QUALITY CARE, TECHNOLOGY, AND EMPATHY: Q & A with Judith Kratka of Abington-Jefferson Health
Much has changed in the healthcare landscape over the course of 30 years. And Judith Kratka has seen it all. Kratka is the corporate director of facilities planning and sustainability at Abington Health, which combined with Jefferson in May 2015 to become Abington – Jefferson Health. Abington – Jefferson Health encompasses its flagship hospital, Abington Hospital in Abington, PA and Abington – Lansdale Hospital in Hatfield Township, PA, as well as six outpatient campuses, three urgent care centers, physician offices and outpatient facilities providing expert medical care in Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
As she approaches retirement, Kratka reflects on where healthcare design and construction is going, and what will always remain the same.
What is the day-to-day like for someone in your role?
I am essentially responsible for everything related to design, construction and sustainability. So anything dealing with new buildings, renovations and the millions of little things that come with that, like furniture selection, consulting with users on space issues, managing our space inventory, etc. It runs the gamut from really large new construction projects to the most mundane and simple upgrades. With that kind of breadth—and since I have been here for 29 years, most of the time as a department of one—you get pulled into many other things and try to help where you can.
What are the biggest challenges in planning and building healthcare facilities?
Resources. And not just staffing, but also capital resources. There is never enough capital to stay on top of everything that needs to be done or should be done. Prioritizing the resources is a serious challenge. When you have fifty projects in front of you and all of them are worthy, it’s difficult to figure out what’s “most worthy.”
Changes to our country’s reimbursement system also makes that difficult. With Obamacare, then Trumpcare, then who knows, it can be very unstable. Revenue and reimbursement do impact design. It’s hard to plan in a vacuum.
Technology is also an ongoing challenge. It’s changing so quickly. The idea that someday you could simply say out loud, “Change the temperature to 72,” and the building automation system will hear you and do it—that’s amazing. Jefferson’s president and CEO, Stephen K. Klasko, MD, MBA, is an extremely innovative guy and has partnered with IBM and their Watson system to envision future needs of healthcare staff and patients. It will be exciting but definitely challenging to continue to accommodate those needs going forward. Technology impacts design and construction the most because it creates so many opportunities but changes so rapidly.
Abington recently combined with Jefferson. From a real estate and facilities perspective, what are the challenges and opportunities of bringing together two large systems?
We combined around two years ago and during this transition period, we have stayed mainly decentralized in our operations. However, this year we began a systemwide capital budget process in which we decided on system-wide priorities. The Asplundh Cancer Pavilion, under construction right now, is a top priority in the system. We’re moving toward a more shared approach to everything and into “corporatizing” the facilities group into one that uses similar systems. It will be a huge undertaking to integrate everything, but it’s a great step to bringing us all together.
What is your favorite thing about working in healthcare?
I am really motivated by the “doing good” thing. The not-for-profit world is what I care about. My greatest joy has been to try to oversee the design and construction efforts that do better things for our patients and our staff. That’s my joy, and that’s the only thing that’s ever driven me. Knowing that you can make a difference from time to time with your efforts is very, very satisfying. I also love, love, love my colleagues. You make a lot of friends when you work on projects so I love that too.
What does a healthcare facility of the future look like to you?
Hospitals are going to be really high-tech places with as much automation as possible. Labs are already highly automated, and I see the whole Siri and Alexa smart-building type of thing becoming huge. Technology has also helped organize and document processes, which I think will continue to get better.
The ongoing integration of health systems will also continue and affect the way we design and build. It does complicate what we do, mostly because merging cultures and systems is challenging and takes time. Especially when the systems blend urban and suburban cultures—it’s just different. Early in my career, I worked in an academic medical center in Manhattan. At the time, having five private rooms was a lot. When I came here, most of the campus was private. Staff expectations were different, patient expectations were different. But in the end, we all just want good, competent care with kind people being empathetic to us. I perceive that to be my job through facilities, and that won’t change even if the hospital or system names do.