Decisions that affect the community

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Clint Matthews
Clint Matthews

In June 2010, Clint Matthews arrived in Berks County as a consultant to help Reading Hospital change its leadership. In November 2011, he was asked to permanently run Reading Health System.

The hospital system that Matthews oversees, based in West Reading, is Berks County’s largest employer, with 7,300 workers. It has the busiest emergency department in the state. It has launched an electronic-record system, is navigating Obamacare and is planning a building that will cost more than a third-of-a-billion dollars.

“This is the most tumultuous period of health care in my career,” said Matthews, one of the most influential people on the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

He said he never forgets that his decisions will affect the community tremendously, perhaps for decades.

For example, the new surgery center will cost $354 million.

“That’s a lot of money to spend,” Matthews said.

But the existing operating rooms were built when surgeons used scalpels, not lasers, laparoscopy machines, robots and imaging screens that quickly cramp the space.

He said his goal in 2014 is continuing to improve the patients’ experiences.

Except for highly specialized care, such as organ transplants or serious burns, there’s no reason a patient should leave the region for a medical service that can be provided in Berks County, said Matthews, who lives in Wyomissing.

One way he measures the system’s success is by examining clinical data such as mortality rates, infection rates, readmission rates and patient surveys.

How fast do stroke patients get treated for a blockage or burst vein in the brain? How fast does a heart-attack victim get a lifesaving balloon inserted into an artery? How fast does a pneumonia patient get the right antibiotic?

The health care industry is making changes regardless of Obamacare, a common name for the president’s Affordable Care Act, which became law in March 2010.

“I wonder about the ‘affordable’ side of that,” Matthews said, noting that parts of the reform have been delayed. “Our focus is taking care of patients.”

A team of executives governs the Reading Health System under Matthews. The chief operating officer, chief financial officer, chief medical officer, chief information officer and chief academic officer report to Matthews, as will the chief strategy and business-development officers, when they are hired.

“I am one who believes in bottom-up opportunities and pushing decision making, responsibility and authority as low as possible,” he said.

Matthews’ first job was making hamburgers, malts and shakes at Chip’s Dairy Mart in his hometown of Port Neches, Texas, a town of 13,000.

At 16, he became a hospital orderly. He progressed in the field, becoming a nurse and then entering management at 25.

He has a nursing degree from the University of Texas and a master’s degree in health care administration from Texas Woman’s University. He has had executive roles in Florida, Kentucky, West Virginia, Texas, Arkansas and California.

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