By Jeff Rowe, Contributing Writer

RANK: #3 (SMALL HOSPITALS)

Even in an age when information technology is everywhere, some organizations still consider the IT department merely a support service. But at Franklin Memorial Hospital, it's clear that the IT department is an integral part of the hospital's mission.

According to CIO Ralph Johnson, nearly half the 18-member staff has a nursing background. Consequently, Johnson knows his IT staff  "certainly understand what the hospital is trying to accomplish, and the non-clinical people definitely benefit from that expertise as well."

In Johnson's eyes, his staff's strongest trait is their ability to collaborate and work together.

"There are no silos," he said. "They all bring their expertise to the table and they don't have boundaries. I think they all celebrate seeing each other be successful."

Celebrating success is key at Franklin Memorial. When the hospital was recently named to the American Hospital Association's "2011 Most Wired Hospital" list, Franklin executives had each member of the IT department sign the announcement, then they framed it and displayed it for all to see.

To Gerald Cayer, Franklin's executive vice president, there is no doubt that the IT deparment is critical to the hospital's mission. Patient safety and the highest quality of care for the people of west central Maine lie at the heart of Franklin's mission, he said, and "those things don't happen without the IT department sitting at the table with our doctors and nurses as we develop our programs, services and budgets."

Johnson echoed the connection between senior management and his staff. "Part of what helps," he said, "is that I report directly to our CEO. As I am part of the senior management structure, our staff recognizes that we have a voice in the strategic setting."

As for what drives his staff, Johnson said, it's the belief that the IT department should never say no to a request from another department. The staff's clinical background helps when it comes to servicing other departments, Johnson said, "because it enables us to say, 'What is the problem you want us to solve?' not simply 'How do you want us to solve it?'"  With an understanding of the clinical goals, the IT staff is often able to devise solutions that had not been previously considered.

Of course, forward-thinking technical solutions require up-to-date technical skills, and Johnson said Franklin's rural setting makes it critical for the hospital to maintain an adequate education budget.

Cayer pointed to a number of projects, including participation in a statewide health information exchange project, that are directly connected to the IT staff's state-of-the art skills.

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