Erlanger Medical Group's Sondra McGinnis succeeds through service and efficiency

Sondra McGinnis
Sondra McGinnis

Champions of Health Care

America's complex and technologically driven medical system is as sophisticated, complex and expensive as any in the world. But within that vast system are those who still put the "care" in health care and who we recognize as the winners of this year's Champions of Health Care awards.Edge magazine, in partnership with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, received more than 150 nominations from the public about health care providers, administrators and volunteers who have made health care better in Chattanooga. From among those nominations, a panel of judges comprised of top leaders from the medical society and each of Chattanooga's three major hospital systems - Erlanger Health System, CHI Memorial Hospital, Parkridge Health System -picked the winners that we salute in the following pages.The Champions of Health Care award winners recognize those who have tackled major community health problems, starting programs to tackle obesity and smoking, adding physical therapy training in Chattanooga, and bringing needed medical services to those without health insurance. Others are recognized for new approaches, strong leadership and simple acts of kindness during their lifetimes of achievement and service.In our second year of the awards, we have quickly discovered the rich talent and commitment from those who work every day to keep us healthy.

Sondra McGinnis, who was recently named chief nursing officer of Erlanger Medical Group, is constantly in search of better outcomes for patients while also trying to improve efficiency for her employer.

It has proven to be a potent, one-two combination for McGinnis, who now has management responsibilities for almost 500 employees and holds the prestigious title of Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

"By becoming an ACHE fellow and earning the distinction of board certification from ACHE, Sondra has demonstrated a commitment to excellence in serving patients and the community," Erlanger Health System CEO Kevin M. Spiegel says.

McGinnis, who is perhaps best known publicly for starting a therapeutic horseback riding program for mentally and physically challenged children here in the 1990s, was chosen as this year's Champion of Health Care award winner for Administrative Excellence.

McGinnis' nomination letter concludes, "Her endurance, compassion and care for patients, providers and her peers is evident in everything she does."

Administrative excellence award

Honors a health care administrator whose performance, care and leadership are considered exemplary by patients and peersWinner: Sondra McGinnis, chief nursing officer at ErlangerAccomplishments: Helped start a therapeutic horseback riding program for mentally and physically challenged children in the 1990s, worked to improve patient outcomes from bowel surgeries and led in increasingly more responsible management roles over nursing at Chattanooga’s biggest hospital.

A registered nurse with more than 20 years of management experience, McGinnis has also been the recipient of the Living Legacy Award from her alma mater, the Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

In the early 1990s, working as a case manager at Memorial Hospital, McGinnis and her peers were challenged by then-CEO Clark Taylor to each take a diagnosis and try to improve outcomes. McGinnis chose bowel surgery and was able to get a group of surgeons to agree to a common pathway to care that improved patient outcomes while creating more cost efficiency, the two gold standards of health-care management.

Such successes influenced her return to school, and she eventually earned masters degrees in both health and business administration from Georgia State University, while also juggling responsibilities as a nurse and mother of four children.

"It was hard, but now I'm so glad I did it," McGinnis says.

In the late 1990s, McGinnis took a career detour to open the Chattanooga Therapeutic Riding Center on her family farm in East Brainerd. Meanwhile, she held down part-time health-care jobs that allowed her to work from home.

"If a child loves horses we found we could use it as a motivator," she says, noting that the tactile sensations associated with horse care and riding are especially beneficial for children with mental challenges. For some children, just touching a horse's coat can be therapeutic, McGinnis said.

In the meantime, forming the non-profit Riding Center provided practice in skill sets that would later come in handy when McGinnis returned full time to health care management. She learned to develop a business plan, set goals, direct training and work with a board of directors, she says.

McGinnis served as director of Chattanooga Therapeutic Riding Center until 2004, when it merged with another organization to form the Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center in McDonald, Tennessee.

Later, she got a chance to manage physicians offices and began a climb through the ranks of management that would eventually lead to her current post as chief nursing officer at Erlanger Medical Group.

"Most of the goals I've set for myself, I've been able to accomplish," she says, "from staff RN to managing doctor's practices."

Asked if she misses the direct patient contact nurses enjoy, McGinnis says she still feels connected to the healing arts as a manager.

"I feel like I have a greater impact (on patients) in what I am doing now," she says.

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