No time? No Problem!
By LAWRENCE BUSER
Parker Harris serves as CEO at Baptist Cancer Centers and Baptist-Tipton yet still makes time for family
Parker Harris is not yet 30, yet he's the CEO and administrator of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Tipton, he's responsible for 11 Baptist Cancer Centers that stretch from Memphis to Union City, and he is president of Mid-South Healthcare Executives, a professional organization with nearly 300 members.
No time anymore for his favorite hobbies of hunting and fishing? No problem.
"I also juggle a 9-month-old and a 3-year-old with my wife, Amanda, so I have four or five fulltime jobs on any given day," Harris said with a laugh. "It takes a team to get through most days. I have 500 folks who report up through the Tipton channels and it's a never-ending job. It's a job where you're on call 24 hours a day, but it's probably the most rewarding thing I think you could do."
After a brief career as a tax accountant, Harris gravitated to the world of healthcare. As an undergraduate in accounting, he had an internship with an accounting firm that involved working with medical professionals, including Baptist executives Dana Dye, Derick Ziegler and Skip Steward among others.
"They influence me to push out of comfort zones, to always question, to always ask why, to always get to the root cause and to always be challenging," said Harris, who earned a master's in healthcare administration from the University of Memphis. "As an early careerist you're nervous and you don't want to push the envelope, so it was very encouraging to have mentors who pushed you to break out of that zone and who challenged your thinking."
In January of 2019, he was named CEO of Baptist Tipton, a 100-bed facility in Covington about 35 miles north of Memphis. He found out quickly that the challenges are many and that there is no time for a comfort zone.
Running a hospital is a bit like being the mayor of a small town.
"Healthcare is literally the most complex business sector you can enter into," Harris said. "One of the things that surprised me is the impact a community hospital has at every level of county politics and at every level of county involvement and interaction. That's been kind of special to me to know that we have the support of the community and the community expects our support, too.
"This is a group of 220 employees who live in this community and they get to come to work and take care of their community every day. I'm one of those community members, so it's rewarding to see all the care and compassion of these folks as they take care of their peers in the community. A lot of times, if we weren't here, people would die. So yes, there always are new problems to solve and it's extremely fast-paced, but I'm rooted and grounded everyday by the fact that this team I get to work with is able to save lives."
Rural hospitals, however, have been facing hard times over the past decade as nearly 120 facilities have closed across the country, including 13 in Tennessee. Only Texas has closed more. Special problems include small patient populations, shrinking reimbursements from insurance companies, and difficulty recruiting specialists.
"We tend to have some trouble recruiting specialty physicians like surgeons and subspecialists such as those in infectious disease, so one of the things we're doing to combat that is really growing our telemedicine programs," Harris said. "We actually just went live (in February) with tele-infectious disease. We completed our first consult and that was really rewarding. That patient historically would have been transferred to our Memphis hospital, but now we're able to use a computer, push a button and have a physician lay eyes on that patient right here in Covington.
"There are always things that we're going to have to send people to Memphis for - issues involving the heart or brain or things like that - but for the minor stuff why can't we keep them here? That's one of our goals to help grow our patient volume. We've got to be really strategic in what we do, what services we have, what money we spend each month."
The Baptist cancer operations, 60 percent of which report to Harris and his Tipton team, includes a genetic testing, nutrition, radiation therapy and thoracic lung programs. The top leadership of the Baptist system also has set an ambitious goal for its centers to reduce the lung cancer mortality rate in the region.
"Throughout the United States, lung cancer mortality is decreasing, fewer people are getting it and fewer people are smoking, so we want to monitor that downward trend and we want to beat that downward trend by 25 percent over the next 10 years," Harris said. "The death rate nationally is around 40 per 100,000 folks impacted by lung cancer mortality. Currently, in our market it's closer to 60 folks per 100,000. We want to beat the national reduction rate, whatever it is, by 25 percent.
"We've got 4.2 million people in our Baptist system area and 800,000 of them are active smokers. The reduction goal is a huge task, but we've got the financial and grant support, we've got the clinical leadership with Dr. Raymond Osarogiagbon, and we've got the administrative power to really work with our 22-hospital system and to work with the community and get out the education they need."
The reduction program will include enrollment in annual screening studies, enhancing multi-disciplinary clinic programs as well as incidental-nodule finding programs. So medical personnel will be paying extra attention to possible lung-cancer indicators even though a patient may be coming for an unrelated issue.
"We're going to use our electronic tools through our electronic medical records to really try to identify the extremely high-risk population and get them enrolled in appropriate programs, whether it be to educate or to properly screen those patients," said Harris. "The key to lung cancer mortality is catching it early. If we can catch it early, there's an extremely high rate of remission."