green tiled background pattern

Teaming with Ideas

Losing patients and bleeding red ink, Metro City Hospital is on life support. MHA students plan its rescue.

By Jackie Powder

Metro City Hospital is dying a slow death.

Admissions are down, emergency room congestion is up, and the obstetrics department has an average vacancy rate of 70 percent. Medical testing equipment is outdated, marks for patient safety are low, and the hospital has posted seven straight years of losses.

Bottom line: Without major changes, Metro City Hospital (MCH) is on a path to bankruptcy. In an effort to avert financial collapse, the hospital has hired a consulting group to come up with a turnaround strategy.

That’s the scenario put before teams of first-year students in the School’s Master of Health Administration (MHA) Program’s Case Competition in April, an assignment that challenges MHA students to combine academic knowledge with teamwork and persuasive communication skills. The annual competition gives the students—many of whom envision a career in health care consulting—a glimpse of post-graduation challenges. It’s also a warm-up for the first-year MHA students about to start their residencies in health care-related businesses. Split into six “consulting firms” by MHA faculty, the students are charged with devising a strategy to save the fictitious Metro City Hospital. The firms will present their proposals to “MCH executives”—in reality, actual executives from Maryland hospitals who serve as judges.

“If they’re going to be in a consulting job or work for a health services organization, this is the work they’re going to do,” says Ann-Michele Gundlach, EdD, MS, associate director of the MHA Program.

Johns Hopkins Public Health writer Jackie Powder followed one team, 2 Consulting Group—Megan Bowes, Saira Chaudary, Umang Desai and team leader Jennie Newcomb. During the process, group members will pore over MCH financial documents, argue the finer points of logo designs, plot strategy and deliver their final presentation before judges Jay Blackman, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Howard County General Hospital, and Ken Lewis, MD, president and chief executive officer of Union Hospital.

Making the Case: Brainstorm to the Final Pitch

  • April 13: 10 a.m.

    The group settles on a strategy to save Metro City Hospital that includes a renovation and expansion of the emergency room, an interim leadership team and replacing outdated medical equipment.

  • April 14: 11:30 a.m.

    The team ponders how best to illustrate the hospital's financial death spiral. Pie charts, bar graphs, trend lines? "Does this prove our point?" Newcomb asks of a graphic to show declining revenues.

  • April 16: 11:30 a.m.

    Group members review videotapes of their presentations, followed by self-critiques. "Oh my God, I need to stop playing with my hair," says Bowes.

  • April 22: 8 a.m.

    Chaudary and the team try to anticipate the judges' questions. A possibility: What new equipment should we buy? The CyberKnife and da Vinci robot, but market share data must support the purchases.

  • April 23: 8 a.m.

    The morning of the competition, 2 Consulting Group gathers with other contestants for team pictures. Jeans and sweatshirts have been replaced by black power suits. The group focuses on keeping the anxiety at bay.

  • April 23: 9 a.m.

    At a table in The Daily Grind, team members silently read note cards or whisper their part. Someone's iPhone alarm counts down to go time. Says Newcomb: "I'll say a little Hail Mary, and I'll be fine."

  • April 23: 9:25 a.m.

    MHA assistant director Teresa Schwartz greets the team, asks them to make sure their PowerPoint slides are set, and says that she'll give a two-minute warning when it's time to wrap up the 20-minute presentation.

  • April 23: 9:30-9:50 a.m.

    With a few stumbles, the group presents their plan. The judges are positive-"A very thorough analysis"-and offer some constructive criticism: "I do see more of an opportunity for cuts in programs and services."

  • April 23: 1:15 p.m.

    2 Consulting Group learns that they did not get to the competition's final round. Desai is pragmatic: "It's been a good process to synthesize the courses we've taken and apply the lessons to a real-life situation."