Jason Studley likes to hunt and fish. He’s a physical fitness buff. And he’s been working with his teenage son on completely rebuilding a classic automobile from the 1960s.
The 43-year-old Missouri native doesn’t have much time, though, for hobbies these days.
Besides pursuing a doctorate in health administration that he expects to complete by May, Studley is consumed with learning the ropes as the new CEO at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, coping with challenges that have been compounded by an ongoing pandemic.
Studley just completed his third week on the job. Prior to coming to Greenwood, he had spent most of the past decade as the top executive at hospitals in Virginia, Georgia and Alabama.
Although he now concentrates on recruiting physicians, at one point in his life Studley’s ambition was to be one of them.
Raised in New Franklin, Missouri, a town of 1,200 not far from Columbia, Studley was attending Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, when he took a job as a registration clerk in the emergency room at a teaching hospital in that city. The experience caused him to rethink his career plan.
“The operations side of the hospital industry was more of a draw for me,” he said.
So instead of applying to medical schools, he pursued a master’s degree in health administration at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Almost all of Studley’s past experience as a hospital administrator has been with large groups.
He ran two different hospitals — one in Augusta, Georgia; the other in Greenville, Alabama — for Community Health Systems, one of the largest hospital companies in the nation. Most recently, he served as the president of Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital in South Boston, Virginia, part of a nonprofit system of 12 hospitals.
The advantage of a large hospital group, he said, is it has greater access to funding for capital improvements. The downside is that it is driven by the short-term goal of keeping investors happy rather than being concerned about long-term strategic planning.
By contrast, he said, at a publicly owned, independently operating hospital such as Greenwood Leflore, the stakeholders are the community.
“The old saying (is), ‘If this was your mom in the hospital, how would you want her treated?’ Well, it’s actually true here. The focus really is that — because these are people’s mothers and their parents and their children who come to this hospital, and they’re the same people that you’re going to see on a social basis out in the community. ... And so it’s more of a close connection to the community and wanting to be successful in that.”
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Studley has spent a lot of time meeting and getting to know the leadership team he has inherited and the Greenwood hospital’s medical staff.
Besides their friendliness, he has been impressed by their commitment and devotion to providing quality health care.
“You can just tell the passion that they have for the community and for looking at future development. They really want this hospital to thrive and to be able to expand out in different markets to meet the needs that we have right now,” he said.
There are immediate plans to significantly expand the hospital’s telemedicine services, an initiative that has been spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and the anxiety it has created in patients about close contact with their health providers. Other initiatives being discussed, he said, are to recruit more primary care physicians and to expand cardiology services. The latter would involve acquiring the equipment that would allow the hospital to resume performing heart catheterizations, an imaging procedure used to determine how well the heart is working.
Since the coronavirus arrived in Mississippi in mid-March, the hospital has had a steady stream of patients needing treatment after suffering significant complications from the coronavirus. Sixty-four patients have died there from it, all with underlying health problems — a category that medical researchers say is at high risk of bad outcomes from COVID-19.
Although there has been a new surge of cases around the state, Studley said the hospital has plenty of bed capacity and equipment, such as ventilators, to handle the anticipated caseload. In general, the patients the hospital is seeing now are not as severely ill as those in the early stages of the pandemic.
“What we have noticed is that less of them are going on the vents, ... which is a good sign,” Studley said.
He worries less about the hospital’s ability to handle a virus uptick than he does the reluctance of people, worried about becoming infected, to seek care for non-COVID conditions until they reach a crisis stage.
“I would hate to see too many people end up having to come to the ER because a chronic condition had gone unmanaged for too long,” he said.
Studley is careful not to express himself too forcefully on some of the challenges facing the 208-bed hospital. Thanks to nearly $25 million in coronavirus relief funds, it came closer to breaking even this past fiscal year than it has in some time.
Studley said, however, he did not know enough yet about the financial picture to say whether the hospital would need additional government help beyond the $8.7 million cushion with which it started the current fiscal year on Oct. 1.
He also reserved his opinion about whether the hospital should affiliate with a larger medical institution or even consider selling, as some have suggested in recent years.
“I have not been here long enough to assess that situation,” he said. “However, I’d say from what I have seen at this point, this hospital can operate independently for a long time.”
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Studley is the fourth person to serve as Greenwood Leflore Hospital’s chief executive in the past 2½ years. His most immediate predecessor, Gary Marchand, never intended to serve beyond an interim position. Marchand has agreed to stay on for a few months to help Studley get acclimated.
Part of the transition involves relocating Studley’s family — his wife, Jennifer, and their two children, 16-year-old Bryce and 14-year-old Samantha — from Virginia. That will happen after the first of the year, Studley said.
Jennifer is a stay-at-home mom who handles the home schooling of the two teenagers. She is originally from Gulfport. Her Mississippi connection was one of the factors that made the job in Greenwood so attractive, Jason Studley said.
Studley describes himself as a “rural guy.” He’s hoping to expand his outdoors interests into duck hunting, something he has not done before. He and Bryce have been restoring a 1966 Ford Mustang. The car was originally midnight blue but, at the son’s request, is now fire engine red.
“We took it all the way down to the bare metal and rebuilt it,” Studley said.
He said that Greenwood feels like an ideal fit for his family. He was impressed when he interviewed for the job that the hospital board was looking for someone who wanted to establish roots here.
“It wasn’t so much that they were trying to recruit for another administrator. They were recruiting for somebody that was going to come here and become a part of the community. And the community wanted that. They wanted somebody that was going to come in and embrace the culture and help lead in the right direction for the future.”
Studley said he has been pleased to see everything Greenwood has to offer — the restaurants, the entertainment, the wildlife and a welcoming personality.
“It’s a gem in the Delta, and I’m just really excited for my family to be here and to start getting involved in everything.”
•Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.