February 7, 2022 By Carol Britton Meyer
Hingham resident Dr. Allen L. Smith, MD, MS, President & CEO of South Shore Health, has always been passionate about community-based medicine, so when the opportunity arose 14 months ago to lead the health system into the future, he enthusiastically accepted this new opportunity.
In recent years, South Shore Health -- which owns the 396-bed South Shore Hospital -- has expanded its footprint on the South Shore. The hospital will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Smith began his medical career as a primary care physician at North Shore Medical Center. As the former president of the Brigham & Women's Physicians Organization -- a faculty practice plan for more than 1,800 physicians -- Smith says his role with South Shore Health has brought him "full circle" into the community hospital system.
"South Shore Health is a remarkable place in a great community -- a gem, with so many amazing people [on the staff]," he said.
Acknowledging that he joined South Shore Health during an unprecedented time, Smith also noted that because he has never been the president of a healthcare system before, he hasn't had an opportunity to run one except during a pandemic.
"The services we have provided and continue to provide have had a profound impact. We are the place the entire community comes to for their health and wellness, and we welcome that," he said.
South Shore Health's vision is to "be the first place our community turns to for health and wellness," according to its vision statement.
"I've worked at a lot of health organizations in Massachusetts in various roles, but I've never seen one with such a clear commitment to the community, which it takes very seriously," Smith said.
Because of Smith's connection with Brigham & Women's, he had already worked closely with many of their physicians who have South Shore Health connections.
The mission of South Shore Health is: "Your Health. Our Passion. One Community."
South Shore Health -- the largest independent health system in Southeastern Massachusetts -- is a not-for-profit, charitable health system offering primary, specialty, and hospital care, home health and community care, emergency and urgent care, and preventative and wellness services.
Its values include putting the patient first; acting with courage and compassion as one team; to never stop learning and improving; knowing who its employees are and recognizing them as the best thing about the organization; and that the administrators and other staff love their work.
Stemming the tide
During the pandemic, South Shore Health has been busy trying to "stem the tide" of COVID-19 through the many services it offers. "We've been helping to prevent COVID-19 by administering vaccines, providing testing and advice and information about safety practices, and other services -- particularly during the latest surge," Smith said.
"We're just coming down from a record number of inpatient positive cases, and I think we've done an amazing job," he continued. "A lot of our staff got Omicron, so we were short on employees for a time -- at peak, nine percent of our staff. There was an unprecedented number of people in the hospital at a time when we had fewer employees able to work."
Due to staffing shortages across the state, some services were temporarily curtailed by order of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "We were taking care of some very sick people here, and we needed to be staffed 24/7."
Smith continues to advise people to get vaccinated and to keep on top of their vaccination status. The focus with the current virus, he said, should be on the people "who are really getting sick" rather than on the number of cases.
"The vast majority of Omicron cases are mild, but no one wants to get COVID," he said. Whether through the South Shore Health website, blog, and social media channels, or other ways to share information with the public, one of its many goals is to be a resource for information and to be there for patients and the community "in every way possible," according to Smith.
Health care industry taking a new direction
Smith shared his thoughts about the direction in which today's health care industry is heading. "Health care is moving more and more into ambulatory settings, with less emphasis on the hospital setting, which is good," he said.
Ambulatory care is provided by health care professionals in outpatient settings, including medical offices and clinics, ambulatory surgery centers, hospital outpatient departments, and dialysis centers.
An important aspect of providing health care services, according to Smith, is taking a holistic approach by recognizing that it's not only about patients' physical health and well-being, "A number of other factors also figure in, such as their job status, are they in a stable marriage, do they have housing security, and other considerations, " Smith said. "Primary care doctors have a view of the entire healthcare system -- like a catcher on a baseball field."
"They inherently try to make people as well as possible, not through traditional care only but with an increasing recognition of the need to think beyond traditional treatment to other determinants of health," he explained. "Maybe a patient is worried about being able to afford to feed his or her children, pay the heating bill, or afford health care. When other things aren't going well in people's lives, it has a huge impact on their health -- some effects we know about, and some we don't. We're still learning about the impact of the brain on the body."
'We are part of the community'
Above all, Smith said, "It's important for [us at] South Shore Health to be increasingly thoughtful that we are part of a community."
There will be a South Shore Hospital 100th anniversary celebration later this year, featuring celebrated leaders and colleagues who have done remarkable work.
"This is an opportunity to thank the founders who had the vision to start a superb regional hospital in Weymouth to take care of people so they don't need to go into Boston for everything," Smith said. "We deliver a vast amount of services here."
One of the biggest decisions was made last year when the hospital board decided to remain independent while also considering questions such as "How do we survive and thrive as an independent health system going forward?" according to Smith.
South Shore Hospital made it through the Depression and World War II, he noted. "As hard as COVID has been, those times may have been even harder, and people made it through. Sometimes we think today is the worst, but it was tough for people living in those times, too."
Smith emphasized that these comments "are not to minimize what's happening now, which has been extraordinarily profound, but we all have a tendency to think that the times we're living in are unique and to not reflect on history."
'We care about every patient'
Smith is "incredibly proud of" the entire South Shore Health team and the care they deliver, especially during the pandemic.
"We care about every patient," Smith said. "Are we perfect? No, but every day we try to find ways to do it better -- to learn from the times when we've not been at our best."
When asked what he considers to be the biggest opportunities for South Shore Health in the future, creating a short-stay unit -- as part of hospital operations -- to avoid long wait times in the emergency room is of high priority, along with offering more seamless care when a patient is transitioning from the hospital to a nursing facility, for example.
"Despite how busy we are, there's also an opportunity to continue to grow our inpatient and outpatient surgical volume," Smith said. South Shore Hospital has relationships with Brigham & Women's and Children's Hospital, and a lot of their specialists work at South Shore Hospital, along with community-based physicians. "We offer superb surgical programs here."
Smith earned his Master of Science degree in Health Administrative Medicine and Population Health from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and his Medical Degree at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has a BA from Dartmouth College, graduating magna cum laude.
Gold Seal of Approval awarded
South Shore Health has earned The Joint Commission's Gold Seal of Approval for both Hospital and Home Care Accreditation, which is bestowed to healthcare organizations that demonstrate continuous compliance with healthcare performance standards. This reflects South Shore Health's commitment to providing safe and effective care.
Founded in 1951, The Joint Commission is the nation's oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care.
U.S. News & World Report ranked South Shore Hospital among the state’s top 10 Best Hospitals for the 2021-2022 reporting year. South Shore Hospital is ranked 6th in the Metro Boston area and 8th in Massachusetts, making it the highest-ranked community hospital in the state due to its ongoing high-quality, compassionate care.
In addition, South Shore Hospital was recently verified as a Level II Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons in recognition of its dedication to providing optimal care for injured patients. This is the fourth consecutive verification for the hospital.
'We love Hingham'
In their free time, Smith, his wife Denise DuChainey and their son Ian, are enjoying Hingham's many offerings.
The couple relocated to the South Shore after raising their four children on the North Shore. "It was a big change moving here in 2021, but we love it," he said.
DuChainey lived in Wollaston at one time and attended North Quincy High School, so she already had roots here.
"Hingham is a wonderful town," Smith said. "It's a beautiful community on the water, with fantastic access to many fine restaurants and shops."
Among their favorite spots in town is Bare Cove Park for walking their dogs on the weekends.
"We've found the South Shore, including Hingham, to be a very welcoming place," Smith said.