Melton shares improvements a year after calls for resignation

St. Michael Medical Center president Chad Melton and other hospital leadership presented information on continued improvements on the property and in the community before the Central Kitsap Community Council Nov. 1.

Just one year prior, almost to the day, Melton had appeared before the council and an irate crowd of medical staff and residents demanding answers to several issues within Kitsap County’s then-broken major hospital.

“I was not in a good place with the hospital and the community as a whole,” Melton admitted last week to the council and a much smaller, calmer crowd of citizens. “We had a lot on our hands to fix.”

The emergency department was in chaos, staffing shortages were beyond comprehension and a union calling for the firing of hospital leadership were just some of the issues.

The failures of the hospital, along with falling victim to a major ransomware attack against its parent company, fell upon the shoulders of Melton. He has since called it probably the worst year in his career.

Since then, the hospital says it has spent crucial time opening its ears to concerns of the people, striving to make changes that would bring about a positive impact.

“People are really what makes St. Michael what it is,” chief nursing officer Rosalie Apalisok said. “We cannot succeed without them. The front-line teams, especially, are there doing all the work and are experts in their field, so we want to know what it is they’re feeling are barriers to getting their work done.”

Apalisok said leadership has relied on listening sessions with staff and a platform called “Ask Chad” that lets staff ask “any question under the sun,” among other changes, to help employees be heard by hospital leadership. Solid negotiations for salary and benefit changes, while not disclosed directly, were described as “remaining competitive” and helped cut the hospital’s nursing turnover rate in half.

“We also have an amazing employee engagement team, which is staff-led and sponsored by leadership. It’s about trying to make work fun, and we want to make sure staff get that proper recognition,” Apalisok said.

The response to patient needs has also improved, according to data provided by the hospital back in August, including arrival-to-triage times dropping from an average of 15 to two minutes.

That was, in part, due to significant improvements made to the emergency department check-in process that put the focus back on all patients, associate chief medical officer David Weiss said.

“I think we’ve always been good as a hospital at taking care of the very sick patients. Somebody comes in with a stroke or a heart attack, we’re actually very good. But we weren’t so good for people who were not as sick or people who were less injured,” he said.

St. Michael also finds itself once again looking to the future of its hospital home, starting work on the roughly $105 million additional investment of an additional patient tower. There, the remaining 74 beds from the old Harrison Medical Center location will be set up and will provide additional patient capacity for a hospital that records tens of thousands of inpatient days.

Until then, Melton plans to make the most of what is available to continue efforts to rebuild trust within the community that once called for his removal. He still knows some of those calls have not ceased. “At the end of the day, we’re going to take care of each other because we are a community-based hospital,” he said. “I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done with quality and patient experience and being a successful organization.”