When John Spearman was asked to leave his position as senior vice president for global affairs at the University of Maryland Medical System to serve as the new president and chief operating officer at Laurel Regional Hospital, he was a little hesitant to leave a job he loved for a place he didn't know much about.
"When I took a look at it and dug a little deeper into it, there were a number of things that made me give it some serious consideration," Spearman, a Glen Burnie resident, said. "The location of Laurel, the development of the city and particularly this area, the enthusiasm of both the leadership that I met here and the staff said this is a place that has challenges, but all the resources in terms of people are needed to make it a great hospital."
One of the challenges is that Laurel Regional Hospital is not the go-to hospital for many Laurel residents.
"We are suffering from brand imaging," Spearman admitted.
But from what he's learned since he started July 2, Spearman said he doesn't believe there is a "sound basis" for the negative perception some in the community have of the hospital.
"Like every hospital, we have our incidents," he said. "Not every hour is our finest hour. But we have some fine hours here."
Revamping the hospital's image is among Spearman's top priorities, and he wants hospital officials to be more present in the community.
"Our approach will be not to try to run from the negative questions out there but to listen to them and answer them directly," Spearman.
Spearman, in his first month on the job, has already had several meetings with Laurel officials and organizations.
"The community outreach is going to go a long way to improve the hospital's image in the community," said Laurel City Council member Fred Smalls, who also serves as chairman of the hospital's board of directors.
However, he noted, "It's not just Mr. Spearman's job to do that kind of outreach. It's the job of the members of the board of directors. It's the job of physicians. It's the job of staff at the hospital."
Town hall meetings, hosted by the mayor and City Council, are already in the works. Smalls said he plans to promote a good working relationship between the hospital and the local government.
One of the main goals of the re-branding and the community outreach is to regrow the hospital's patient base.
"Laurel has lost some volume over the years — patients not coming here that we think should be coming here," Spearman said.
In addition to networking outside of the hospital, Spearman will be making connections with staff inside the hospital.
"The approach that I'm taking is solidifying the leadership team to put in some strategic framework about how this hospital operates, to drive that down all the way to the bottom," Spearman said.
He added: "One of the things that's clear is we don't have the sharpness of focus that we need to deliver the highest quality of care consistently, but I think that is something that can be remedied very rapidly."
Though there is room for improvement, Spearman noted the lack of focus is not a widespread problem.
"We have areas in this hospital that operate routinely from the standpoint of delivering excellence in care, in taking care of the patients and taking care of the families," he said.
Though Spearman noted plans to recruit physicians, he said he's not planning to "come in and wipe out" all of the existing staff, as the hospital already has many talented employees.
Spearman's goal is to create operating practices that instill the "sharpness of focus" he said is lacking.
"People have to decide whether they're going to be on board or not," he said.
Others in Dimensions Health Care System, the company that operates and manages staff at Laurel Regional and the county's two other hospitals, are excited about the changes Spearman promises to bring.
"It's been a while since there's been a president (at Laurel Regional) with the commitment and latitude John (Spearman) has," said John O'Brien, president of Prince George's Hospital Center, in Cheverly.
Asked about the hospital's financial resources, Spearman said: "Do we have enough? No, we don't have enough financial resources."
However, he said he's not going to let that stop him from ensuring the hospital delivers a high level of care.
"Does that mean we will be stepping up our fundraising efforts? Yes, we will," Spearman said. "And we'll be looking at every other source of revenue that we can to build the programs that we need to build here."