile radius."
He shares statistics that confirm the growing need: One in five individuals will suffer a mental illness, one in 25 adults will suffer a major mental illness, and suicide is on the rise among adolescents.
Educating the community about those dangers - and Delta's enhanced ability to address them - is key to addressing them.
Ironically, the highest suicide rates are among psychiatrists, he said.
He believes meeting the demand of providing good quality care while balancing difficult reimbursement limitations is "like trying to provide champagne service on a beer budget." Cromwell suggests that dealing with patients' problems as well as their own stresses -which can include the nurse shortage and the 34 percent burnout rate among behavioral health nurses - could contribute to the pressures on physicians and healthcare executives, as well as psychiatrists.
Cromwell teaches that balance is essential.
"You have to find a way to decompress, to talk to someone else about your own issues," he said. "Any executive has to try to maintain a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout; it takes a concerted effort, because it's hard."
Cromwell's own life-balance relies on faith, fitness and family -- his wife and 3-year-old son.
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15 percent increase in nursing careers by 2026, Cromwell thinks fewer people are interested in pursuing a psychiatric nursing specialty.
"Most individuals don't look at behavioral health as something glamorous -- like ER or critical care," he said. "But experienced psych nurses can educate new nurses, explaining that the co-morbidities of our patients can also manifest themselves in psychosis, when it's actually an underlying medical issue they're experiencing. It's really important for new nurses to learn that their assessment skills are needed 110 percent more in behavioral health than in ER or med/surge nursing."
He also points out that chronic health issues like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol "don't disappear because you have mental health issues. So it's really incumbent upon us in the industry to educate individuals to understand that the need is great in our arena as well, for good, qualified professionals with varied experiences to understand what an impact they can have on the whole patient, not only medically but psychiatrically."
Patients will benefit from Cromwell's plans to enhance group offerings at Delta, specializing and strengthening their programming. "We want to give patients a good clinical outcome by really providing education that includes the coping skills necessary to survive what they're dealing with," he said.
The community will benefit, too, from Cromwell's plans to involve it in prevention through education. While the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, the American Nurses Association and other professional groups are lobbying for change to prevent mass tragedies, Delta plans to offer grass roots-level community group education seminars on what to look for in someone who might be struggling with depression.
"We're committed to making Delta a premier place," Cromwell vows, "not only for patient care but also for staff. Staffs want a place to grow their career and finish their career." And because Delta is under the umbrella of Acadia Healthcare, those advancement and leadership opportunities are possible, he points out.
Succession planning is essential, he emphasizes. "Identifying the next set of leaders is something I've talked about to my senior leadership team. I think the lack of us spending time with that next generation of leaders is another contributing factor to executive burnout across the board. When executives approach the end of their careers and turn around and (realize) there's no bench strength -- no one to come up and take their position -- that's a stressor in itself."
Dedicated to the education and development of his staff at all levels, Cromwell identifies his most important lifetime accomplishment as the numerous employees who have grown into leadership positions and gained advanced degrees under his tutelage. "I'm big on teaching, mentoring and development," he said. "That's where I really get my true satisfaction, knowing I've helped someone else and expect them to pay it forward themselves."
He said Delta's employee profile of 300-plus includes four generations ranging from veterans to tech-savvy young people who appreciate being actively involved and engaged in creative problem-solving while gaining experience and knowledge from their co-workers.
Then he added, "I want people to come along on this journey," as Delta begins another 40 years of growth and service in a new state-of-the-art hospital coming soon!"