Have Mercy Dr. William Bithoney Says Compassionate Care Is Critical to a Community

Working toward his medical degree at Yale, Dr. William Bithoney could have gone in almost any direction. He chose kids.After earning his degree in 1976, he went into practice as a pediatrician, spending 17 years working at Children’s Hospital in Boston while simultaneously teaching pediatric medicine at Harvard. He said he selected his field partly because of the high rate of happy endings.

“What I loved was that pediatric patients got better,” he said. “As a child doctor, I saw patients almost uniformly get better, whereas adults often don’t.”

He’s been around medicine long enough, however, to see great strides in the care of people of all ages. “Years ago, some cancers had a 10{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} cure rate, and now we can get to 70{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} or 80{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}, and then we ask why we can’t get that percentage higher. Many patients still die, but cure rates are soaring.”

These days, Bithoney has a broader view of health care — as chief medical officer of the Sisters of Providence Health System, and COO of Mercy Medical Center, hired after a nationwide search.

It’s a dual post for which he’s been prepping over the past decade. Since rising to senior associate in Medicine at Children’s Hospital, Bithoney has embarked on a series of administrative roles at hospitals throughout the Northeast, including Mercy Health System in Philadelphia and Brookdale University Hospital in New York. Over the past few years, he has served as chief medical officer at Mercy Health System in Pennsylvania and physician-in-chief at St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers in New York City.

As chief medical officer of SPHS, Bithoney primarily acts as a liaison between administration and members of the medical staff to support patient care services. His specific responsibilities include quality of care and patient satisfaction, as well as risk management and patient safety.

Meanwhile, as COO of Mercy, he oversees the day-to-day operations of the hospital, including all clinical programs; promotion of standards that ensure quality patient care; support services for physicians, nurses, and staff members; and development of procedures that further the financial success of the facility.

The challenges facing health care today — financing and reimbursements, privacy and risk-management issues, how to incorporate new technology, etc. — are common to all hospitals and health systems, said Bithoney, but not all facilities are equal in how they approach those issues.

“The challenges are similar, but what pleases me here are the responses to those challenges,” he said. “The Sisters of Providence have been here for 130 years. That’s a long time, and they’re certainly committed to this community.”

Citing Mercy’s mission of compassionate care, he added, “the Catholic mission of the system is one that I can identify with — not necessarily in the religious sense, but in the sense of ethical care, and the focus on patient satisfaction and employee satisfaction. The employees here are trained to serve the patients, and that training in values and practices is an example for other institutions, not only regionally but nationally.”

Condition Report

Bithoney said he was well-prepared for his new responsibilities at St. Vincent, a seven-hospital system that had its own HMO.

“And now I’m here, in charge of all the medical care in the system, charged with driving quality and ensuring patient satisfaction, and evaluating technology to make sure we remain on the cutting edge. We’re constantly upgrading equipment; we have new ultrasound machines, cutting-edge breast-imaging machines, and robotic surgery — we’re really trying to stay on the cutting edge while maintaining that personal, compassionate touch that we’re known for.”

As COO, Bithoney said he has to strike a balance between fiscal responsibility and developing new programs to meet patient needs and enhancing others, like orthopedic surgery and urogynecology. “We need to grow our programs but make sure they’re staffed appropriately with multi-disciplinary teams. There are so many needs in the community.”

Bithoney also appreciates Mercy’s longstanding relationships with the area’s large physician groups, recognizing the importance of a continuum of care that keeps people healthier and keeps system-wide costs down.

“We really emphasize primary and preventative care,” he said. “If you have asthma, and you’re seen by a physician and get the right kinds of medicine, you can live a normal life. On the other hand, if you don’t have access to a physician, your activities of daily living will be nowhere near what they could be. So we really want to emphasize access to care.”

Recalling his years as a hospital-based pediatric doctor, Bithoney became passionate about the work that doctors and other medical professionals accomplish.

“Every day, a child would come in with meningitis, or needing CPR, on death’s door, and we’d snatch them away with antibiotics and the other tools in our inventory,” he said. “It was very gratifying — and with the transformations that have occurred in medicine, people are getting better more often, too. It’s wonderful to see.”

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