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HIStalk Interviews Jim Stalder, SVP/CIO, Mercy Health Services

December 19, 2007 Interviews 2 Comments

Photo: Zenoss

A reader suggested I interview Jim Stalder, CIO of Mercy Health Services, Baltimore, MD.  I like interviewing CIOs because it’s a great way to find out what’s really happening in hospitals out there. Jim’s got a lot of technology interests, so some of our chat involves tools, which I think is interesting (he even provided links so I wouldn’t have to look them up). Anyway, thanks to Jim for spending time with HIStalk. I enjoyed it.

Tell me about your background and about your job.

I’ve been the CIO at Mercy Health Services for the past five years. I consider myself a midwesterner, even though I live outside of Annapolis right now. I was born and raised in Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois. I went to Duke University and majored in electrical engineering.

I’ve always been interested in computers. I started tinkering with Apple II+ computers when I was a kid and got interested in electronic bulletin board services like FidoNet World back then and never really looked back. After Duke, I found myself at Anderson Consulting, or Accenture now. I was there for a number of years, doing a lot of large-scale database design and development work for telecom clients. Like a lot of the Anderson folks, there’s only so many 24 hour, seven days a week workdays that you can tolerate. The burnout rate is pretty high, so I looked for something different.

A buddy of mine had left Anderson and went over to a company called Digex, which was an up-and-coming web hosting and early ASP business that had some venture funding. I jumped ship completely from the large, 100,000+ person organization to the small Internet startup. I did that for a couple of years. Went through the fundraising aspect of things; went through an IPO; went though a couple of subsequent sales to some telecom firms; and ended up at a similar company called USinterNetworking, which one of the first true application service providers. We managed people’s salesforce automation tools and procurement tools, HR systems, and our data center in Annapolis and on the west coast. The subscription revenue based model. We didn’t produce our own software, but we hosted other people’s software and managed the systems for our clients. Did the same rocket ride there: fundraising, IPO, went through a bankruptcy …

That’s kind of the whole era in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Yes. That whole dot-com ride, I was right in the middle of, so it was a fun, interesting time. But then, after the bankruptcy, it was time for something different. I wanted to really get on the user side of things. I’d been a provider of technology for essentially my whole career, until about 5½ years ago. I really wanted to take what I knew about technology and how it could be provided and get on the other side and be a buyer and a user of it.

So it was kind of the right time, right place to get a job at Mercy, even though I had zero healthcare experience. The only time I had set foot in a hospital was when my children were born. I have three kids. Other than that, I came in cold turkey. It’s been an interesting ride for the last five years here at Mercy.

Tell me about your responsibilities there.

Mercy is a diverse organization, an independent, non-profit healthcare provider. We’re in Baltimore and we have a traditional community hospital downtown. We also have a long-term care facility named Stella Maris that’s about 30 miles north of the city. We have probably about 35 physician practices in and around Baltimore. I sometimes say we’ve got one of everything. We’ve got a hospital, physician practices, and long-term care. So here at Mercy, the IT function is pretty much consolidated into the shop here. We provide network, telecom, and application services to those three different entities.

What surprised you about healthcare when you came in as a CIO from the outside?

I think what was surprising about it initially was the complexity. Clearly the complexity in healthcare is unlike any other organization, as I’ve come to realize. In fact, someone asked me the other day what was my learning curve coming here to Mercy. I said, “It’s been about 5½ years and I’m still learning every day.” It’s a ridiculously complex environment.

So that was the biggest surprise. I really underestimated the diversity of applications, the diversity of functions of the various departments. I’ve come to appreciate the uniqueness that everyone requires to do their job in each of the different areas here. One of the things that surprised me was the state of the applications as a whole. The software vendors as a industry in healthcare, I think, traditionally are a few years behind that of other areas. They’ve rapidly been catching up, but when I came on board five years ago, Web-based apps were nowhere to be found, where it was fully becoming the standard elsewhere.

What talents did you have to develop to become an effective CIO and how did you go about doing that?

When I was at Digex and USinternetworking, my roles were product management, strategic development, some business development, and some M&A activities. I’d always had a technology background and a technology bent to what I was working on. So the aspect of trying to come in and understand what was unique about the technology here was relatively straightforward, but a lot of the culture and the dynamics of how different groups interact was definitely one of the more challenging things I had to learn.

Anderson was huge, but you really worked on a project basis, so there might be a couple of hundred people on a project. Digex and USI were at the early stages, just a few people, but they peaked at maybe 1,000 employees or, in one case, 1,500. Coming in to Mercy was a whole different dynamic. We’ve got 3,500 employees all performing significantly different functions, so getting up to speed with what everyone was doing was definitely one of the more challenging aspect of things.

You’re a Meditech customer. A lot of CIOs seem to enjoy the complexity of running, not only complex healthcare applications, but ones that are best of breed, because that usually means you get a bigger budget and bigger staff. Are you happy where the organization is with Meditech?

Well, in general, yeah. We’ve been a Meditech Magic user for coming on 13 years now, I believe. Meditech is a very stable, reliable application for us. I say it’s the jack of all trades, master of none. Actually it’s the master of some, but it doesn’t do everything that we want do from an end-user perspective. Our users often try to look for something different.

We’ve got this hybrid model going on here now where Meditech is still our core, but we’ve got a lot of bolt-on applications around it. For labor and delivery, we’re using GE’s Centricity product that we’ve bolted on and interfaced onto Meditech. We’ve just chosen Picis for a new perioperative system that we’re beginning the implementation of. We’ve got Allscripts for an ambulatory EMR system that we’re rolling out and we’ll interface some components, probably lab and radiology results, back into Meditech. That rollout has been going particularly well.

When you came into healthcare, you said there were things that surprised you. I would think looking at an application using healthcare-focused technologies like Cache’ and MUMPS and sold by a privately held company, you might think, “‘What the heck? Somebody explain this to me.”

When I came into the organization, the changes that were being made weren’t widely advertised. So, my first day was being introduced to the rest of the IT team. As a result, I also got introduced to some of the applications. One of the guys sat me down in front of Meditech which, as you know, Magic was a character-based application, similar to a VT-100 mainframe app. I remember thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ because where I had come from, I was used to the newer, Web-based applications, whether we were hosting them for clients or whether we were implementing them for clients. Everything was about the Internet or Web-based. And fat client was some of the things we’d done, but certainly not day-to-day. So, I felt like I was thrown back in time for a little bit. That was quite surprising. The other surprising thing was that the IT offices were, as they are traditionally are in hospitals as I’ve since come to learn, in the basement next to the morgue.

So I’m thinking to myself, “What am I doing?”’, but it all quickly came that I learned to really enjoy it. These past five years have been the most fulfilling, career-wise, than any other previous roles that I’ve had.

You mentioned your Allscripts ambulatory EMR. What kind advice would you give to others who were undertaking that sort of project? 

Mercy is a little unique, I think, compared to some other organizations. Mercy employs a large number of our physicians, and so our rollout model has really been to our employed physician base. Frankly, it makes things a little bit easier. They’re all part of the same Mercy family and they’re already greatly interested in sharing information with each other, so Allscripts makes it all that bit easier for folks.

But the advice I have for the ambulatory side is, what we’ve done is basically gone practice-by-practice, versus the big bang approach. We’ve probably got about 25-30 practices under our belt, and probably have about 10-15 more to go before we consider ourselves complete for our employed physician base. What we’ve really done is put folks on-site in the practice for the first two weeks of the rollout to do some hand-holding with the staff, do some hand-holding with the physicians, and get then comfortable and have someone right there, immediately available for questions. Sometimes some of our staff may even actually go into the exam room with the physician to help answer questions and consulting, getting things done.

So that phased-in rollout, that’s been very smooth for us. We’ve spent a lot of time training the staff in the traditional training environment. We do so with the physicians when we can, but obviously that’s a little more challenging. But the nice thing about Allscripts in particular is that most of our users have found it to be very intuitive. I’ve been very impressed with them. Its one of the more intuitive applications from a healthcare standpoint that I’ve come across.

Are you on Touchworks?

Yes. Version 10, and right now, in the process of converting to Version 11.

You’ve done some work with application virtualization.

We’re past the experiment stage, but we’re still doing some trials with it. We’ve got a few folks on our team here who have used Altiris in the past. Altiris was recently purchased by Symantec. It’s fantastic. We use it for our trouble ticketing system, for our application distribution system, our PC and server imaging. We’ve got our whole biomedical medical preventative maintenance ticketing system in there, so our clinical engineers get alerts when preventative maintenances for equipment are up and coming and they use that to document what they’ve one.

One of the nice features about Altiris is that it has a software virtualization piece. There’s a lot of talk about server virtualization with things like the VMware, which another thing that we’re doing, but this client-side virtualization is particularly interesting. So, we can run applications that may have conflicts with another application, but on the same PC, in this virtualized layer.

A couple of our applications at our long-term care facility don’t play nicely with another app on the PC, and so what we’ve been able to do is virtualize it isolate this application to run in its own memory space and avoid conflicts with the other tools. It’s as simple as clicking on an icon to launch it and then, when you’re done, it disappears from memory and the PC goes on with its normal activities and its previous configuration and the other app that conflicted with that other app can run with no problem. So, one example is, just as a test, we’ve been able to run Office 2003, Office XP, and Office 2007, as an example, all on the same PC and all at the same time. That’s the power of this thing.

You license this by the desktop and basically you just install it? There’s  not a lot of configuration that has to be done?

You can download the Altiris software. I think I have this correct – individuals who want to experiment with it for their own personal use, all the tools are up on the Altiris Web site that you can  download for free and trial it. Basically, what you do is you get your machine set up in the pristine state that you want it to be, and then you run a tool that looks at how the application that you want to virtualize installs itself. It remembers all the registry changes, all the files that are installed, and creates a separate executable, a separate layer that you can turn on and off with a very small client that runs on your desktop.

Sounds pretty cool.

It’s pretty straightforward to use and it’s pretty powerful. It doesn’t work with everything, but we’ve been able to work with a lot of different applications.

What we hope to able to do is create an application self-service environment. So, ignoring licensing issues for a minute, if a person needed Microsoft Visio today, they have to call the help desk, log a ticket, and then one of the technicians will push out, through Altiris, a Visio package that we’ve done and install itself on the person’s desktop and they’re good to go. That works pretty well, but, in an ideal world, the user will be able to go to a self-service software portal and install the layer that runs Visio and really end up not installing anything on the PC. Essentially, they just download this layer and, when they need it, they activate it; and when they’re done, it turns itself off.

And so, you can imagine from an IT standpoint, we’d no longer have to deal with software installation issues. We’re really dealing with flipping a layer on and off and keeping the desktop pretty static. We’re not there yet, but that’s where we hope to get. And the nice thing is that, then let’s say somebody’s PC blows up. All we really have to do is get them a new PC with a base image on it and there’s no additional installation of software required, in theory. They can really just have these application layers on that client and turn them on and turn them off as they need them. The whole process of installing all the software is gone. We’re not going to get there for a while, but for some key application that people need quick access to, this is a fast, easy way to get it done.

Tell me what kind of IT issues you’re seeing or what kind of successes you’ve had in general.

We’ve been doing a lot over the past six months to revamp our governance process. Like everybody else, we’ve got too much going on. We’ve got a lot of demand for new applications and luckily Mercy has been, financially, doing quite well to be able to afford those applications. But as a result, there’s obviously only so much talent, time and expertise for that. The team has to get all these things done. Juggling the priorities has been a big challenge for us.

About six months ago, we bought a product that then was called E-Project, but now is called Daptive. It’s part project management and it’s part portfolio management for projects. We chose one that will do both because we’ve got some of our project managers who are really deep in Microsoft Project and use that extensively, but we wanted to keep that compatibility and we wanted to have a way to keep track of projects at a detail level.

We didn’t have a great way of doing things at the portfolio level, so we wanted some tools that we could expose to our executive sponsors to say, “Here are the ten things that we’re working on now for you, and there’s the twenty things we’ve got queued up. They’re on your wish list.” We spent a lot of time the past few months getting all of our projects and all the attributes about these projects, whether they’re ongoing, or ones that are funded but not started yet, or ones that are wish list items and someday may be items that we’ll do in to this application, now we’ve got about probably 500 different projects in there, 75 or 80 that are going on right now; and the other ones on hold or on the wish list queue, depending on funding.

We hope to get all this stuff and the rest of the attributes about these products cleaned up, and then in the New Year, begin to expose this Web-based portal out to all these executive sponsors and use that as a vehicle to better communicate with them, “Here’s what we know that you want. Here’s what we’ve got teed up and that we’ve all agreed to as the timeframes for project XYZ. Let’s make sure we communicate with each other about. Is this data accurate? Does it meet your expectations? Or is there something else that you though you wanted to do or have that’s not on this list?”

What are the most important projects?

Clearly the ambulatory EMR project with Allscripts is a big one. It’s one of our corporate priorities. Our perioperative system with Picis will be a two-year project, certainly in earnest over the next year. We’re in the process of finishing up an electronic medication administration point-of-care system with CareFusion, purchased by Cardinal recently. That’s where our nurses are at the bedside, barcoding the unit dose medication, barcoding the patient’s wristband, making sure it’s the right med and the right time. That’s in the process of finishing up. That’s been a very important patient safety initiative we undertook about a year ago.

What’s the department’s staffing and budget?

We’re about 75 people, just over 2% of our operating revenues go to IT. From the networking side, we’ve got the network team that’s also responsible for data center and telecom. We’ve got a help desk, a traditional service center. We’ve obviously got folks managing our data centre and our servers. They’re our engineering team.

Clinical engineering is part of IT here at Mercy. We integrated those guys probably about 2½ years ago. We found that IT was involved in all the bio-med projects and vice versa. Essentially, all the clinical equipment is coming out on the network now.

We’ve got a small project management office of about six folks. Now I say small, but it’s kind of funny. I was in a meeting with several other CIOs  from various hospitals in Maryland and I mentioned that fact, and I think people were very curious how I was able to get six project managers approved. I can’t imagine not having a team of dedicated PMs that can go out and herd the cats for all the complex projects we’ve got going on. And then, of course, we’ve got a team that’s the traditional business systems analysts and clinical analysts.

A big help for IT and how we relate with the clinical folks, is we actually have four nurses on the team who are part of the clinical analyst team. They’re nurses with a deep technology twist to them, and they able to not only talk technology with the rest of the team and with the vendors, but they’re able to talk to the clinical staff quite well.

If you look at the concerns you have, either for your department specifically or for the hospital, if you’re looking out, say, three years, what worries you the most?

A couple of things. One, we’re in the process of building a new patient tower, so we have an 18-story building today, it’s about fifty years old, that’s pretty much at its end of life. We just broke ground a couple of months ago on a new facility just one block to the north. So, trying to figure out how to plan and budget for 2-3 years in advance for all the technology they want to put in place in this new tower is challenging. Everybody’s got a different idea of what they want to have done. We’re not fork-lifting all the operations from the current tower to the new one. We’re going to have some clinical functions on both towers. And as a result, its going to be hard to revamp all the processes, but clearly some process re-engineering is going to be part of this move and trying to layer in some new technologies that people want to implement as part of this move are certainly things we think about quite a bit.

While we have Meditech as our core, the fact that we have added on these other systems is certainly challenging. Obviously as we add more disparate applications into the environment, how we manage those, how we attach them, how we support them, how we interface them, how vendors get access to them, how we monitor them – that just gets more and more complex. Best-of-breed is a great approach for folks who have mastered change management as an organization, but we’re not 100% there yet. So, I think if we continue to go down this best-of-breed approach, we have to get a lot better internally at managing the change that comes with all the different applications.

I saw that you’re an advisor for an open source software company. What areas within healthcare IT will be influenced by open source how long will it take?

That’s a good question. The open source software company you referred to is Zenoss. We use Zenoss for our enterprise systems management here. All of our servers and our network equipment is managed through Zenoss in a nice common dashboard front-end. Wey hope they extend that to a lot of our bio-med equipment and other areas over time.

I think open source has applicability in most areas of healthcare. Some people think of open source as, “Hey great. I’ve got the source code, I can make any modification I want to it” and other people think open source is, “Just another piece of software out there that I can hire somebody else out there to support and manage for me”. So I don’t really look at open source as fundamentally different than most of the other software that is out there. It really just depends on how deep your shop is at being able to customize the environment, customize that particular application.

We don’t have a lot of developers here at Mercy. We’re more integrating off-the-shelf stuff, but I think if there was some open source software application that could meet our needs in a particular area, we’d be certainly ready, willing and able to take a look at that. Support of that open source app, we’d have to figure out, do we hire a third party to do it, or do we staff up internally and train folks on how to do it.

You’re one of few CIOs who has a Facebook page, so I know you like cool applications. What kind of stuff have you run across that my readers should check out?

Grand Central is a great tool that I’m slowly rolling out as my main number. Once you get into the details of Grand Central, its really amazing – all the customization you can do. Most people, in this day and age, will have a home phone, a cell phone, an office phone, and sometimes a pager. You can do some interesting things with Grand Central. For instance, if I’m going on vacation somewhere, the primary way people will get a hold of me is to my cell phone, but I may have coverage problems or I may not have it with me. So with Grand Central, in about 10 seconds, I can say, any calls coming into my Grand Central number forward to the vacation house’s number. Now that phone will ring anytime someone calls me. That’s just one of many tools you can leverage Grand Central for, so it’s a great way to let people to get a hold of you when they need to.

Another tool I don’t know what I would do without is Jott. Basically, I’ve got it speed dialed on my cell phone, so when I’m driving home at night and have an idea or a thought or something I want to track … in the previous days on my Treo, I’d sit there while I’m driving and try to type in on my notes page my thought, or something might call their voice mail and leave themselves a voice mail message. With Jott, you call up a number and it recognizes your caller ID from your cell phone, so it goes to your account, and you leave yourself a message; it gets transcribed, essentially in real time, and sent back to you in the form of an e-mail. So when I get back to my desk, I’ve got my thought, my note sitting there waiting for me. I’m a great fan of David Alllen and the GTD methodology, if you’re familiar with that. One of the things about getting things done is that you need to get things off your mind, off your conscience, get it down where you know you’re going to look. So Jott drops it right in my e-mail, which is something I’m in every day, and allows me to keep myself organized.

The other big thing I don’t know what I would do without is Mind Manager from Mindjet. It’s a mind-mapping tool. So, I use that for basically everything. Outlining any kind of documentation that I’m working on or strategic planning or meetings I’m going to have with folks all get outlined in there. Also, on top of Mindjet’s Mind Manager is a tool from a company called Gyronix called Results Manager that sits on top of Mind Manager and allows you manage your to-do list, for lack of a better term. So I might have 20 or 30 different maps of all these different ideas of all these things that I want to do, whether its personal or work-related. Results Manager will comb through them all and present them to me through a simple dashboard all those things that I’ve told myself that are a priority or important that I want to get done. Mind Manager helps keep me organized, and then Results Manager really helps me get the things accomplished that I want to get done. Frankly, I used to just use Microsoft Outlook tasks for everything, but there’s only so far that takes you, because you really can’t nest things and do hierarchies. You have to have one level of items and maybe apply different categories and notes, but if you really want to organize things and move them around and reposition them, Mind Manager’s the way to go.

What kind of hobbies interest you when you’re not at work?

My wife says I’m on the computer all the time when I’m at home, which is probably true. I’ve got three kids, all in elementary school, so I help out coaching their sports teams. They’re playing basketball right, now so that’s definitely an interest. It’s more than a hobby, but something that takes a large part of my time. I used to be wannabe chef. I considered actually going to cooking school for a long time and changing careers, but IT was much more interesting to me. I don’t cook or bake as much as I used to, but I still enjoy doing it when I find the time.

I’m a big fan of music. I’ve got music playing all the time. Whether it’s at work or at home. I’m a big fan of Rhapsody, which allows me to, for one price, play an unlimited set of music, look at different styles and different artists, and pick up some new tunes. You had a post where you were talking about Love, so I listen to them. I’d not heard them before and I was like, “Wow. This is fantastic.” So, that’s a band I’m listening to now. I really enjoy the ’80s tunes for the most part. I’ve been a big fan of collecting a lot of obscure acoustic eighties music. If you need any acoustic Duran Duran or Def Leppard, I’m your guy. [laughs]

Interesting Information from Jim

Department staffing

Business/Clinical Analysts (20)
Project Management (7)
Clinical Engineering (9)
Server Engineering (8)
Logistics (4)
Service Center (17)
Telecom/Data (5)
Information Architecture (3)
Process Manager (1)
No outsourcing of any function currently.

Average tenure is 6.7 years. Half of the team has a healthcare background.

Other Projects Requiring IT Involvement

Security:  IP enabled video cameras are the new standard at Mercy. Obviously, now another device on the network that requires management and storage (a lot of storage!) Check out www.vidsys.com for an interesting vendor merging IT and security.

Point of Care Testing:  More and more POC devices are network enabled (wired and wireless). These devices need to managed, patched, secured, and replaced (frequently).

Wayfinding/Signage: Signage is moving digital. Check out http://www.cisco.com/web/solutions/dms/index.html for some interesting tools we are starting to look at as we consider signage and wayfinding for our new patient tower. Cisco’s DMS is a network-based, set-top box solution with centralized content management.

Patient Entertainment: We haven’t pursued this yet, but will probably be looking to implement hotel-like amenities in our new patient room. Movies on demand, Internet access, meal selections online, etc. are all coming to a hospital near you.

Smart Beds: The day is coming (has come for some) where even the patient bed is a device on the network. I can see a Patient Command Center running Zenoss, where bed rail up/down status, 30 degree bed elevation in the ICU status, patient location, late medication alert, etc. all monitored via a central control center. We use Zenoss for server and systems monitoring today, but why not extend it to patient centric functions – particularly since it is an open source product!

Links to tools Jim mentioned

Grand Central
Mind Manager

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Great interview! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your shop’s projects. It is always interesting to hear what others are doing, the challenges and the successes. Very cool vision for Zenoss. I played with it a bit but never would have envisioned it as a tool for patient care.

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