FAIRFIELD — In the past 25 years, Margy Walbolt has seen a lot of changes in the health care industry – from technology to philosophy – and as vice president of ambulatory services, she has figured out ways to bring the best of the best home to NorthBay Healthcare.
The nurse-turned-educator-turned-administrator has spent the past 13 years building a strong foundation of 60 doctors who have affiliated with NorthBay, offering everything from primary care to neurosurgery.
Although the Fairfield resident will retire from her post as of May 1, she’s confident that she’s engineered a system that will continue to work smoothly long after she’s gone.
“Every physician we are affiliated with was hand-selected,” she said. “The synergy and camaraderie these doctors have with the administration at NorthBay is very rare.”
At one time Walbolt aspired to be a doctor, but her father – a doctor – talked her out of it.
“At that time, female doctors weren’t very respected, but nurses, oh yes, that was another story,” she said. “All I knew was that I didn’t want to be a teacher. Other than my dad, I came from a family of teachers. My mother kept pushing it. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be, but I knew it wasn’t that.”
So, at the University of Iowa, she switched majors 17 times before deciding on nursing.
“The registrar knew me by name,” she said. “But once I decided, that was it. No regrets, and no looking back.”
Even though she’s not required to have a nursing degree in her current position as an administrator, she has kept up her credential through the years, which requires she earn 30 units of continuing education credits every two years.
“It’s good for me,” she said. “Even though it’s not required, it means that I can speak the same language as the clinicians. I understand their needs. It makes for better relationships.”
It also makes her very popular in the neighborhood when someone has a medical question or concern, she admits with a smile.
Her first job at NorthBay was as an educator – a bit is irony given her educational path. In 1988, with children of her own, she was content with a part-time job as education coordinator. She became the director of medical and surgical nursing in 1991 and also coordinated quality improvement activities for the health care group.
“I loved that working in education, you could meet everybody.” she said. “I couldn’t walk down the hall without someone saying hello and smiling. It was that way from Day 1.”
Her many promotions through the years have a lot to do with her leadership abilities. But the early moves came because she was a solid nurse.
“In the ’70s, you were promoted because you were a competent clinician, not a leader. I wanted to change that. My master’s thesis was on the difference between management and leadership, because it’s a whole different skill set.”
Still, she misses the hands-on opportunities of nursing.
“I went into nursing because of the relationship with patients,” she said. “They are only with us a short time, but they’ve got to be our priority. And that’s true at NorthBay, especially now, when we’re seeing sicker, frailer patients.”
Technology, she said, has been the greatest change agent.
“What we can do with lasers today is amazing,” she said. “And all the diagnostic imaging improvements are impressive. When I started we relied on X-rays, we didn’t have the advanced imaging of today, such as CT scans, or MRIs.”
The impact of the Electronic Health Record has been huge, she said.
“Now we can ensure that doctors have the latest information when they see a patient,” Walbolt said.
In the next two years, Walbolt predicts that NorthBay will provide a “patient-centered medical home.” It’s not a facility, but a concept, in which a team cares for the patient – not just the doctor, or the medical assistant or the nurse – but an entire team.
“We’ve studied best practices around the country, and we’re already trying out best practices at some of our Centers for Primary Care,” she said. “It’s all about wrapping the team of care around the patient.”
Whether she’s enjoying her grandchildren, cruising in Europe or reading through stacks of books she has waiting for her, she’s confident that the patient home will be ready to roll at NorthBay Healthcare, even after she’s gone.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “So I know it will get done.”
Diane Barney is director of public relations for NorthBay Healthcare in Fairfield.