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On the Medical Intensive Care Unit (NP 10), Dr. Churchwell, accompanied by Ena Williams, RN, YNHH chief nursing officer (center), talked with staff members, including Melonie Francis, patient care associate, and observed care.

An interview with Keith Churchwell, MD, president, Yale New Haven Hospital

Keith Churchwell, MD, became president of Yale New Haven Hospital Oct. 5. Dr. Churchwell was most recently YNHH chief operating officer and executive vice president, after serving for five years as senior vice president of Operations and executive director of Heart and Vascular and Transplantation services.

You have said that while you were being recruited, you visited Yale New Haven and knew it was the right place for you. What made you feel that way?

I “grew up” as an intern and chief resident in a hospital very similar to Yale New Haven Hospital – Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, GA. So when I walked through the doors at Yale New Haven Hospital, it was a bit like coming home. I spent the day meeting a number of great people. My first interview was with Rick D’Aquila (former YNHH president); and I subsequently met with Marna Borgstrom (YNHHS CEO). I was impressed by the capabilities of those individuals, their warmth and friendliness, but also by the great skill that they brought to the table in regards to the development of health care at Yale New Haven Hospital and across the health system.

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Keith Churchwell, MD, YNHH’s new president, has been rounding on departments throughout the hospital, including Medicine (EP 4-6), where he talked with Rosemarie Vaccaro, RN, patient services manager.

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Touring the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit were (l-r): Amy Fox, RN, assistant patient services manager; Dr. Churchwell; Tracey Frith, RN, APSM, WP 8; and Michael Holmes, senior vice president, Operations.

Where do you see growth for the hospital and its clinical programs?

I believe that Yale New Haven Hospital is truly a quaternary academic referral hospital. By that I mean that we do everything, from birth to the most complex of procedures. We have a unique opportunity for growth that speaks to the specialized and complex nature of the care that we can deliver, the degree of excellence we provide and the capabilities of the clinicians and nursing staff. As our population grows older and even more complex, we need to think about viable strategies to improve the care for all of the patients who walk through the door.

Are there other opportunities for growth for YNHH?

We are a community hospital. Every day, there’s an opportunity with the individuals who come to the hospital and ask us to join them in their journey toward improving their overall health. That opportunity continues to grow, as these individuals become more dependent upon us — and we depend upon them — to think about how we should move forward in developing pathways of care that make sense for them and will improve their health.

What is your vision for YNHH in a post-pandemic world? How has COVID-19 changed the way you plan to lead?

We are still in the midst of a significant pandemic. We have to continue to deal with this every single day. In actuality, there are plans and processes we put into place prior to February that speak directly to how we think about the development of this hospital and these institutions over the next few years. We have a unique opportunity in regards to how we effectively deliver care around our service lines and around our programmatic development, which we have continued in the COVID environment and will continue in the post-COVID environment.

What are your priorities for the organization?

I think our biggest challenge is continuing to ensure that our employees, clinicians and nursing staff are safe in the work environment. Safety is paramount. What has happened to us from a financial standpoint is illustrated not only here, but across the country. Over the next few months, we have to work toward rebounding from the financial constraints at Yale New Haven Hospital and across the health system. That’s important to us because our margin feeds our mission. How we bring back our patients to a safe environment in the ambulatory and inpatient settings — and make sure we’re delivering the best care — are incredibly important.

How will we meet these challenges?

Continuing to create an environment that is as safe as possible is key. Patients need to know that they will be safe and that it is essential for them to come back as soon as possible to ensure we’re delivering the care they need. We have multiple challenges, especially given where we are and the patients we serve, and we need to have all hands on deck.

YNHH has always been active in helping to improve the health, education and economy of our communities. Yet disparities remain. How can YNHH make the biggest difference in the lives of the people who need or rely on us most?

I’m very excited about it. There has been a tremendous amount of work done in the past year to define the problem, understand the patient population we serve and determine their needs. In terms of next steps, I think we develop partnerships — not only in the community that we live in, but outside the community — with those with expertise about the social determinants of health. These partners will help us determine what we need to invest in to improve the overall quality of life and the pathways for a healthier population. We have the right engagement at all levels of this hospital and across all of our institutions, but it’s going to take work.

What other thoughts would you like to share?

This is a spectacular institution, with components and constituencies that make it unique across this country. We have a patient population that needs our resources and services. We have a fantastic academic partner in Yale School of Medicine. We have an engaged clinical staff and incredibly committed nursing staff. We have an administration that understands the true mission. When you think about our values and the mission we’re trying to live every day, it actually gets me excited just walking through the door. We have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the patients that we have the honor to serve.


Learn more about Dr. Churchwell and his thoughts on leading YNHH. Watch the full interview with Dr. Churchwell on the YNHH employee intranet.