Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev

Caring for Each Other with Buffy Key

August 21, 2023 Kosta Yepifantsev Season 3 Episode 13
Caring for Each Other with Buffy Key
Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev
More Info
Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev
Caring for Each Other with Buffy Key
Aug 21, 2023 Season 3 Episode 13
Kosta Yepifantsev

Join Kosta and his guest: Buffy Key, CEO of Cookeville Regional Medical Center, and newly appointed member of the Tennessee Medical Laboratory Board.
32 years ago Buffy started her career in healthcare as a medical laboratory scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center while serving in the Army National Guard.

Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev is a product of Morgan Franklin Media and recorded in Cookeville, TN.

Find out more about Buffy and Cookeville Regional Medical Center:
https://www.crmchealth.org/

Find out more about Kosta Yepifantsev:
https://kostayepifantsev.com/


Show Notes Transcript

Join Kosta and his guest: Buffy Key, CEO of Cookeville Regional Medical Center, and newly appointed member of the Tennessee Medical Laboratory Board.
32 years ago Buffy started her career in healthcare as a medical laboratory scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center while serving in the Army National Guard.

Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev is a product of Morgan Franklin Media and recorded in Cookeville, TN.

Find out more about Buffy and Cookeville Regional Medical Center:
https://www.crmchealth.org/

Find out more about Kosta Yepifantsev:
https://kostayepifantsev.com/


Buffy Key:

When you look at our bottom line, obviously, any business, no margin, no mission, the regionals a little bit different than that in the fact that we truly are servant leaders for our community servant leaders for the health care of our community. And so we obviously want to make just enough margin to have our mission which is building healthier communities, but at the same time, our goal is what do we need to provide to keep them here to keep them local to keep them with their loved ones instead of having to travel 80 miles east, west or south whatever the case may be? The difference in the city on hospital is just that this is our people's hospital.

Morgan Franklin:

Welcome to Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev, a podcast on parenting business and living life intentionally. We're here every week to bring you thoughtful conversation, making your own path to success,challenging the status quo, and finding all the ways we're better together. Here's your host, Kosta Yepifantsev.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Hey, y'all, it's Kosta. Today I'm here with my guest, Buffy Key CEO of Cookeville Regional Medical Center and newly appointed Member of the Tennessee Medical Laboratory board. 32 years ago, Buffy started her career in health care as a medical laboratory scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center while serving in the Army National Guard. First of all, congratulations on your appointment as CEO of Cookeville Regional Medical Center. Needless to say, this is a huge accomplishment personally and professionally. When you heard the news, you were unanimously selected by the Board of Trustees. How did you feel?

Buffy Key:

Thank you, first of all for having me today Kosta. But secondly, honestly, I think when I heard all of those eyes that night, it was probably one of the most humbling moments of my career, if not the most humbling moment in my career, to feel and to know that these community leaders and leaders that the city council and trusted to guide the hospital, through our ups and downs had that much confidence in me was just just unbelievably humbling for me. But also more than anything, it made me proud, not of myself so much. But for every person that works in that hospital, I started my career at Cookeville. Regional in 1990. For the first time, I've spent most of my career between Cutler regional and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. So I remember being that third shift person entry level working in the laboratory. And I'm still that person. You know,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I read a little bit about you in preparation for this episode. And when you started, you were making like $11 an hour I was

Buffy Key:

and I was the richest person in the universe. I truly believe that I bought a house and a car, I thought that I was the most incredibly well off. And I think it's because I just loved it. I loved everything about what I was doing, and healthcare Slyke that, yeah, you really have to love healthcare, because it's both exciting. It's exhilarating. And it's heartbreaking sometimes all in the same day, and every day is different.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

You felt validated? Absolutely. You have a long history working in healthcare, not only in administration, but on the front lines as a lab technician, medical technologist, lab manager and lab director, how did these experiences prepare you for the role of CEO and shape your view of healthcare operations?

Buffy Key:

Honestly, like I said a minute ago, I'm still that person I think I've never outgrown my thoughts of, I remember being that 20 year old or 22 year old kid at three o'clock in the morning, looking in a microscope reading a differential blood smear and saying, I wonder if anybody even knows I'm down here. But more than anything, I think it's just an I know, this is cliche, but I think just coming through coming through all of it, experiencing all of it. And I continue to be I learn every day, I still learn every day, I think just coming through all the different ranks through all the different roles. And I gotta be honest with you, let me go ahead and tell you never before have, I thought that I would be sitting in a CEO seat of a medical center. My goal was always I want to do all that I can, as much as I can, as long as I can, in whatever that is, at the end, I will be thankful. And I think that's kind of just how I've done it. And I've never said no to an opportunity never applied for this particular job or supervisor, you know, types of things coming up. But if they said, Well, why don't you think about that? I was like, okay, you know, let's try it. Let's see what happens. Let's see what we can do. Let's see what we can make better.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I think in healthcare, probably more than most industries because you're dealing with such emotional dynamics. I mean, it's essentially people's lives and their overall health and that has an outsize effect on the entire family and their communities. Having a servant's heart, leading with compassion, but then also the what I love about what you've been able to accomplish is you've absorbed everything like a spa. bunch throughout your entire journey, when I read a little bit about kind of the tactics and the mantras and the direction that you want to take the operation and in Cookeville, regional as a whole, I think, okay, she's doing it with all of the years of experience of working with people from the very bottom to the very top, but also putting the quality of the services that you provide first and the experience of not just the patients, but also of the people that you work with first, absolutely, it matter. Yeah, this is probably the understatement of the decade. But ruler and local hospitals are having a rough time, a large majority of hospitals, the size of CRMC, are owned by private equity groups, and their sole purpose is to generate as much profit as possible, often at the expense and health of their patients. Cookeville regional is a city owned hospital, for anyone that doesn't really understand what that means. Will you explain the importance?

Buffy Key:

Sure, I think I can really break that down very simply, when you look at our bottom line, obviously, any business, no margin, no mission, but Cutler regionals a little bit different than that in the fact that we truly are servant leaders for our community, servant leaders for the health care of our community. And so we obviously want to make just enough margin, obviously, to have our mission, which is building healthier communities. But at the same time, our goal is what do we need to provide for the surgeon to the services for the community, to keep them here to keep them local to keep them with their loved ones, instead of having to travel 80 miles east, west or south whatever the case may be. The difference in the city on hospital, obviously, is just that this is our People's Hospital. And someone asked me one time what our core competency was, if you really look at global regional, and I had never thought about it, and I sit down and I said, Oh, it's simple. It's our people taking care of our people. Exactly. And how that that extrapolates out is, is we're not part of a private equity or a larger health system and where the stockholders are in Washington State somewhere and saying, wait a minute, cut this by noon tomorrow, because we need to make this profit margin like this much better. Let's face it, we do things every day, that may be a financial loss. But man, what an emotional and human gain for the community that were being able to do that here. And you create

Kosta Yepifantsev:

a healthcare pipeline. For people that are wanting to be in the healthcare industry at a young age, you are able to facilitate the entire pipeline, and it helps businesses that are in you know long term care that are working with people that are just entering the healthcare field Sure, to all the way up to you know, CRMC hiring doctors and medical professionals. I mean, when it comes to hospital systems, like you said, that are in Washington state that own you know, a hospital system in Tennessee, or a Regional Hospital in Tennessee, they don't have that same emphasis on because when you have that pipeline, and I know I'm getting a little bit in the weeds here, but when you do, it creates a better outcome health outcome for all individuals who live here. Oh, absolutely

Buffy Key:

the and the impact, not just financial impact, but the emotional impact the healthcare impact of what we can do for each other. Remember, these are the same people that we see every day when we go to the grocery store, or when we go to church on Sunday, or when we're just driving down the road and saying hello, and it means something to us. Yep.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

As we've discussed, one of the greatest strengths of Cookeville. Regional is the self supporting fiscal responsible nature of our hospital. As you transition into this role, how do you plan to continue this tradition, while growing the services quality and reach of the hospital?

Buffy Key:

I think the future of healthcare is a little different. Now post COVID, if you will, prior to COVID. I know that larger health systems have been able to adopt or if you will, or move into smaller communities and take over those systems. But I think the future for us, obviously, is to increase our revenue opportunities at every opportunity. And that's not just taking money out of the community's hands. I don't mean it like that. But when I'm talking about that, I'm talking about partnerships. It's time for us to look at partnerships. What does that mean? Do we have a service line that we could do better if we partnered with, say Vanderbilt, for example, or whoever that may be? You know, currently we have a great partnership for Pediatric Hospitalist medicine and the nursery with Vanderbilt University Medical Center. And that was a no brainer to me because first of all, are sick children that are born that are not as healthiest as we would love for them to be. That's when we send these kids and tell you at Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt does an amazing job. It's one of the biggest blessings I had working for Vanderbilt actually was working in that hospital. I have a little niece actually that was born with a heart defect and she actually went there in his head to open heart surgeries and having her last one next year. So it's amazing the things they can do. I'm thankful that we have that in our community. Other partnerships, it's time for us as a governing body and as well as our Board of Trustees and city council. And we're hoping to this fall, get together and say, what does our future look like? What kind of service line? Do we have that we need to partner with long term care facilities a little bit more or other acute care facilities? And thanks meant, oh, my gosh, I mean, get me started.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

You're saying and you say, partnerships, and you know what I hear I hear diversification. Absolutely. And in my opinion, especially in this day and age of healthcare, if you want to stop consolidation, you have to diversify your services. Right. And the governor, you know, I was reading some of the notes from a special session, and he is going hard in the paint when it comes to mental health. And this is a great opportunity for us to meet a significant share in our area. And what better way within I mean, CRMC already has some experience with 10. Brooke, you know, having health services. So there is so much that you can do. And I think that you want to do to vertically integrate the healthcare sector as a whole to make CRMC not just a hospital, but a one stop shop for health care in general. Absolutely. All roads lead through CRMC.

Buffy Key:

Absolutely. And not just behavioral health and mental health, but also addiction counseling and those kinds of things. If we can support others in those needs, hey, we're seeing those people every day. And it's heartbreaking to us, because we're not addiction counselors, how can we help them get them to where they need to be?

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Is it possible to expand to other communities? Like is it possible to make this work in salida or in Fentress County?

Buffy Key:

Well, as you know, Solana we had this is before obviously my time in this channel, but we had a Critical Care Access Hospital in Solana. And for whatever reason, you know, it just it's hard to timing, the timing more than anything. I will tell you I'm from Pinterest County, originally, we moved to

Kosta Yepifantsev:

Cookeville when I was in the seventh grade. So everybody from Fentress County, as well, you should ask people I've ever met,

Buffy Key:

you know, but let me tell you that's that's a prime example talking about the scope original look at that we're actually working right now with UT Medical Center on their freestanding ER that opened up on July 19. And not when I say working with them, we don't have a formal partnership or anything else. But we want to make sure that all those transitions work so we can keep the community healthy there. And if they need to come to us, we will same type of thing for Solana, you know, it's never out of the question to look at, hey, are there other urgent care opportunities for those immediate needs, you know, for that community and everything else, small communities obviously have a special place in my heart. And that's why I reached out to UT and said anything could original can do to help you guys, or emergency room physicians or hospitals, physicians, we're ready to help you all with any of that.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

You were promoted from senior vice president of quality and operations to Chief Operating Officer in January 2021. For our listeners who don't remember, that's about 11 months into the COVID pandemic, and in my experience, one of the most stressful and demanding times to be in healthcare. What's changed the most since you became CEO.

Buffy Key:

Honestly, it's the reinvention of healthcare and the need and just the inner drive for all of us to remember to reinvest in our staff reinvest in our teams, if we don't reinvest in our people. And when I'm talking about people to take care of you every day, when you come to the hospital, how are they going to take the best care that they possibly can of that patient or their family member? And like I tell our staff all the time, the only way to get past COVID. And through that horrific pandemic unprecedented, is to learn, what did we do wrong? And we did a lot of things wrong, I gotta tell you, we did a lot of things wrong we were talking yesterday about. And when I say we, I'm talking about the entire healthcare community across the country, you know, keeping people away from their family members, we were required to do that. No, we had infection control guidelines that we had to follow. And we're one of the few hospitals in the country that did allow people to be with their loved ones. During their passing, a lot of hospitals didn't. But it's so much more than that. It's just reinvesting in those people. And I gotta tell you, we had nurses, we had some nurses, and that breaks my heart to this day, that probably saw more deaths during that period than they will see in their entire career. And it's heartbreaking. And so we have got to remember, they are our hospital, they make everything about our hospital and every patients experience and so reinvesting in our staff. And then, like I said, reinvestment in health care system, and that is looking at partnerships. What is the future look like? How can we make it bigger? How can we make it better? Obviously, capacity is an issue across the country during COVID. Things shut down. Right and so healthcare facilities didn't grow. Man, we're paying for that now. Oh, absolutely. Luckily, our economic growth in in Cookeville has been amazing, and I'm so proud of that. But we have to keep up. We're a little bit behind on that and we need to we need to grow to meet that capacity.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

So, obviously COVID taught you a lot of lessons. It taught me a lot of lessons, I think, like you said it taught everybody in healthcare. But something tells me that the things that you do, the way that you handle that you approach your job, and this endearment that you feel for your staff, I feel like you didn't necessarily learn that just from the pandemic. And so I want to understand, because I meet a lot of people that work in healthcare, and you can kind of see the ones that you know, are sincere and the ones that are not sincere, and everybody may very well have the exact same message that you're saying. But what caused you to enter into the healthcare field and doubled down on leading in the way that you are?

Buffy Key:

Honestly, I gotta tell you, I've just grown up in healthcare and not in a way that my parents were physicians or anything like that, or nurses or any health care worker. My father actually was, who passed away in 2020. But my father actually was a paraplegic. He actually had a fall when I think my mother was pregnant with me in 1965. And I think I just told everybody how old I was, you look great, by the way, thank you. My earliest memory of him is sneaking up the back steps with a nurse who was not supposed to bring me up those back steps to see him. I think he had 20 Plus surgeries, my first three years of my life. And that's what I remember of him. That's my earliest memory. And I remember from that moment, I wanted to work in healthcare. Now at that point, it could have been doing anything at cared, right. But that's what I always wanted to do. I wanted to be a physician, to be honest with you, and that didn't work out, tried to get into medical school did not make it obviously, I wasn't smart enough. And those are some great guys. And I applaud them for that. But I think, especially with the latest promotion and everything else, I just think God every day, I think I'm where I'm supposed I was made to be. And I think it's just that passion. And like I said, That's my earliest memory. I don't know anything else. I remember playing the old maid with him in the hospital when I was like three years old. I don't know if he won, or I wonder I may have cheated. I'm not sure. But that's just what I know. I just don't know anything else

Kosta Yepifantsev:

was serving in the in the National Guard that contribute?

Buffy Key:

Absolutely. I mean, serving in the National Guard. Again, I think it's that servant leadership. I mean, I'll be honest with you, I never wanted to join the military in any shape, form or fashion. And then I got after I started college and couldn't play basketball anymore. It was kind of one of those things. Oh, well, what can I do to to help get me through school because I hate for my parents to have to do that. And honestly, it was, I loved it. I mean, it was I really loved it. Again, I think those people put their lives on the line every day, whether they're in the medical arm of the military or of the frontlines. And again, it's just that servant leadership, it teaches you that from your core, and you either have it or you don't

Kosta Yepifantsev:

CRMC clearly plays a crucial role in the local economy, from direct employment to the indirect influence it has on job creation in the community. How do you plan on cultivating and expanding this economic impact? And why does it matter to our community? Overall?

Buffy Key:

That's a great question. And I will tell you that recently, we have just kicked off a renovation project in the hospital, it's an $18 million project, one of our primary goals is that as much money of that renovation project as we can, goes back into the economic impact of our community. So we can guarantee you right now that at least 50%, nine 9.2 million obviously, will go back into our local community, suppliers, vendors, electric companies, whoever that may be. And that is so important to us. We always look local first. And again, I think that's just part of our mission building right here, communities, it's not just about our health, it's making sure that everybody is viable.

Kosta Yepifantsev:

And that may very well go away if it wasn't a city run hospital, you know, because there is a partnership to use your term between you and local businesses. He absolutely it matters. I want to ask because we're about to get to the end of the episode. But there's a couple of questions that I'm very curious about. First off, I don't think that anyone has any concern or any reservations about you being the CEO, because as you're explaining your mission, spot on the challenges that you face throughout your life and the different areas of focus that you've had, you can be just fine. If anything, I think that you are kind of the saving grace to our hospital system. I really do. I really believe it because nowadays you have to have somebody who understands people and quality of care above all else, because the money will come but you got to have those two components first, right? This Second thing in your vision. So if you look, let's just say you know, 40 years down the future and you're still CEO in Tennessee, you are going to have HCA Vanderbilt, UT? And is your goal to have CRMC on the same plane?

Buffy Key:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I think our community deserves that our region deserves that. And honestly, we work so closely with all of those guys already anyway, it would be ridiculous of them not to scoot over. Honestly,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

I want to end this episode with a question about health, specifically the health of the upper Cumberland as someone that can see all the data before them, where we've been and where we could go. What's your advice to our community on building a healthier tomorrow?

Buffy Key:

Honestly, I think I could learn from this advice more than anyone. But I do believe that for our community, because we are growing, and we're growing at leaps and bounds and in such a rapid fashion. I think everybody should take at least five minutes every day and concentrate on themselves. What does that mean? Honestly, I think it's their mental health. I think it's their emotional health. Remember, our own emotional intelligence? I think it's, again, just focusing on themselves. How can I take better care of me today? I know that the other 23 hours or 50 minutes of today, I'm taking care of everybody else. But for this 10 minutes? How can I focus on me? What does that mean? Whether that's quietness, meditation, thoughts of how can I be physically more healthy? How can I be mentally more healthy, but just focus on you,

Kosta Yepifantsev:

ladies and gentlemen, Buffy key. Amazing. So we always like to end the show on a high note, who was someone that makes you better when you're together?

Buffy Key:

Other than my family, and I gotta say them first and foremost, or they'll never let me back in the house for Sunday dinners, I bet but honestly, it's our senior leadership team. I think we have the best team at Cookeville regional right now senior leadership team that we've ever had, there is nothing that we can't share with each other about the growth of each other. And more importantly, our mission every day is to turn the org structure upside down. We serve everybody else. We are at the bottom of that and everybody else is at the top. I think we force each other to do that. And we're kind of like family, it's the CRMC family. And you know, you can't choose your family. So you got to be sure you love them love each other through it and all of that, but we are really good for each other and I'm very proud to work with them.

Morgan Franklin:

Thank you for joining us on this episode of Better Together with Kosta Yepifantsev. If you've enjoyed listening and you want to hear more, make sure you subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. Leave us a review or better yet, share this episode with a friend. Today's episode was written and produced by Morgan Franklin post production mixing and editing by Mike Franklin. Want to know more about Kosta visit us at kostayepifantsev.com. We're better together. We'd like to remind our listeners that the views and opinions expressed during this episode are those of the individual speakers and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official policy or position of this show its producers or any related entities or advertisers. While our discussions may touch on various topics of interest, please note that the content is intended to inspire thought provoking dialogue and should not be used for a substitute for professional advice.Specifically, nothing heard on this podcast should be construed as financial, legal, medical or any other kind of professional advice. We encourage our listeners to consult with a professional in these areas for guidance tailored to their specific circumstances.