Before John Kristel fully steps into the role of president and CEO at Good Shepherd Hospital Rehabilitation Network in Allentown, he's taking a deeper look at how the organization works.
So far, he likes what he sees.
“It's exceeded my expectations; each employee is so engaged,” Kristel said. He officially takes over for Sally Gammon, who last year announced her retirement, as the health care network's new CEO on June 1.
He visits each facility, meeting employees and patients and getting to know the people who provide care at its many facilities. Good Shepherd provides services at 34 locations in eight Eastern Pennsylvania counties.
Kristel said it comes down to spending time to get to know the employees and making sure to hire the right people who align with Good Shepherd's mission.
“A lot of it is about connecting with the people here who are serving all these patients and provide them with the skills they need,” he said.
These skills include tuition reimbursement and offering continuing education courses to help employees develop professionally.
But being the leader of a nonprofit is not without its challenges.
“We need to have a margin in order to have a mission,” said Kristel, who acknowledged the support from businesses and people in the Lehigh Valley community.
Since Good Shepherd is a nonprofit in the health care business, it also has to tackle the uncertainty surrounding the future of medical care in the U.S. when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act goes into full effect next year.
Good Shepherd has to determine how companies around the region are going to respond to it in terms of providing insurance and whether or not companies will still provide employees with coverage, Kristel said.
“That's one of the biggest challenges for all leaders in health care,” he said.
In the last few years, Kristel said, he has seen more plans with higher deductibles, which has made people consider how much they are utilizing health care. It's a trend that will have an unknown future impact on Good Shepherd and other organizations that provide health care services.
Good Shepherd provides inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, specialty long-term acute care, long-term care and multiple outpatient centers.
“Over the last year, utilization of health care services is down,” Kristel said. “We are finding that the volume of patients has decreased.”
The decrease is small, about 1 percent to 2 percent in an environment where one would expect a 2 percent to 3 percent increase, he said.
“What you are starting to see is large health care systems consolidating,” Kristel said. “Those larger health systems will then have a better ability to negotiate for supply costs and could be more efficient,” Kristel said.
Regardless of what the future of health care brings, Kristel is looking forward to building the Good Shepherd presence. He said the organization is always exploring expansion opportunities, both in and outside the Lehigh Valley.
Good Shepherd has a partnership with Penn Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which has facilities in Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. Through Good Shepherd Penn Partners, the organization reaches markets in that region.
Kristel began his career as a physical therapist and previously served as CEO of Carlisle Regional Medical Center in Carlisle and as vice president of operations for the Atlantic Division of Health Management Associates.
Kristel's health care experience includes more than 10 years in senior leadership roles, including CEO of Berwick Hospital Center in Berwick and associate CEO of Pottstown Memorial Medical Center in Pottstown.
He earned an MBA from Temple University Fox School of Business in Philadelphia and a master's degree in physical therapy from Drexel University in Philadelphia. He received his bachelor's degree from Temple University. Kristel was named Health Management's “CEO of the Year” in 2011.