Yaklin keeps vigil over costs at NOCHS

July 5, 2011
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Soon after she hired on as North Ottawa Community Health System's first female president and CEO, Shelleye Yaklin immersed herself into a financial briar patch.

Half way into the Grand Haven hospital's fiscal 2007, Yaklin learned it was suffering under the weight of a $4.8 million deficit.

The next fiscal year fared slightly worse, with operating losses reaching $5 million.

With more than 750 employees, Yaklin knew that getting the 92-year-old NOCHS back on firm financial footing would require a thorough line item review of the hospital's operations.

She grew to understand there was duplication of services as NOCHS spread from the 84-bed hospital at 1309 Sheldon Road to the attached Harbor Dunes professional building and nearby Heartwood Lodge with its eight-bed Hospice Care center, to an urgent care center downtown, as well as laboratories and physical rehabilitation sites throughout the city of Grand Haven.

"We reviewed every single contract, supply relation and the number of staff," said Yaklin. "We downsized throughout the organization by 45 positions — much of it through attrition, so we actually had a loss of five or six people.

"And in the past we used a lot of consultants. The philosophy I had is, we have a tremendous amount of knowledge already and we should be tapping into that."

The cost-cutting derring-do has paid off with a modest turnaround. Last year, the hospital operated $60,000 to the good.

"It's the first year in many years," said Yaklin.

It's a balancing act that will require persistent vigilance, added Yaklin, as she works to pare down the hospital's expenditures while keeping a rein on patients' out-of-pocket costs — costs that often are paid by employers' insurance premiums.

Yaklin may be NOCHS's first female top administrator but she's no neophyte to overseeing the bottom line of medical and surgical institutions. She has a notable track record given she originally had her career eye set on criminal law, but thinking through her choice, she concluded that putting bad guys away wasn't her strong suit.


Company/Organization: North Ottawa Community Health Systems

Position: President/CEO
Age: 47
Birthplace: Flint
Residence: West Olive
Family: Husband, Greg; children, Kent and Jacob
Business/Community Involvement: Board member of Chamber of Commerce for Spring Lake, Ferrysburg and Grand Haven and Tri-Cities YMCA; member Health Care 20/20.
Biggest Career Break: "When I was working for Cameron Memorial Community Hospital, I was director of accounting. I had been there a year and, up to that time, reported to vice president of finance, who later left the organization. The CEO gave me that role, and I was only 24 years old."

"It turned out I really enjoy the financial side of operations," said Yaklin. "And I believe I didn't have the personality for criminal law."

Yaklin learned not to shirk from shouldering responsibility at a young age. Her penchant for finances was honed in her high school years when she juggled the responsibilities of receptionist, payroll clerk and general office duties for her father's home improvement business in Flint.

"I loved it," said Yaklin. "He (her father) had high expectations for me."

Keeping his customers happy extended into the off-hours. A red phone installed in her father's home was dedicated to retrieving business-related calls after hours. If her parents weren't home and that crimson-colored phone rang, Yaklin knew how to properly address the client in a professional manner.

"I was fortunate," said Yaklin. "I was used to the public at a pretty young age. You learned it was about the customer."

Such customer-focused standards included adhering to nitpicking details, such as counting back a customer's change, a skill that seems lost to today's younger generation, said Yaklin.

"I learned to treat people with respect," said Yaklin. "You take care of them by meeting their needs. My dad's livelihood rested on that, and I soon realized so goes my way of life."

Yaklin's financial management mettle was put to the test at an early age. At the age of just 24, she became vice president of finance for the 62-bed short-term acute care Cameron Memorial Community Hospital in Angola, Ind., just across the Michigan border. Her tenure there lasted six years.

She moved on to another short-term acute care hospital, this time at LaGrange Community Hospital in LaGrange, Ind., initially as its chief financial officer from 1994-1997, before becoming its chief executive officer.

From there she became CEO of the for-profit long-term acute care medical facility Kindred Hospital in Lincoln Park just outside Detroit, before hiring on as NOCHS' president/CEO in December 2007.

Yaklin believes it's her homogeneous professional experiences that helped her land her latest career stint with NOCHS.

"I've been in hospitals and communities of like sizes," she said.

As the hospital's highest-ranking administrator, Yaklin intends to do all she can to keep NOCHS an independent, community hospital, and buck the trend some health care facilities have followed by becoming a managed care health care organization.

"Our biggest challenge is our desire to stay independent instead of wanting to follow that easier path to be part of a system," said Yaklin. "But I know what it's like balancing the needs of the many rather than the community's needs. I feel like being independent, we're the best ones to be the voice for them (community members)."

Fulfilling that aspiration includes attracting and retaining the best medical talent to the staff, some of whom possess Ivy League degrees. Yaklin said NOCHS unabashedly relies on the amenities a lakeshore community like Grand Haven can offer as an enticing draw.

But another key factor in making NOCHS the first choice of patients' is the Tri-Cities residents' compelling desire to be able to have their medical needs met locally rather than having to go outside the city.

That's one of the reasons for the recent purchase of a $1.2 million da Vinci robotic surgical system. The new surgical option means patients should experience less pain and blood loss, fewer complications and less risk of infection. Plus, recovery time is generally faster — a big plus for time-constrained patients eager to get back in the swing of life.

The high-tech gadget initially will be used for gynecology and urology procedures and later expanded to cardiac, pediatric and general surgery.

The device relies on multiple, redundant safety features that minimize the risk for human error when compared with traditional approaches. It uses fewer, smaller incisions made possible through a 3D viewer that magnifies images in color and with a natural depth of field.

The robotic system is considered a significant improvement over conventional laparoscopy, where instruments used for a given procedure cannot bend or rotate and the surgeon must view 2D images off to the side, away from the instrumentation.

Although it's a robotic system, the machine isn't actually performing the surgery, nor can it run on its own since it intentionally lacks decision-making software, said Yaklin.

"For me, at the end of the day, it's about the patient," said Yaklin. "We know it helps us take better care of them. Why would we not do that?"

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