As the health care world becomes more regulated and hospitals struggle to work with fewer staff, Patricia Waller, one of Newton's newest executives, fears the human side of nursing is being lost and hopes to stem that trend.
"As we get more regulatory and checklist-oriented, it becomes technician-type nursing. We've lost the personal touch," said Waller, who was hired June 1 as the assistant administrator of patient care services, including the role of chief nursing officer.
"In a lot of institutions, it's all about efficiency and quality and checklists. That is important, don't get me wrong...but we can't lose the heart of nursing. What makes a hospital a hospital is the patient service we give."
Waller, 58, was promoted from to the executive team, after serving as the director of the hospital's BirthCare Center. The 36-year medical veteran has spent much of her career in nursing and wants to improve the working environment for both staff and patients.
"One problem with the acuity we have, is that we have tendency to become siloed. We're all specialists, we all have an area we deal with, but we're all one hospital and a patient goes through many different departments," Waller said. "One goal is to break down walls and create more of a team mentality. Everything we do, the first question we need to ask is, ‘Is this what's best for our patient?' If the answer is no, we need to examine that. I want to get back to caring."
Waller graduated from Crawford Long Nursing School in Atlanta and later earned her master's degree of science in nursing, with a minor in midwifery, from Emory University. She worked in medical surgery, intensive care, neonatal intensive care and labor and delivery before moving into administration for a women's health care company for 14 years.
Waller ran the birth care center at Rockdale Medical Center for five and a half months before moving to Newton. She said she moved into administration because she found she could affect greater change at that level.
"I was called into nursing. I love it and have a huge passion and want to see the best of what happens in health care," Waller said. "I have a focus on patient outcomes and taking care of the patient. It's different when you're practicing as a nurse. You focus on what's best for patients, but when you're in administration you have to focus on patients, but you also have focus of staff. You can't expect to take good care of patients, if you're not taking care of the staff."
As head of patient care services, Waller oversees 14 departments, including the medical floor and surgical floors of the hospital, intensive care unit, emergency department, BirthCare Center, Women's Diagnostic Center, education, social services, cardio pulmonary (including the sleep lab), wound care, home health, the supervisors and float pool (the group that covers all areas of the hospital as needed), surgery and outpatient unit.
Waller is meeting with all of the manager of the various departments to get an overview of each department and see what is being done well and what needs to be improved.
She wants to develop reasonable standards for all employees and then hold them accountable for following those standards.
"Health care has a tendency, where we have someone do it wrong, and then we change because of that one person. We don't need to do that. We need to put processes in place, then hold people accountable," Waller said.
She also plans to hold nursing forums where nurses who are working on the front lines will be able to give feedback and offer perspective.
Waller said she's also happy to receive feedback from the public. People can call the main line at (770) 786-7053 or leave a comment online at newtonmedical.com/contactus.
In addition to her work at Newton Medical, Waller is also a member of the Georgia Organization of Nurse Leaders.
Newton Medical CEO Jim Weadick said Waller's wealth of experience made her the best choice out of all of the other internal and external candidates.
"I selected Patti because she has got a good substantial background of operating experience, managing nursing units and working both within the acute care and professional office environment areas that we have a need for skill and knowledge in moving our hospital further forward in the provision of clinical care," Weadick said.
"Number two, she is a very engaged individual and stays actively informed about what goes on in both the professional and non-professional side of the house, which important because that has a bearing on the job and well being of patients. She also understands the responsibilities that people have and the necessity for all of us to be accountable and provide the very best we can for the patients at the hospital."
Waller is part of the three-member executive team, along with the human resources director and finance director that report directly to Weadick.
"Every other department of hospital can be done outside of a hospital," said Waller, noting there several independent, stand-alone centers for different needs. "But what makes a hospital unique is the inpatient care we give.
"What I would like to see occur is for us to continue to put emphasis on quality, but include the heart of nursing that is so important."