NEWS

Pulling the ‘levers’ at Kent

New president has history with hospital

Posted 5/4/22

By JOHN HOWELL

Dr. Paari Gopalakrishnan, 48, (Dr. G for short) doesn’t trouble himself over things he can’t control.

That’s his response when asked what he sees as Kent …

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NEWS

Pulling the ‘levers’ at Kent

New president has history with hospital

Posted

By JOHN HOWELL

Dr. Paari Gopalakrishnan, 48, (Dr. G for short) doesn’t trouble himself over things he can’t control.

That’s his response when asked what he sees as Kent Hospital’s future now that the Care New England and Lifespan merger is off the table. Gopalakrishnan stepped in as interim president and COO of Kent Hospital when Robert Haffey left in last October and CNE mounted a national search for his replacement. Gopalakrishnan was named to the position on April 12. It’s a leadership position he relishes but, as he points out, “I don’t have not much time for reflection.”

Faced with the responsibility, Gopalakrishnan has set a course with three major objectives in mind.

“Let’s get Kent operating efficiently,” he said summarizing a half-hour discussion Friday afternoon at Panera Bread on Route 2.  Next on his list, although not listed by priority, is taking care of the hospital staff and the quality of care.

The pandemic has posed some difficult challenges for the state’s second largest hospital. Following the shutdown in March of 2020, Kent and hospitals throughout the state geared up for an unknown tidal wave of Covid cases. Elective procedures were put on hold and anything less than an emergency situation took a back seat to Covid. Apart from requiring dramatic changes for personnel and procedures designed around protecting caregivers, the shift stretched staff and plunged Kent into the red. Even with the vaccines, the reduced severity of Covid cases and a growing sense we’re returning to normalcy, Kent that rarely ended the year with a deficit is losing from $1 million to $3 million a month.

“March is a much better month,” Gopalakrishnan said with a spark of optimism. However, without the appropriation of American Rescue Plan Act ( ARPA) funds, he said, “I’m really worried about this year.”

The challenge becomes evident as he details what Kent faced with the Omicron wave of cases earlier this year. While generally cases were less severe than prior to the vaccination, the hospital was full. Rescue runs had to be diverted as Kent didn’t have the beds for additional admissions. The hospital was on diversion for a total of 10 hours in March. It was 12 hours in April. Furthermore, with nurses leaving the profession due to fatigue or, in some cases higher pay, the hospital had to turn to “travel nurses” making significantly higher wages. Gopalakrishnan said 20 percent of Kent’s nursing staff is agency staff.

Gopalakrishnan talks of “five levers” to right the ship.

He starts off with “improving the length of stay.” Gopalakrishnan is looking to reduce the length of hospital stays provided patients can go home safely. This would open rooms and help address the second lever: improving the response time to assist people reporting to the emergency department. Kent has faced a high level of people seeking treatment and leaving without being seen because of a shortage of space and staff. This started to turn around in March where 1.8 percent of those reporting to the ER left without being seen, which compares to 2 percent on the national scale.

The third lever is “to get Kent back on surgery.” To meet the Omicron surge, surgery was suspended -- a needed service and revenue producer for Kent.

Gopalakrishnan’s fourth and fifth levers relate to personnel. He is looking to reduce the dependence on “traveler nurses” that would cut cost while developing programs to recruit nurses and retain staff.

Gopalakrishnan, who lives in East Greenwich with his wife and their five children, received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University, medical degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and completed his internal medicine residency at Brown University. He also holds a MBA with honors from Bryant University. 

This is Gopalakrishnan’s second tour at Kent. In 2009, he came to Kent from Miriam Hospital as the director of inpatient medial group.

Then newly named Kent President at the time, Dr. Michael Dacey, recalled recruiting Gopalakrishnan.

“When I came into leadership at Kent in 2009, I was looking for someone who would think in new ways and who had meaningful and different outside experiences that would augment the great historical strengths of Kent. I was also looking for someone who would come with solutions to problems, not just a listing of what those problems were. I needed someone who would disagree with me if he/she believed I was wrong on a certain decision and who would, after internal discussion, make the agreed upon solution work. Certainly I needed someone who put patients first above everything else. Paari met all those requirements and I think he's a truly wonderful choice for the next Kent President,” Dacey wrote in an email.

 Dacey offered him the job on a Wednesday but by Sunday he hadn’t heard anything.

“So I'm thinking his answer will be no. Very bad weekend for me! On Monday morning he walks into my office and tells me that he will take the job. I was overjoyed! Then he says, ‘My wife said to me last night that the weekend delay in responding might make you think that I was going to decline, I hope that wasn't the case.’ We both laughed and he did a superb job from that point forward.”

 Gopalakrishnan left Kent in December 2015 for South Carolina were he served Chief of the Division of Hospitalist Medicine at Greenville Health System in Greenville and as a clinical assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine.

But family connections and the Ocean State had him returning to Kent three years later as Chief Medical Officer. During the pandemic he provided operational oversight to the Kent Field Hospital in Cranston.

A hospital announcement of his appointment speaks of his “commitment to the development of a collaborative multidisciplinary framework across the Kent service lines that provide fundamental to excellent patient care improvements in Kent’s quality.”

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