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New CMH leadership looks to the future

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

New President and CEO at Columbia Memorial Health, Dr. Dorothy Urschel, has her own vision for the future of the organization. Contributed photo

HUDSON — Dr. Dorothy Urschel took the helm at Columbia Memorial Health on Jan. 1, and is now looking to implement her vision for the future of the organization.

Urschel, a doctorally prepared acute care and family nurse practitioner who was named president and CEO of Columbia Memorial Health, also holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration and has held clinical, administrative and academic positions throughout her career.

“I started in critical care and was a thoracic surgery and heart surgery nurse practitioner for many years in western New York,” Urschel said. “I was also an educator at University of Buffalo and I still continue to do that for graduate nurse practitioners — I teach online and I quite enjoy it. I would never want to stop doing that — it has always provided me with some balance and I really love it.”

Urschel has held academic positions at the University of Buffalo and Daemen University, and has performed research and worked in clinical settings. Prior to being named to head up CMH, she was vice president of operations and chief nursing officer at Albany Memorial Health, part of the St. Peter’s Health Partners system, where she was also vice president of cardiac and vascular surgery.

She first joined CMH in 2019 as chief operating officer, and in October of 2022 was selected to become the president and CEO in the new year.

“I had some progressive leadership roles,” Urschel said.

Urschel replaced former president and CEO Jay Cahalan, who retired at the end of 2022. Cahalan was chief operating officer for CMH for many years before being named president and chief executive officer. He was with the hospital for about 22 years.

“Jay [Cahalan] really focused on outpatient expansion like primary care and multi-specialties, so that really is already expanded. Obviously we want to sustain what he has already expanded upon and meet the demands of the current day post-pandemic, and make sure we can sustain the volume on the outpatient sites,” Urschel said.

CMH’s new leader is now looking to put her stamp on Columbia Memorial Health.

“For me, I will look to develop centers of excellence,” Urschel said. “We provide a lot of great care. My centers of excellence will revolve around breast health, women’s health and uro-gynecology, orthopedics, pain [management], gastroenterology and, of course, primary care.”

CMH currently has 40 care centers scattered around Columbia and Greene counties, and Urschel plans to focus on expanding and building on current strengths.

“My perspective of a center of excellence is a group of clinicians with a shared vision and focus, and they have the expertise to support and move forward these practices and become known as centers of excellence,” she said. “While we do these things already, we want to make them bigger and broader and have world-class performance and value.”

Developing medical centers of excellence is Urschel’s top priority as she takes the helm at CMH, and second on her list of priorities is community outreach.

“Community outreach will be very big for us,” she said. “Our job now is to continue to work to evolve and meet the community’s needs. I would like to see a lot more expansion into the community for community outreach, educational programs, and to be more embedded in the community.”

With a nationwide shortage of health care professionals, from doctors and nurses to technicians and others, CMH will also work on growing its workforce, Urschel said.

“Ultimately, my focus this year is developing our workforce, developing our centers of excellence — breast health, women’s health, orthopedics, pain [management[ GI, primary care, gynecology — and also grow our community outreach programs in terms of educational programs, and do a lot more public outreach in the community and be their center for health care,” Urschel said.

In addition to the main hospital campus in Hudson, CMH also owns the Greene Medical Arts building in Catskill, as well as 40 other practices scattered around Greene and Columbia counties, including Catskill, Cairo, Coxsackie, Windham, Valatie, Chatham, Copake and Red Hook, among others.

CMH has been dealing with staffing shortages among its medical personnel, a problem facing many hospitals nationwide. The shortage has led to backlogs in the Emergency Department and other areas of the hospital.

Training and recruitment will be key to addressing the issue, as well as pursuing federal assistance to rebuild the workforce, some of which was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Urschel said.

“Ultimately we need more professionals entering the pipeline,” she said. “That means building more capacity for training programs for nurses, radiology technicians, and for skilled physicians.”

“Recruitment and retention are our top priorities — one of our strategic imperatives is workforce cultivation and that includes recruitment and retention,” she said. “We offer competitive pay and benefits, but we also have a unique community-centered culture here. But there are only so many trained individuals, especially in the upstate region. We continue to invest in training and education, and we also invest in scholarship for our nurses, as well as significant tuition reimbursement programs for all of the individuals in our hospital.”

CMH no longer has an obstetrics department or birthing center, so pregnant women are redirected to Albany Medical Center, which CMH is an affiliate of. A declining number of births in recent years led to the decision to close the Obstetrics Department, and Urschel doesn’t see that changing in the near future.

“I don’t foresee that we would reopen the center because I don’t think it would be sustainable locally,” Urschel said. “But we are focused on women’s health and we really focus on perfecting our comprehensive OB service experience with our partners at Albany Medical Center.”

CMH does provide perinatal care — care for the mother and baby before and after birth — but births will continue to take place at Albany Medical Center, Urschel said.

Providing health care in a rural setting offers its own benefits and challenges, but one that Urschel said she is looking forward to.

“Patients come first and I really believe that health care is holistic and what we provide here, especially as a rural community hospital, has so much benefit to the communities that we serve across Greene and Columbia counties,” Urschel said. “We have such an expansive footprint and I am very excited about this role because we are here to serve all of these towns and counties. We are in a good place and we just have to work hard at recruiting a lot of professionals here, and that is what our goal will be.”

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