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One-on-One with Sibley Memorial CIO Lorraine Fordham

April 17, 2008
by root
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Lorraine Fordham has spent a career at Sibley Memorial refining the art and science of vendor selection.

Sibley Memorial Hospital is a non-profit, full service 328-bed acute care community hospital serving the Washington, D.C. area. The hospital’s campus is also home to its assisted living residence (Grand Oaks) and The Sibley Renaissance which houses the Center for Rehabilitation Medicine, Sibley Senior Services, skilled nursing care and a residential Alzheimer's unit. Recently, HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra had a chance to chat with CIO Lorraine Fordham.

AG: Good to talk to you. I think these interviews are helpful to CIO in showing they are not alone with regards to the challenges they face.

LF: I think I find that most interesting about any articles I read on healthcare and technology these days. It is very clear we are not alone and we are all struggling so much with the same issues. Some of us are struggling better than others. That to me is interesting. How much of it is the leadership of the hospital and how much of it is the IT department that influences the success or failure of those projects.

Anyway, we are a busy little IT shop for a small community hospital. We are just a stand-alone acute care community hospital. We haven’t been absorbed by any health systems or anything yet, and we’re still very profitable, which is a good thing.

AG: How many beds do you run?

LF: We’re licensed for 362, but we really only run about 240. They have taken one or two nursing units and one they have turned into a VIP unit, which they could convert back if they ever had to, but don’t need to. It is one unit for one person if the need arises, which it does in Washington about four times a year. I think the other unit ultimately was turned into a same-day-surgery type unit. But that was years and years ago. They hang on to their licenses. When we opened our rehab unit, they gave up some of those 362, so I think we are actually only licensed for maybe 340 right now, but we run about 240 active beds.

AG: When did you get the CIO position at the hospital?

LF: I’ve been at the hospital probably most of your life. I started here years ago as the programming manager. And then I left and I was gone for a couple of years, and then they asked me back to be the director of IT. I started in ’76. I was here from ’76-78. I was gone from ’78-81. I came back in ’81 as the IT director, and then I was promoted to CIO about three years ago.

Prior to that point, we didn’t have a CIO. I was still the main IT person for the hospital, but the CIO position didn’t exist. Subsequently, since they have created it, we also have an IT director that works for me. I also, at that time, took over communications, all the communication stuff, and all the audio visual graphic stuff for the hospital; those departments came in to me.

AG: Any change in your outlook or responsibilities from when you got promoted from IT director to CIO, change of focus?

LF: Oh, sure absolutely. As the IT director, I was involved in strategic planning but more in day-to-day operations, because we were doing just more day-to-day operations. As the CIO, I’ve been given the responsibility for the IT vision for the hospital now and into the future, developing that strategic plan, developing the roadmap for how we are going to get there. I spend a lot of my time doing that when I’m not evaluating products, when I’m not involved with teams that are doing system selections.

We have a pretty set system-selection methodology that we’ve used for probably the last 20 years, and we tweak it, depending on the size and impact on the hospital that the particular system being evaluated will have. We may not go through all the steps if it’s a standardized departmental-type system but, generally speaking, we involve a lot of people in the selection of the systems. My experience has been that if they don’t have a say in the selection of it, and they don’t have a say in the implementation of it, then they don’t own it.

We’ve changed our philosophy a lot over the years. When I first came to work here, we were a mainframe shop. We had very little out in the clinical areas. I think when I first came in we had a pharmacy system running, but it was on an old IBM mainframe, and I had computer operators, and keypunch operators, and we sort of controlled everything. We ran the reports, distributed the reports, we said when something got done and when it didn’t, that kind of stuff.