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Hospitals: Submit for your application for the IFD's Equity of Care Award by March 15

By | March 10 th,  2017 | American Hospital Association, Equity of Care Award, Institute for Diversity, Blog | Add A Comment

ifd-logo

 

 

Our friends at the Institute for Diversity in Health Management (part of the American Hospital Association) are still accepting applications for the 2017 Equity of Care Award, but time is running out. The deadline is March 15.

 

This prestigious award is presented annually to hospitals and health systems that demonstrate a level of success in reducing health care disparities, ensuring access to equitable care and advancing diversity and inclusion practices. The award will be presented at this year's American Hospital Association-Health Forum Leadership Summit, July 27-29, 2017.

 

To apply: Please click here to access the online application. In addition to completing the application, you may also submit supplemental materials that further demonstrate your work in health equity. Documents such as dashboards, score cards, reports, etc. can be emailed to equityofcare@aha.org after you have submitted your online application.

 

If you choose to email supplements, please type '2017 EOC Award Submission' in the subject line. It is important to know that only those submissions using the online application will be accepted for review.

 

Submission deadline: Please submit the online application and optional supplements by 11:45 p.m. CT on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.

 

For more information on the process and the award, please contact Sharon Allen at sallen@aha.org or 312-422-3722.

 

 

2016 Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare--Gene Woods: The best leaders reinvent their organizations, and themselves

By | December 16 th,  2016 | American Hospital Association, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, ACHE, governance, healthcare disparities, Modern Healthcare, Blog, Carolinas HealthCare System, CEO, Christus Health, diversity, Equity of Care Committee, Ernie Sadau, Eugene Woods, Gene Woods, leadership, National Call to Action, safety, quality | Add A Comment

 

Classic content: One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare for 2016.

 

It’s the little things that tell you a lot about people.

 

After CHRISTUS Health nominated Eugene “Gene” Woods, its chief operating officer, for Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare awards, the respected executive took a position as president and CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System. But when Woods was presented the award at a Chicago banquet six months later, two tables of CHRISTUS people, including President and CEO Ernie W. Sadau, flew in to show their appreciation to Woods. It was a classy move that revealed volumes about the character of both CHRISTUS and Woods.

 

“CHRISTUS Health was honored to support Gene’s acceptance of this award for the same reason we nominated him—because we firmly believe that his time at CHRISTUS had a positive impact on our ministry,” Sadau says. “Our relationship was truly a symbiotic one, and we wanted to honor that and cheer Gene on to his future endeavors.”

 

Woods helped lead CHRISTUS’ international expansion, expanding in Mexico, and establishing flagships in Chile and Colombia, where he was able to use his Spanish fluency (his mother is from Spain) to communicate with the teams there.

 

“I really enjoyed working with Ernie, the sisters and the whole CHRISTUS team,” Woods says. “We were able to diversify the organization and reposition CHRISTUS internationally. But I’ve always had the goal of serving as the CEO for a large nationally recognized organization committed to being a model for redefining healthcare in the next decade. And that is why I am so excited to be leading Carolinas HealthCare System. It has the depth and breadth of capabilities to chart a new course.”

 

Carolinas is not a turnaround situation. It’s a historically successful healthcare provider and the second largest public healthcare system in the nation, serving patients through nearly 12 million encounters each year. But, during his interview, Woods says board chair Ed Brown quoted the famous adage that, “What got us here won’t necessarily get us there.”

 

Woods says his opportunity is to inspire his Carolinas team “to set a bold agenda for change that outpaces the industry and brings true value to individuals and communities.” In so doing, he says, he’ll be following in a tradition of innovation at the system.

 

“What I appreciate about Carolinas is that there have been a number of pivotal crossroads in our history where leaders could have tried to hold onto the past. Instead, they took the risk of reinventing the organization, and that’s really the reason it’s been so successful.”

 

Success in leadership has been a staple of Woods’ storied career, from serving as president of the ACHE club at Penn State University, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, to his positions with the American Hospital Association, where his term as chair begins in 2017 and where he also serves as chair of the Equity of Care Committee.

 

But his interest in healthcare actually stems from two childhood incidents that showed him both the promise and the challenge of the healthcare industry.

 

When he was 10 years old, he was with his mother, sister, aunt and uncle in a car that slammed into a brick wall at a high rate of speed.

 

“Miraculously, we all survived,” he says. “I don’t remember the impact. I just remember that, as soon as the accident happened, it seemed like everybody was instantly there to care for us. It was just an amazing moment.”

 

A later encounter with medical care ended tragically.

 

“One of my aunts died in a hospital of a medication error. She had three young children,” Woods remembers. “It was something that could have and should have been avoided. To this day, I think about what life could have been like for her kids if that didn’t happen to my Aunt Carmen.”

 

Thus, patient safety has been a key priority for Woods throughout his career—in fact, his first management job in a hospital was as a director of quality. He recognizes the industry still has a long way to go on that front but says the latest AHA statistics show the trends moving in the right direction. Between 2010 and 2014, the AHA says hospital-acquired conditions decreased by 17 percent, saving 87,000 lives and $20 billion in healthcare costs.

 

“The goal is to reach zero harm, and I believe the field is on the right track in that regard,” he says.

 

While he also believes much progress is being made in diversifying senior leadership in healthcare, he’s very firm on how that needs to become a bigger priority at the board level.

 

“Our boards do not reflect the communities we serve,” he says flatly. “One of the biggest levers in diversifying an organization is when the board declares that it’s a priority. That was done at CHRISTUS and again here at Carolinas. I think it is an obligation of governance.”

 

What gives him optimism is the work of the AHA Equity of Care Committee, where it’s been demonstrated how diversity leads to improving healthcare disparities. In fact, more than 1,000 health systems recently signed the AHA’s National Call to Action pledge to eliminate disparities. Woods says the goal this year is to have 2,000 systems sign the pledge.

 

“That pledge includes improving collection of race, ethnicity and language preference data so, as we’re studying disparities in care, we have the right data set to use for that,” he says. “The pledge also includes increasing cultural competency training and increasing diversity in governance and leadership. You can’t solve for population health issues without solving for the disparities in care that exist and, in some cases, very dramatic disparities.”

 

After many years as a leading voice in healthcare, Woods remains bullish on where the industry is headed. In a recent talk to students at his alma mater, he told them the opportunities are brighter than at any time in recent memory.

 

“It’s an exciting time to be in healthcare because, in some respects, we’re all learning together,” he says. “Young people have an opportunity to bring an innovative spirit to their careers. But we can never forget that it’s about patients and communities. If you’re in it for those reasons, you’ll be successful.”

 

 

Gene Woods' influential leadership poised to enhance Carolinas HealthCare System

By | July 27 th,  2016 | American Hospital Association, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, ACHE, governance, healthcare disparities, Modern Healthcare, Blog, Carolinas HealthCare System, CEO, Christus Health, diversity, Equity of Care Committee, Ernie Sadau, Eugene Woods, Gene Woods, leadership, National Call to Action, safety, quality | 1 Comments

 

One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare for 2016.

 

It’s the little things that tell you a lot about people.

 

After CHRISTUS Health nominated Eugene “Gene” Woods, its chief operating officer, for Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare awards, the respected executive took a position as president and CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System. But when Woods was presented the award at a Chicago banquet six months later, two tables of CHRISTUS people, including President and CEO Ernie W. Sadau, flew in to show their appreciation to Woods. It was a classy move that revealed volumes about the character of both CHRISTUS and Woods.

 

“CHRISTUS Health was honored to support Gene’s acceptance of this award for the same reason we nominated him—because we firmly believe that his time at CHRISTUS had a positive impact on our ministry,” Sadau says. “Our relationship was truly a symbiotic one, and we wanted to honor that and cheer Gene on to his future endeavors.”

 

Woods helped lead CHRISTUS’ international expansion, expanding in Mexico, and establishing flagships in Chile and Colombia, where he was able to use his Spanish fluency (his mother is from Spain) to communicate with the teams there.

 

“I really enjoyed working with Ernie, the sisters and the whole CHRISTUS team,” Woods says. “We were able to diversify the organization and reposition CHRISTUS internationally. But I’ve always had the goal of serving as the CEO for a large nationally recognized organization committed to being a model for redefining healthcare in the next decade. And that is why I am so excited to be leading Carolinas HealthCare System. It has the depth and breadth of capabilities to chart a new course.”

 

Carolinas is not a turnaround situation. It’s a historically successful healthcare provider and the second largest public healthcare system in the nation, serving patients through nearly 12 million encounters each year. But, during his interview, Woods says board chair Ed Brown quoted the famous adage that, “What got us here won’t necessarily get us there.”

 

Woods says his opportunity is to inspire his Carolinas team “to set a bold agenda for change that outpaces the industry and brings true value to individuals and communities.” In so doing, he says, he’ll be following in a tradition of innovation at the system.

 

“What I appreciate about Carolinas is that there have been a number of pivotal crossroads in our history where leaders could have tried to hold onto the past. Instead, they took the risk of reinventing the organization, and that’s really the reason it’s been so successful.”

 

Success in leadership has been a staple of Woods’ storied career, from serving as president of the ACHE club at Penn State University, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, to his positions with the American Hospital Association, where his term as chair begins in 2017 and where he also serves as chair of the Equity of Care Committee.

 

But his interest in healthcare actually stems from two childhood incidents that showed him both the promise and the challenge of the healthcare industry.

 

When he was 10 years old, he was with his mother, sister, aunt and uncle in a car that slammed into a brick wall at a high rate of speed.

 

“Miraculously, we all survived,” he says. “I don’t remember the impact. I just remember that, as soon as the accident happened, it seemed like everybody was instantly there to care for us. It was just an amazing moment.”

 

A later encounter with medical care ended tragically.

 

“One of my aunts died in a hospital of a medication error. She had three young children,” Woods remembers. “It was something that could have and should have been avoided. To this day, I think about what life could have been like for her kids if that didn’t happen to my Aunt Carmen.”

 

Thus, patient safety has been a key priority for Woods throughout his career—in fact, his first management job in a hospital was as a director of quality. He recognizes the industry still has a long way to go on that front but says the latest AHA statistics show the trends moving in the right direction. Between 2010 and 2014, the AHA says hospital-acquired conditions decreased by 17 percent, saving 87,000 lives and $20 billion in healthcare costs.

 

“The goal is to reach zero harm, and I believe the field is on the right track in that regard,” he says.

 

While he also believes much progress is being made in diversifying senior leadership in healthcare, he’s very firm on how that needs to become a bigger priority at the board level.

 

“Our boards do not reflect the communities we serve,” he says flatly. “One of the biggest levers in diversifying an organization is when the board declares that it’s a priority. That was done at CHRISTUS and again here at Carolinas. I think it is an obligation of governance.”

 

What gives him optimism is the work of the AHA Equity of Care Committee, where it’s been demonstrated how diversity leads to improving healthcare disparities. In fact, more than 1,000 health systems recently signed the AHA’s National Call to Action pledge to eliminate disparities. Woods says the goal this year is to have 2,000 systems sign the pledge.

 

“That pledge includes improving collection of race, ethnicity and language preference data so, as we’re studying disparities in care, we have the right data set to use for that,” he says. “The pledge also includes increasing cultural competency training and increasing diversity in governance and leadership. You can’t solve for population health issues without solving for the disparities in care that exist and, in some cases, very dramatic disparities.”

 

After many years as a leading voice in healthcare, Woods remains bullish on where the industry is headed. In a recent talk to students at his alma mater, he told them the opportunities are brighter than at any time in recent memory.

 

“It’s an exciting time to be in healthcare because, in some respects, we’re all learning together,” he says. “Young people have an opportunity to bring an innovative spirit to their careers. But we can never forget that it’s about patients and communities. If you’re in it for those reasons, you’ll be successful.”

 

 

Diverse governance is a key to population health

By | March 18 th,  2016 | American Hospital Association, Furst Group, population health, governance, Blog, board of directors, diversity, Trustee magazine, Deanna Banks | Add A Comment

 

Classic content from Trustee magazine and Furst Group:

 

"From allocating capital funds to improving community health status, the diverse makeup of the service area has to be factored into decisions, and trustees steeped in the unique factors of that diversity are essential..."

 

That's the beginning premise of a recent article in Trustee magazine from the American Hospital Association on why diversity in the board room is pivotal for organizations seeking to understand and equip their leadership teams to achieve success in population health.

 

Without diversity, notes Furst Group principal Deanna Banks in the article, "What you get is a group-think. You've got similar-minded people from a singular exposure making decisions on behalf of things for which they lack insight and understanding -- and sometimes empathy."

 

Kelvin Westbrook, chair of BJC Healthcare in St. Louis, shares a memorable experience he had years ago about the "shoe test."

 

"If you look under the table and you don't have a diversity of shoes, you're probably going to get a much narrower perspective on what can and cannot work."

 

To read the complete article, click here.

 

 

A roundup of analysis on King vs. Burwell and the future of the ACA

By | June 26 th,  2015 | Affordable Care Act, American Hospital Association, subsidies, ACA, decision, health insurance, King, King vs. Burwell, lawsuits, Obamacare, Blog, Burwell, John McDonough, America's Health Insurance Plans | Add A Comment

 

As we head into the weekend, here are some of the key analyses on the results of King vs. Burwell:

 

Vox’s Sarah Kliff explains the ruling…:
http://www.vox.com/2015/6/25/8804053/king-v-burwell-obamacare-scotus-in-favor

 

…And Harvard professor John McDonough, who helped develop the ACA, is interviewed:
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/the-supreme-court-surprise-that-wasnt/

 

Although the subsidies can’t be easily revoked...: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150625/NEWS/150619978/roberts-opinion-means-obama-successor-cant-easily-revoke-subsidies

 

…The lawsuits are not over yet.:
http://ebn.benefitnews.com/blog/ebviews/the-aca-lawsuits-arent-over-yet-2746768-1.html

 

Plus, statements from:

 

America’s Health Insurance Plans:
http://www.ahip.org/News/Press-Room/2015/AHIP-Statement-on-Supreme-Court-Ruling.aspx
…and the American Hospital Association’s CEO:
http://blog.aha.org/

 

Finally, you can read the decision for yourself:
http://1.usa.gov/1QRFMoZ

 

 

Healthcare merger and acquisition is booming. A new article in AHA's Trustee magazine helps corporate culture survive and thrive once the dust has settled.

By | June 19 th,  2015 | American Hospital Association, Furst Group, Healthcare, merger, Bob Clarke, SSM Health, Blog, Joe Mazzenga, Trinity Health, Trustee magazine, acquisition, corporate, culture, executives, HonorHealth, IU Health | Add A Comment

 

As this is written, the country's largest health insurers are sizing each other up for merger and acquisition. The consolidation that has become commonplace among healthcare providers has come to payers as well, and the next several months should begin to determine what the terrain will look like once the dust has settled.

 

The financials are, of course, the driving force in any transaction like this. But the human factor should not be overlooked. Thus, we're proud to be part of a timely new article in Trustee magazine, published by the American Hospital Association, that talks to healthcare executives who have emerged from the experience with some advice and caution on tackling the thorny job of creating a new corporate culture out of two entities that may have done business very differently in the past.

 

Executives from organizations like HonorHealth, IU Health, SSM Health and Trinity Health share their stories with Trustee. Furst Group's Bob Clarke and Joe Mazzenga offer insights as well from their decades of experience.

 

Click here to read the article.

 

Diverse leadership key to solving health disparities, says Woods

By | August 25 th,  2014 | American Hospital Association, Furst Group, St. Joseph Health System, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, executive, faith-based, health system, Modern Healthcare, Blog, Catholic Health Initiatives, chief operating officer, Christus Health, diversity, Equity of Care Committee, health disparities, leadership | Add A Comment

 

One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)

 

As a board member of the American Hospital Association and chair of its Equity of Care Committee, Eugene Woods has an opportunity to see up close how health disparities affect far too many people in the U.S.

 

“We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that significant inequities exist,” he says, noting a recent study by the Institute for Diversity in Management that indicates only 22 percent of hospitals have utilized data to identify disparities in treatment and/or outcomes between racial or ethnic groups by analyzing one or more of the following: clinical quality indicators, readmissions or CMS core measures. While this is an increase from 20% in 2011, Woods says he wants to see more results from the industry.

 

“The incidence of infant mortality, diabetes and colorectal cancer are in some cases twice as high among African-Americans as compared to whites. We can, and simply must, do better.”

 

Woods, who also serves as executive vice president and chief operating officer for the 33-hospital Christus Health system, comes at the issue of diversity from an interesting angle. His worldview was partially formed through his early years growing up in his mother’s hometown in Spain.

 

“What I learned is that similarities between cultures are much greater than the differences,” he remembers. “And also that, rather than it being something that separates us, we should celebrate our differences because of the richness they bring to human experience.”

 

His own family today reflects those beliefs, he says.

 

“My wife and I come from four distinct cultures – Mohawk (Native American), Spanish, African-American and Dutch. And while each has very unique traditions, all share many of the same important values. So when I look at the work I do in healthcare, though we serve people from all different walks of life, the common denominators are our values with respect to human dignity, respect and compassionate care.”

 


Woods came to Christus after a number of years in Lexington, Ky., where he was CEO of St. Joseph Health System while also serving as Senior Vice President of the Catholic Health Initiatives system. One of the things that drew him to Christus, he says, was the commitment to diversity of CEO Ernie Sadau. In three years, he says, the percentage of diverse leaders at Christus has grown from 10 to 25 percent. Woods played a key role in launching Christus’ inaugural two-year minority fellowship program as well as its executive-in-residence diversity program.

 

“What I appreciate most is that Ernie has made diversity one of his top priorities and that has set a new tone within Christus in a very short period of time,” Woods says. “He walks the talk and the significant advancements we have made at diversifying our board and leadership team, for example, are directly due to his commitment and passion.”

 

Along with growth and clinical integration, diversity is one of three key strategic priorities at Christus.

 

“We sincerely believe that will be a differentiator for us,” Woods says. “We serve such a very diverse demographic that having a culture that is inclusive and an organization that is representative of the many communities we serve is very top of mind for us.”

 

Personally, Woods says ministry is top of mind for him as he navigates his successful career in healthcare. It’s one of the reasons he made the jump from one faith-based system to another.

 

“What I love about both faith-based organizations I have served with is that they were founded by Sisters who remain involved and, above all, help keep you very grounded as a leader. They are all about serving those in greatest need.”

 

A sense of mission also was impressed upon Woods back in 2001 as well. When the 9/11 attacks happened, he had only been on the job for a few days overseeing operations for the Washington Hospital Center. People wounded in the Pentagon attack were brought to the hospital, and Woods remembers many heroes from those days, including two material management workers who drove non-stop from the nation’s capital to San Antonio and back – because all U.S. airports were closed – to pick up supplies needed to treat burn victims.

 

“But perhaps the key leadership reflection for me afterwards was that it shouldn’t take a crisis to bring out the best in people,” he says. “So my leadership approach has been focused on how to build excellence in day-to-day work.”

 

On the AHA’s Equity of Care Committee, Woods says he has had the opportunity to watch a number of healthcare providers create a high bar for standards of care when it comes to eliminating disparities. He ticks off a list of outstanding hospitals – Massachusetts General in Boston; University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio; Henry Ford Health System in Detroit; Lutheran HealthCare in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif.

 

“These systems are doing some incredible things around diversity with great outcomes and are leading the field with best practices,” he says.

 

He’s hopeful that these hospital’s examples can be a rallying cry for the industry – and a turning point.

 

“While pockets of progress are evident,” he notes, “we still have a lot of work to do.”

 

Armada aims to bring the Baldrige process to Swedish

By | August 14 th,  2014 | American Hospital Association, Baldrige, Furst Group, Seattle, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, executive, health system, hospital, Modern Healthcare, Advocate, Anthony Armada, Blog, CEO, diversity, Everest Award, Institute for Diversity in Healthcare Management, leadership, Lutheran General, Asian Healthcare Leaders Association, Equity of Care, Swedish Health Services | Add A Comment

 

One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)

 

Anthony “Tony” Armada’s physician father and pharmacist mother emigrated from the Philippines with their children, some suitcases, and a few thousand dollars. The impact they’ve made on healthcare in their adopted country has grown exponentially over the last several decades.

 

“Everyone is passionate about what they do, right?” says Armada, with a laugh, from his office at Swedish Health Services in Seattle, where he’s the CEO of one of the Northwest’s largest health systems. “The more you can make meaningful changes for the benefit of others, the better off you are.”

 

Armada’s parents saw all of their children make a difference in healthcare. Armada’s oldest brother owns a research consulting firm that works with pharmaceutical companies. Two other brothers are physicians and his two sisters are nurses.

 

“Delivering care and being a servant leader are just in my genetic code,” he says. “To see the impact you can make on the lives of the people who entrust their care to you is an awesome privilege.”

 

Previously, Armada had been a leader with several of healthcare’s premier organizations throughout his career, including Kaiser Permanente, the Baldrige Award-winning Henry Ford Health System, and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and Children’s Hospital. Those experiences have informed the mantra by which he operates: “Always the best.”

 

“I come at this from a very simplistic vantage point,” he says. “What’s really cool about ‘always the best’ is that it’s individual as well as organizational. I always encourage people I engage with to reflect on that time when you actually bested your best: What did that feel like?

 

“It’s very energetic – it comes with a passion. And then people start getting onto this bandwagon of always wanting to best their best.”

 


Armada has also been active as an industry leader promoting diversity in the C-suite. He chaired the board for the American Hospital Association’s Institute for Diversity in Healthcare Management and led the Asian Healthcare Leaders Association. He continues to be active with diversity and inclusion initiatives for the American College of Healthcare Executives and also serves with AHA’s Equity of Care Committee.

 

“I think there’s been some positive progress in diversity, but it’s still not enough,” he says. “If the eventual goal is to have leadership that represents the makeup of the communities we serve, then the efforts of minority leaders become more impactful and more meaningful.”

 

Armada’s impact has been felt at numerous healthcare providers. At Henry Ford, Armada was part of the leadership team that went through the Baldrige experience, an exercise he brought to Lutheran General in 2010. In four years, he and his team turned the facility into a Top 100 hospital and Everest Award winner accolades from Truven Health Analytics. It also was named one of the 100 Great Hospitals by Becker’s Hospital Review. In 2012, its first year to apply for a Baldrige Award, Lutheran General won Silver honors.

 

“People who want to do Baldrige because of some kind of recognition are missing the boat, I think,” Armada says. “It is a framework that creates discipline and organizational excellence. Baldrige doesn’t tell you what to do; it asks a lot of questions. But if you have answers to the questions, you will be a best-in-class organization.”

 

He plans to bring the Baldrige process to Swedish, where he became the fourth CEO in two years, a similar situation to the role he undertook at Lutheran General.

 

He views Swedish as a venerable organization with a rich heritage and dedicated caregivers (physicians and employees) that can achieve that best-in-class status with leadership and commitment.

 

Swedish had gone through a tremendous amount of leadership change and also organizational change relative to an affiliation with Providence Health Services.

 

“Amidst all of that,” Armada adds, “we need to position ourselves for the future, which is about high performance and reliability, cost and quality transparency, and a patient experience that is excellent but goes beyond to meet unexpressed needs and wishes. At the same time, we need to create an avenue that articulates and emphasizes all of the wonderful clinical institutes and enterprise models that we have.”

 

The challenges didn’t give him any pause about taking the role. “It actually confirmed for me,” Armada says, “that this is the right organization that I want to take to the next level.”

Profiles in Leadership: Top 25 Minority Executives Ben Chu helps Kaiser Permanente make quality count

By | July 6 th,  2012 | American Hospital Association, change management, Furst Group, Healthcare, population health, health system, hospital, Modern Healthcare, physician, Blog, CEO, diversity, healthcare reform, Kaiser Permanente, leadership, chairman-elect | Add A Comment

Chu

 

One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)

 

Benjamin Chu, MD, MPH, MACP, oversees Kaiser Permanente Southern California and Hawaii as group president. In the seven years since he arrived, Kaiser Permanente has amassed many awards for quality. He also is chairman-elect of the American Hospital Association and will begin serving in that capacity in 2013.
Prior to joining Kaiser, he was president of New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corp., the largest public health system in the country. He also served as associate dean at both Columbia University and New York University.

 

Following is an edited transcript of the conversation:

 

You have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. What spurred you to go for an M.D.?

 

I think I always was going to be a doctor. Unlike a lot of people who have a core basic science orientation, I was always more interested in the human side of medicine. Psychology, child development, and anthropology are more in line with things I was thinking about. As you know, in medicine, there are a lot of behavioral and developmental aspects. In order to be effective, you have to understand the cultural determinants of health. All of these factors led me to pursue work in a field where I could actually help people. There is a whole sociology and culture of medicine that one cannot fully understand unless viewed from the psychological perspective.

 

You spent most of your life out East before moving to California. What spurred that move, and has it worked out as you expected?

 

I was running the NYC public hospital system under Mayor Bloomberg. It was an incredible experience and an incredible job. We were doing very innovative things in that system. It is a huge system that cares for 1.3 million NYC residents. When the opportunity arose to move to California and run a large chunk of Kaiser Permanente, the prospect piqued my interest. How far can you take a systems approach to delivering on improving the health of the population under the care of a large system? In Southern California, Kaiser Permanente has 3.6 million members, three times the size of the population we were caring for in NYC. The nice part about it is that the components and pieces are linked in a large multi-physician group that only works with the health plan and the hospitals. The health plan allows for pre-payment for care of the population. There is an entire delivery system under us that allows us to decide how to parcel resources in order to achieve the goal of maximizing the health of the population we serve.

 

How do you get a big system like KP to deliver on its promise and to take healthcare to a whole different level?

 

That was both the challenge and the fun part of coming to KP & California.
I didn’t know many people when I was coming to Kaiser – primarily George Halvorson [chairman and CEO] and Ray Baxter [senior vice president for Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy]. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. We had to put systems in place – our electronic health record and other systems – to allow us to look at our performance in a very open, honest, and critical way. We had to reconfigure the system. KP had been better than average on quality and outcome for our members. Now, because of what we’ve been able to do with tools, reconfiguring our system, and getting complete alignment of our systems, components and people (including the 60,000 employees in Southern California), we are pretty close to leading the country on many metrics.

 


From Leapfrog to NCQA, KP across the board has achieved some remarkable ratings for quality.

 

There has been a steady progression over the last half dozen years. We’ve taken a systematic approach. We engaged every member of our staff, from doctors to non-doctors and from professionals to frontline workers, to get to that point. It has been very rewarding and a lot of fun to do.

 

The last six years coincide with your arrival. What role did you play in these changes? What role did you leadership team play? What did you look for when bringing a new leader on board?

 

To tell you the truth, I don’t think I have brought anyone new in, believe it or not. I spent time getting to know the people here. We have a wonderful leadership group, and there have been very few changes. The changes were largely to replace people who left. What would be the key to our success? It hovers around getting complete alignment over what we wanted to do.

 

Much of the alignment was around trying to make sure we did everything possible to benefit our members. It was not a financial decision. While financials are important, they aren’t driving our goals at this point. The larger point was to make sure everyone understood that at the end of the day, it is our members and patients, and how we perform for them, both in the individual aspect and aggregate aspect.

 

People rallied to this message of reaching for the higher mission. It’s hokey to think about in that way, but you’d be surprised. Everyone comes into healthcare to make a difference in another person’s life. One of the things we did as a leadership team was to galvanize everyone’s desire to make a difference and reminded people of this. I think this is the key to leadership overall. I am blessed to have a lot of incredible people working with me on much of this.

 

Obviously we had to put in the systems to give us the information to know if we were making a difference in people’s lives. Once we got that in place and held that mirror up, the ideas came flowing out, and we could tap into this wellspring of creativity and desire to do the right thing. I am a doctor by training in a non-clinician role right now, but it is a pleasure to see that marriage of clinical outcomes and my public health background on population health outcomes come together in a delivery system.

 

As you look at your role at the American Hospital Association as chairman-elect beginning in 2013, do you get the sense that part of what they are looking to you for is to help other hospitals across country pick up on what Kaiser has done and get the quality scores up and make a difference nationally?

 

If you actually talk to the hospital leaders and members of the boards across the country, there is an enormous amount of energy working to find ways of taking care of their communities. Part of this is the quality agenda. Thousands of hospitals have joined the hospital engagement networks that are forming right now and are trying to learn from each other and optimize the quality of care given in the hospitals themselves. Hospitals are beginning to see that they play a pivotal role in their communities.

 

Rather than be passive and wait for people to get sick and come in, there is a role to be played more upstream – to make a difference in the community’s fabric and in its health. Some of it has a lot to do with impacting the developing ACOs. It is an often misunderstood, yet often used, term. The idea is to get an organization and care delivery system to care for a population and try to go as upstream as possible to find strategies that lead to good health and mitigate things that lead to bad health, not just treat emergency situations. It means partnership with providers who work in the upstream levels. Doctors who see patients in an outpatient setting tied to the hospital or in their practices – we need to link the two together.

 

There is a lot of energy in the hospital world. One of the reasons I was asked to chair in 2013 is that there are tremendous, yet uncertain, changes that are happening. There are also these powerful positive forces that can help hospitals and health systems come together in a better way to take better care of their communities. I think I was asked to chair so we can engage in a system-wide and country-wide dialogue to help each other overall.

 

Given the uncertainty around reform – does that make leadership harder for you and the people running hospitals round the country?

 

It depends on what you mean by harder. It certainly makes it much more interesting. The pathways to choose are much more ambiguous. In uncertain times, leadership needs to focus energy on the right things. I think that is why the AHA is working with our member hospitals to determine the higher-order outcome. If we dive into the weeds and get into the arcana of legislation and stay there, we will get lost. That is not to say reimbursement and policy changes aren’t important, but if that is all we think about, there is no ability to guide organizations through a field of uncertainty.

 

If you can’t pick up your head to see where you are going, you cannot mobilize physicians and institutions to move in the same direction, and we will be mired in the field and will not get anywhere. That is the difference between someone who is good operationally and a leader who can engage people in dialogue to get everyone to a place where we want to be.

 

There seems to be a growing consensus among healthcare leaders that we are on a course of change that will continue whether mandated or not.

 

I think that is absolutely correct. Healthcare is changing in a good way, I think. I know people worry about losing the good things in uncertain times. When you think about what we are capable of doing and how many people we are capable of doing things for, I am convinced that with a little change in perspective and focus, we can utilize the dollars we spend in healthcare and create a lot more healthy communities. It is a journey in a lot of ways – a very uncertain journey. I think the focus is changing. Payment reform is happening. A lot more transparency is coming. There will be changes to tell us how we are really doing. Once you are confronted with that information, it is a compelling force driving changes that could get us to a better place.

 

I think that in the best framing of what is happening now, that is the direction the country’s healthcare systems is headed. Probably the direction the world’s healthcare system is headed. Even though we are making a difference, how do we know we couldn’t be making a bigger difference? When you think of disparities in healthcare and how uneven results are, I think in this day and age, there is little the systems cannot tackle. We won’t all get there at the same time, but if we focus right, there’s a lot more good that we can do.

 

There seems to be an increasing interest in physician executive leadership. As a doctor and physician yourself, what is your take on that?

 

The lesson we’ve all learned is that in order to take on the larger tasks, the triple aim, all of the key pieces must be aligned. Physicians and other healthcare professionals have to be integrated into the whole system. We are trained to be separate. Even though hospitals are a part of the action where people are treated and where doctors do what they do, they are still only a piece of the puzzle. To integrate the perspectives, many places are looking towards physician leadership, whether as an administrator or at a Medical Director/CMO level.
We need voices there and to be open and honest about the larger goal. We cannot just see hospitals as a doctor’s workshop. That will only get us so far. Obviously, we want someone to care for patients and bring their expertise. However, it is not just a single doctor, but multiple healthcare professionals. We want to see the larger role for the community.

 

We need to make decisions on the deployment of resources and make a bigger difference than just delivering the best care in the ER. I’m not saying the best care shouldn’t be delivered in the ER, but when you think about it, it may not be the optimum expenditure of resources if you only concentrate on the ER.

 

In my opinion, there should be more doctors at senior levels of health systems. Having everyone’s perspective is important and makes a difference.

 

You spent time working in the office of Sen. Bill Bradley. What insights from that time guide your perspective in today’s healthcare climate?

 

I’m not sure there is a tremendous amount of insight but, when I worked for Senator Bill Bradley, it was one of the last times for major Medicaid expansion. The American with Disabilities Act was passed the year I was there; we passed the Medicaid Best Price legislation for pharmaceuticals, and expanded Medicaid to children up to 133% of the poverty line and pregnant women up to 185% of poverty. That was really the last big expansion before the children’s health program came in.

 

When I think of that era, it was a time of greater bipartisan collaboration. I worked for a Democratic senator when the first George Bush was president. There was a lot more collegiality. That’s not to say that cannot happen again, but I’m hoping after the upcoming, probably raucous, presidential campaign, that people will be more realistic in looking at the problems of our country and figure out how to solve them.

 

Even if we concentrate on legislation, that’s not always where the action is. Many core changes are already starting to happen. Core systems changes are being worked on. I don’t think there is a way back. From the hospital perspective, one of the opportunities was finally being able to count on some sort of payment for care of the significant portion of uninsured patients that would come in to the ER and hospitals. This includes upstream care and hospitalization. From the community and hospital point of view, that was one of the best parts of healthcare reform. I hope that will continue. I know it presents problems for many aspects of the healthcare world, the Medicaid expansion, as well as the exchanges, but I hope that some sort of increase in uninsured care will continue. We will always muddle our way through. We always have muddled our way through, based on my experience with Senator Bradley. It was not always clear then (1989-1990).

 

Healthcare organizations, particular in the inner cities, are creating senior housing, opening banking centers, farmers’ markets, and developing other innovative systems and ideas such as free surgery day. Some might think it’s a bit far afield of healthcare, but it seems to be a growing part of preventive care. Is this part of the equation at Kaiser Permanente as well?

 

Every one of KP’s medical centers runs a farmers market. In fact, we run the only farmers market in Los Angeles. This is illustrative of what I was talking about earlier – the tremendous amount of energy spent in the hospital world trying to figure out how we go upstream. The medical model is individual – one person at a time. When someone is sick, you care for them and send them back out. This is an important function for every community. The underlying premise is that the sum of all the good one-on-one work will translate into a healthier community. Clearly, this model leaves huge gaps. The medical model really is not directly focused on the population’s and the community’s total health.

 

There is a broader understanding that what makes a person healthy or not is as much about the health of the community and total health of the environment as it is to prescribing the right medicine. Eighty percent of the determinants of health are not linked to care. Smoking, exercise, drug use – these are things people need to think about if we are going to make a greater impact on the community and population health.

 

At Kaiser, we have a theater troupe that goes into grade schools to do thousands of performances on healthy eating to influence kids on eating habits. Collectively, if 5,000 hospitals and health systems can get it together and start moving upstream together, it could be a very powerful force. To become a vibrant part of the community is key. We helped invest in parks. We have beautiful weather in Southern California, but unless you have good outdoor spaces, people will stay in their homes or in their cars to go from place to place. The built environment in the community makes a difference. Do people have the choice to make better decisions? We need to provide spaces to make better decisions.

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