Hemelt: Hospital’s Pratt guiding growth in St. James

Published 11:45 pm Friday, January 30, 2015

Mary Ellen Pratt loves health care, but you won’t find her working in an emergency room.

“I’m not a direct care-giver and don’t have the skills to cure or heal, but I can facilitate and support the care-givers by giving them what they need to do their best work,” she emailed me this week. “That’s rewarding. I am drawn to rural health, because I feel, and can see, the impact we have on the community directly.”

Pratt has taken that passion to the world of administration, where she serves as CEO of St. James Parish Hospital.

Pratt was recently named one of the nation’s “50 Rural Hospital CEOs to Know” by the Becker Hospital Review, which covers health care nationally.

Becker rates CEOs based on a number of factors, including awards, local and national leadership positions and organization performance. 

“I like knowing our patients personally and the connection we have,” Pratt said. “I also believe that health care should be accessible to all, and that rural residents have the right to the same high quality care that is provided in urban settings.”

Heather Punke, who helped put together the “Top 50” list for Becker Review, said the monthly publication gathers names through nominations and an editorial research process.

“Then we look at a number of factors, including awards received; local, regional and national leadership positions held; and their organizations’ recent performance, to choose the people who ultimately make up the list,” she said.

“I think hospitals are extremely important in smaller communities and towns,” Punke said. “Oftentimes those hospitals are one of their town’s largest employers, making them a major contributor to the overall economy there. Also, having a hospital in a small town gives citizens better access to care — rather than driving into major cities for services — which is always a plus.”

Pratt wasn’t aware Becker was compiling the list and only found out when she received an email from the hospital’s marketing director congratulating her on the honor.

She said she was surprised, but not shocked, because she has been participating in national forums for many years.

“It started when I applied and was chosen to be candidate for the National Rural Health Association’s Fellow program in 2011,” she said. “That program is designed to develop future rural health leaders. In 2011 I was selected to serve on the Rural Health Issues Group.

“In 2012 I was selected to serve on the AHA’s Small and Rural Governance Council and have been elected to be Chair in 2016 (I’m chair-elect now). Finally, in 2013 I was asked to be on the Rural Health System Analysis and Technical Assistance Advisory Committee. In all these roles, I have the opportunity to interact with the thought-leaders in rural health care and have learned a lot.” 

The result is not only a strong and growing national profile for the CEO of St. James Parish Hospital, but also enhanced standing for the hospital, which is growing to better serve its patients.

It is an exciting time at St. James Parish Hospital.

“We are growing very fast and have many new physicians joining our staff to provide a broader array of services,” Pratt said. “It is challenging to keep doing new things, but we are rewarded when we receive feedback from patients and family about how pleased they were to have their care provided close to home. We have great support from our physicians and community, a combination that will allow us to achieve whatever we set out to do.”

Our community can only thrive if those who live here can be treated here.

With the work of Pratt and the staff at St. James Parish Hospital, those in St. James and beyond are enjoying that benefit.

Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.