Michael Charlton was recently named CEO of AtlantiCare, a healthcare organization operating across five counties in southern New Jersey and serving a region of 1 million residents. In conversation with Mr. Charlton, we learned more about AtlantiCare’s mission and his philosophy for being a transformational leader in the 21st-century healthcare space.  

Meet AtlantiCare 

With over 100 locations, AtlantiCare has over 100 locations, including two hospitals, 11 urgent care centers, and six federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). AtlantiCare also boasts four health parks, healthcare facility campuses, and amenities grouped in one location. These consist of multi-specialty and mixed-use spaces. For example, the Egg Harbor Township health park has multiple buildings housing its Cancer Care Institute, surgical center, urgent care, medical and corporate offices, and other services.

“We have over 6,500 team members,” Charlton shares, “and nursing makes up over 2,000 of those team members (including LPNs, RNs, and APRNs). We have 600 nurses working in ambulatory, 220 APRNs, 1000+ nurses within the hospital setting, and 150+ working in leadership or other corporate support positions. There are an additional 800+ team members working in nursing support.”

When asked about AtlantiCare’s mission, Charlton states, “Our mission is simple: we always care for our patients with kindness and excellence. Our #1 goal is to make a difference in health and healing, one person at a time.”

A CEO’s Story

Mr. Charlton’s CEO journey is an interesting one. He states, “I assumed the CEO role in June of 2023, with my appointment becoming official a few months later in October. Before my tenure as President & CEO of AtlantiCare, I was a member of the Board of Trustees for 15 years, with 7 of those years serving as Chair.””

Charlton continues, “While healthcare has long been a passion, my career started in the hospitality industry. I founded Icon Hospitality, a successful family of businesses dedicated to superior quality and service.”

(For those readers interested in the intersection of hospitality and healthcare, see our February 2024 article Can Hospitality Cure the Woes of Healthcare?)

Understanding the Night Shift

When Charlton wanted to understand the intricacies and nuances of the night shift, he embarked on a learning process to truly grasp the challenges faced by employees who work those late nights.

“The night shift is a lifestyle for many team members, so it was important to me to experience it in a meaningful way,” Charlton opines. “Night shift comes with a unique set of challenges that are difficult to understand until you see them happening in real-time. It’s critical that these teams achieve the same level of excellence as other shifts, but they don’t always have the same set of resources. I wanted to see how decisions are made in that environment.”

To accomplish his goals, Charlton was on-site for many night shifts with the intent to be present, visible, and supportive. He brought food to the team and observed their workflow, needs, and interactions. Most importantly, Charlton experienced their challenges and obstacles firsthand and in real-time and was thus able to address them in meaningful ways. He still regularly stays connected to the nursing team in this manner, focusing on spending time on hospital units on nights and weekends.

Charlton reflected on the experience by saying, “It was truly an eye-opening experience that is helping to shape the design of our nursing organization.”

Lessons Learned

Charlton left with strong impressions of what happens during the night in AtlantiCare facilities.

“The lessons I learned are universal. Our hospitals run 24/7, and the care patients receive at 1 pm must be the same as the care they receive at 1 am.”

“The night shift should not be any different than any other shift, “Charlton observes. “Appropriate staffing is critical at all times, every day. That means providing the right assets to our nurses, such as housekeeping staff, security, and access to leadership. Resources must be the same regardless of shift. That is best for our team members and our patients.

“I found that the administrative ways in which we ran the night shift were an outdated model. It is distressing that weekends are staffed differently when care is required around the clock. Nursing leadership was being asked to pick up the administrative burden when others went home for the night. We need hospital administration in the building at night to provide support and direction because care doesn’t stop at 5 pm. However, like many hospitals, most of our team was not working nights.”

“We need to ensure we have the right number of team members to care for our patients. I believe that when we take good care of our team members, they can provide their patients the highest level of care.”

Charlton has a clear vision regarding the administrative burden of ensuring that AtlantiCare facilities run well at all hours of the day and night.  He shared, “We must focus on reducing non-productive administrative work placed upon our nursing team. Less time at the computer and more time at the bedside providing the personalized care that called so many to this field.”

As CEO, Charlton drafted plans for solutions.

“I immediately started working on a new model of what our hospital schedule should look like. At the time of this writing, we are now 90 days away from implementation. The initial stages will be administrators placed in the hospitals on nights and weekends to support the nursing team. We will be appropriately staffed across all services needed to operate effectively and efficiently.”

Charlton adds, “Clinical quality and care are always our priority. We serve a large population, many of whom are the most vulnerable in the community. Because of this, we must put our mission ahead of anything else. We have finite resources, so we make sure the allocation of resources is a collaborative effort to meet all needs. When fiscal responsibility is framed within the context of mission and something to take on as a team, you set yourself up for success.”

Embracing Appropriate Technology

“The administrative burden placed on the healthcare industry is especially felt by nursing, and the right technology can help,” says Mr. Charlton. “At AtlantiCare, we are exploring solutions like virtual nursing, which helps balance workload by streamlining tasks such as admissions, patient education, observation, and discharge.”

“We are also building our Command Center to up-end the model of care and allow us to reach out to our patients when we know they need care – even if they don’t know it yet. This is the gold standard for personalized, proactive, preventative medicine that builds long-term, trusting relationships, which our patients and our team want.”

But is technology always the right fix?  

“Not all problems are solved through technology,” Charlton observes. “We have also taken a hard look at the span of control for our nurse managers to give them more administration and clinical support so they can be present with their teams.” 

Finding Balance

Charlton clearly views how AtlantiCare approaches this crucial issue regarding staff work-life balance.

“I prefer to talk about work-life harmony, not just work-life balance. We have five generations working right now, and they each have different wants, needs, and desires. It’s important to understand our team as individuals whose work at AtlantiCare lends itself to the richness of their lives. Different individuals have different needs and priorities. We want to provide each team member with the tools they need to create the best balance or harmony for them.”

How can healthcare organizations and facilities recognize events like Nurses Week in a manner that goes beyond the usual tropes of tote bags, water bottles, pizza parties, and “heroes work here” banners? 

Beyond Nurses Week

When asked about how healthcare organizations can move beyond the superficialities of Nurses Week, which is usually celebrated with pizza parties and free travel mugs, Charlton is clear in his response.

“My leadership philosophy is “Be visible. Be kind.”  A week of recognition is great, but our leaders must be consistently present, supportive, and working with our nursing staff 52 weeks a year. True recognition, in my view, comes from meaningful interactions and acknowledgment of the hard work our nurses put in day in and day out.”

“We also make it a point to provide personalized recognition throughout the year,” he adds. “Our participation in the DAISY Awards is an excellent example of how we celebrate individual contributions. As a team, we all take pride in our national recognition as 5x Magnet, a distinction only achieved by 1% of US hospitals. This achievement speaks volumes about our nursing team and their focus on excellence.

“Nurses Week is certainly important, but to me, it’s more important to focus on creating a culture where our nursing team feels appreciated and recognized for their hard work and dedication all year long.”

The post Meet the CEO That Stayed Up All Night first appeared on Daily Nurse.


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