Blog Post

Marcia Atkinson Oversees Largest Cardiology Practice in State

Feb 8, 2017

As seen in Arkansas Medical News

Marcia Atkinson, MHSA, vice president\administrator of the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute, heads the largest cardiology practice in the state with 42 cardiologists by this summer plus five cardiovascular and thoracic surgeons. CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute supports cardiology services in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs, Searcy and Conway along with approximately 25 community outreach locations. Atkinson recently celebrated her 20th anniversary of working for the practice.

Her career began in what might be considered an unusual place for a healthcare administrator. She spent ten years in management with McDonald’s Restaurants, followed by five years with Showbiz Pizza Place and then three more of independent restaurant ownership.

“I can honestly say that many transferable skills were learned that have provided a solid business foundation for what I do today,” Atkinson said. “At one point, I paused and decided that instead of providing food and entertainment, I wanted to do something that really improved people’s health and lives. I returned to school and completed an undergraduate degree in nutrition at University of Central Arkansas and Honor’s College, and then happened upon the Health Services Administration Master’s Program that was then offered at University of Arkansas Little Rock.”

She found that program was a perfect blend of her management background and healthcare interests that prepared her for the “second” career she now enjoys. She got the job she currently holds before finishing that program when she became administrator of a group of eight cardiologists in West Little Rock. Her role with CHI St. Vincent came with the integration of Heart Clinic Arkansas in January 2012. She covers both the outpatient clinics and hospital based inpatient and outpatient services in the system.

Much growth is occurring. Their hospital services are expanding with their new Advanced Heart Failure and Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) Program in January at CHI St. Vincent Infirmary.

Heart Clinic Arkansas is the only cardiology group in the state of Arkansas that is participating in the CMS Million Hearts Demonstration Project as an interventional group. This five-year study seeks to lower cardiovascular risk by increased prevention activity.

“Our patients will have the advantage of participation in this important study that may lay the groundwork for quality improvement and lowering heart disease in populations for the future,” Atkinson said. “The CMS Million Hearts Study is starting in January and we are excited about the focus on prevention and population health. Of course, MACRA will be upon us as will bundled payments for CABG and AMI. And, CHI St. Vincent is very engaged in the Studer Leadership Development Program and this work has been very impactful to all areas of our organization.”

They recently brought the Conway and Hot Springs markets into the Heart Institute. Atkinson said their team is focused on their integration and supporting their partners in providing the highest quality patient care.

Atkinson attributes the success of the practice to the democratic culture that exists at CHI St. Vincent Heart Clinic Arkansas, and that requires the leadership to focus on the values upon which that culture is based.

“Fairness, trust, transparency and honesty between physicians and leadership have to become the basis upon which strategic and daily decisions are made,” she said. “This requires a tremendous amount of communication, pulse checking and ‘inclusion’ in discussions that concern the physicians. This effort is well worth the end result of a cohesive physician group who feel very comfortable with their partners and practice environment. Satisfied physicians generate satisfied co-workers and we have been fortunate to maintain a high performing culture within our patient care and business work force.”

Atkinson said a large, well-structured practice offers many benefits to physicians at all stages of their career. For the physician just completing training, they find security in an organization that offers professional management and experienced partners who are available for mentoring during their transition. Participation in the call rotation of a larger group provides more personal and family time, and comfort that their patients will be cared for by their partners who practice medicine in a like manner as they do.

“Our practice has roots back to 35 years of referral history with physician groups and outreach communities that provide volume and security to existing partners,” she said. “Large practices have better access to capital, whether they are hospital affiliated or private, and can provide physicians with new technology and staff to stay on the forefront of emerging procedures. Large practices generally offer very positive and stable environments to work, which supports retention of skilled employees, allowing physicians to offer the best of care to their patients. Strategically, a large group of physicians can position themselves for affiliation with the best fit of partners needed in this ever-changing climate of healthcare.”

She said benefit for patients include stability in caregivers, continuity in care between physicians within the practice, state of the art technology and procedures, well run operations that handle the patient’s interactions with the clinic and a “home” where they can access all of the services under one roof are all positive outcomes of a large practice.

“Overall, we have equipment that allows for the accurate diagnosis of cardiac patients who have a wide spectrum of symptoms and needs,” Atkinson said. “Cardiac Ultrasound and stress, 64 slice low radiation CT, nuclear SPECTt camera, ABI (ankle-brachial index), vascular ultrasound, EECP (Enhanced External Counterpulsation), EKG, Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Cardiac Rhythm Device (pacemaker and ICD) interrogation and vein ablation are among the diagnostic services that we are capable of providing with equipment that is constantly updated to provide accurate results with patient convenience in mind.”

Atkinson uses the word “engaged” to describe her management style. She tries to engender a very open and collaborative relationship with peers and coworkers.

“As the scope of the role has grown, delegation and leadership development have replaced the more ‘hands-on’ responsibilities of the past,” Atkinson said. “Communication of the ‘why’ we do things, being supportive to our team by providing the resources that they need for patient care and ‘managing up’ are all important aspects of healthcare leadership.”

In addition to her passion for healthcare, Atkinson’s interests include spending time with her two adult children, Kyle and Jamie, their spouses and her grandchildren, along with spending time with the man in her life, Ray Hodges. She also enjoys travel, hiking and horses.

“My great quarter horse who is in his retirement stage at the age of 28 still will take me on a hike in the woods at our mutual enjoyment,” she said.

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