PITTSFIELD — The turmoil that occurred at Community Health Programs last fall subsided as the nonprofit took steps to become a countywide health organization, according to the organization's CEO.
"I think CHP is back where it's supposed to be, but I think we can take it much further than we have," said Lia Spiliotes, who was named interim executive director after former CEO Brian Ayars resigned in November.
"There's an incredible opportunity within our service area," she said. "While we are seeing 20,000 patients, it's possible for us to go beyond that."
A federally qualified health center based in Great Barrington, CHP has begun to expand its resources throughout the Berkshires. Dr. Chi Cheung, of CHP-Adams Internists, recently earned board certification in obesity medicine to become Berkshire County's first obesity specialist. CHP has also added a family practice in North Adams,
"The opening of the Adams Internists and the North Adams Family Medicine represent opportunities for us," Spiliotes said.
"All totaled, we can see ourselves basically increasing our provider population by seven individuals," she added.
CHP also tracks population health statistics, but is looking at becoming involved in other integrative behavioral health initiatives, such as addressing the county's diabetes population.
"There are additional service lines that we can engage in that will provide quality physician services and access to quality medical care," Spilitoes said.
Spilitoes joined CHP after Ayers, who had headed the organization since 2009, resigned after concerns were expressed about the nonprofit's leadership. They included a discrimination complaint filed by a former employee against Ayers and the organization.
Spiliotes, a partner and senior advisor at Cambridge Management Group of Boston, was brought in to focus on day-to-day management at CHP, and to assess the organization's needs and structure, CHP board Chairwoman Jodi Rathbun Briggs said in December.
Since taking over, Spiliotes said she has been working with CHP's staff, medical providers, senior leadership team and board members to ensure that the organization is running smoothly.
One of her first projects after joining CHP was to look at the workforce across the organization and build a task force to insure that all the appropriate steps are being taken to serve patients.
"This is a piece of work that I started as soon as I got here with the director of operations and all of the practice managers," Spiliotes said.
"If it is done correctly it is the kind of thing that can be done year over year over year over year," she said, "not only in patient care but also from a fiscal standpoint.
"You really do have to balance what's appropriate for care and what we need to have to realize the revenues that we need to invest in the business."
Last fall, a pediatrician who resigned from CHP described the nonprofit's working environment as "toxic," adding that senior staff members had been left out of the decision-making process.
Spiliotes said she doesn't know all the details about what occurred at CHP before she arrived. But keeping CHP's senior management team well-informed has been one of her priorities.
"Oftentimes, senior leadership is really going in a lot of different directions, and they don't have a chance to sit down and get together and think about the goals and objectives of the business," Spiliotes said. "That's something that I've focused on very closely."
She has also been working with the board members to discuss their goals and objectives for CHP, and meeting regularly with medical providers and staff.
"I go every month to the meetings that they have," Spiliotes said, referring to CHP's providers. "It's very important to do the same thing with staff."
"CHP's history is not unlike other federally qualified health centers," she said, adding that they can be "extremely challenging financially," because they often have a shortage of medical providers.
CHP was founded as Children's Health Program in 1975 to provide health care to children in rural areas who had no access to health care. It was renamed Community Health Programs in 2000 when CHP obtained federal designation for its health center, which allowed the nonprofit to treat adults and elders.
CHP's function as a federally qualified health center is often misunderstood.
"It provides pretty much open access to everyone," Spiliotes said. "I think when people think of federally qualified health centers they think that they only serve the indigent. Well, that's not true."
Spiliotes said CHP has "a very close relationship" with the county's largest employer, Berkshire Health Systems, which operates Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, the Northern Berkshire campus of BMC in North Adams, and Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington.
"We have the opportunity to look for collaborations with BHS," she said.
When Spiliotes came to CHP, Rathbun-Briggs said the board expected her to stay for nine to 12 months to before the nonprofit hires an another permanent CEO.
"I can't really say," said Spiliotes about how long she'll be at CHP. "It could be anywhere from eight months to two plus years. It just depends on how the organization moves. ... It's really sort of a range."
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.