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Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare--Ketul Patel: A sense of mission fuels the best leaders in healthcare

By | December 22 nd,  2016 | CHI Franciscan Health, chief executive officer, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, Hackensack University Medical Center, health system, Kenya, Modern Healthcare, SafetyFirst Initiative, Blog, Catholic faith, Catholic Health Initiatives, clinician, collaborative, leadership, mission, safety, Ketul Patel, patient experience, quality | Add A Comment

 

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

 

Every month or two, CEO Ketul J. Patel journeys to the convent where the Sisters of St. Francis live and spends some time with the religious women who provide the missional context of the organization Patel leads, CHI Franciscan Health in Tacoma, Wash., part of the Catholic Health Initiatives system.

 

“I leave energized every single time I go there because of the amount of passion they have for this organization,” he says. “I have always felt that faith-based organizations have an extra touch of focus and mission than others. I couldn’t have asked for a better set of sisters to work with.”

 

Patel was raised in the Hindu faith but went to Catholic grade schools and high school growing up in Johnstown, Penn., 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. In an earlier role, he also worked for several years at a Catholic hospital in Chicago run by another group called the Sisters of St. Francis, this one based in Indiana.

 

“The Catholic faith has made a pretty substantial imprint into not only my career, but my life,” he says. “It’s given an extra allure to this type of organization for me.”

 

It’s also given a sense of urgency to the strides Patel hopes to make in reshaping CHI Franciscan and the other CHI hospitals he oversees as senior vice president of divisional operations for the Pacific Northwest Region. His goal, he says, is to have a top-performing organization with a mission-based focus on quality, safety and patient experience.

 

“We want to have a system of the most talented providers and innovative services in the Pacific Northwest,” Patel says. “Because of that, we just went through a significant structural reorganization to focus on those areas.”

 

Chief among the changes is the SafetyFirst Initiative, what Patel calls “a system-wide effort aimed at eliminating all preventable safety events.”

 

“We’ve branded it throughout the entire CHI system, and we’re seeing declines in serious safety events at all of our hospitals that have implemented SafetyFirst. It’s something our clinical staff is very proud of.”

 

The sense of service that Patel believes is a necessity for healthcare leaders comes from his parents, he says. Patel was born in Kenya, as were both his parents. His father is a retired physician. His mother, who passed away last year, was a nurse.

 

“When my father was practicing in Kenya, he would take my mom, brother and me to some remote areas of East Africa and provide care,” Patel remembers. “A lot of it was done under the umbrella of what was then the Lions Club.

 

“I have some very vivid memories – people who were missing hands, people with significant diseases with no access to care. The impact of that was substantial and that’s what prompted and inspired me to get into this type of role.”

 

His family moved to the U.S. in 1979 when Patel was eight. His brother went into medicine – he now heads cardiac surgery at the University of Michigan – and Patel started pre-med courses to head down the same path at Johns Hopkins. He also took a job as a research assistant to Nobel laureate Christian Anfinsen and, while it was a wonderful experience, he says, he couldn’t summon the same enthusiasm for it that he had for a couple health administration classes he took. He was reluctant to tell his parents he didn’t want to be a clinician.

 

“I thought it was going to be one of the toughest conversations I ever had with my father,” Patel says now, chuckling. “Instead, my father said, ‘We’ve been waiting for you to say this. All these years, we didn’t think you wanted to be a doctor.’ ”

 

The move to the administrative side has been a good fit. Patel got his first VP role at 26 and hasn’t looked back. He came to CHI Franciscan from Hackensack University Health Network and Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, where he served as executive vice president and chief strategy and operations officer.

 

Patel says his leadership style has evolved in his 20 years in administration. “You have to be a born leader, to some extent, but I think your leadership style and your abilities change as you are exposed to different areas and experienced with varying challenges.”

 

But one absolute imperative, he says, is to be a collaborative leader.

 

“People support what they help to create,” he says. “If a staff member feels they’re part of a decision-making process that is helping to move the organization in a certain direction, they’re going to unite behind that.”

 

He says he especially loves the ideas that come from clinicians. “They’re the ones who are at the bedside.”

 

Besides, he says, his parents always loved to tease him about the importance of the front-line staff.

 

“I’d be on the phone with them and my dad would say, ‘By the way, just remember that the only reason you have a job is because doctors bring patients to your doorstep.’ Then my mom would get on the phone and say, ‘Don’t listen to your dad. The only people who know what’s going on with the patients are the nurses.’

 

“I give them a lot of credit for that.”

 

 

A sense of mission drives Ketul Patel at CHI Franciscan Health

By | August 10 th,  2016 | CHI Franciscan Health, chief executive officer, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, Hackensack University Medical Center, health system, Kenya, Modern Healthcare, SafetyFirst Initiative, Blog, Catholic faith, Catholic Health Initiatives, clinician, collaborative, leadership, mission, safety, Ketul Patel, patient experience, quality | Add A Comment

 

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

 

Every month or two, CEO Ketul J. Patel journeys to the convent where the Sisters of St. Francis live and spends some time with the religious women who provide the missional context of the organization Patel leads, CHI Franciscan Health in Tacoma, Wash., part of the Catholic Health Initiatives system.

 

“I leave energized every single time I go there because of the amount of passion they have for this organization,” he says. “I have always felt that faith-based organizations have an extra touch of focus and mission than others. I couldn’t have asked for a better set of sisters to work with.”

 

Patel was raised in the Hindu faith but went to Catholic grade schools and high school growing up in Johnstown, Penn., 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. In an earlier role, he also worked for several years at a Catholic hospital in Chicago run by another group called the Sisters of St. Francis, this one based in Indiana.

 

“The Catholic faith has made a pretty substantial imprint into not only my career, but my life,” he says. “It’s given an extra allure to this type of organization for me.”

 

It’s also given a sense of urgency to the strides Patel hopes to make in reshaping CHI Franciscan and the other CHI hospitals he oversees as senior vice president of divisional operations for the Pacific Northwest Region. His goal, he says, is to have a top-performing organization with a mission-based focus on quality, safety and patient experience.

 

“We want to have a system of the most talented providers and innovative services in the Pacific Northwest,” Patel says. “Because of that, we just went through a significant structural reorganization to focus on those areas.”

 

Chief among the changes is the SafetyFirst Initiative, what Patel calls “a system-wide effort aimed at eliminating all preventable safety events.”

 

“We’ve branded it throughout the entire CHI system, and we’re seeing declines in serious safety events at all of our hospitals that have implemented SafetyFirst. It’s something our clinical staff is very proud of.”

 

The sense of service that Patel believes is a necessity for healthcare leaders comes from his parents, he says. Patel was born in Kenya, as were both his parents. His father is a retired physician. His mother, who passed away last year, was a nurse.

 

“When my father was practicing in Kenya, he would take my mom, brother and me to some remote areas of East Africa and provide care,” Patel remembers. “A lot of it was done under the umbrella of what was then the Lions Club.

 

“I have some very vivid memories – people who were missing hands, people with significant diseases with no access to care. The impact of that was substantial and that’s what prompted and inspired me to get into this type of role.”

 

His family moved to the U.S. in 1979 when Patel was eight. His brother went into medicine – he now heads cardiac surgery at the University of Michigan – and Patel started pre-med courses to head down the same path at Johns Hopkins. He also took a job as a research assistant to Nobel laureate Christian Anfinsen and, while it was a wonderful experience, he says, he couldn’t summon the same enthusiasm for it that he had for a couple health administration classes he took. He was reluctant to tell his parents he didn’t want to be a clinician.

 

“I thought it was going to be one of the toughest conversations I ever had with my father,” Patel says now, chuckling. “Instead, my father said, ‘We’ve been waiting for you to say this. All these years, we didn’t think you wanted to be a doctor.’ ”

 

The move to the administrative side has been a good fit. Patel got his first VP role at 26 and hasn’t looked back. He came to CHI Franciscan from Hackensack University Health Network and Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, where he served as executive vice president and chief strategy and operations officer.

 

Patel says his leadership style has evolved in his 20 years in administration. “You have to be a born leader, to some extent, but I think your leadership style and your abilities change as you are exposed to different areas and experienced with varying challenges.”

 

But one absolute imperative, he says, is to be a collaborative leader.

 

“People support what they help to create,” he says. “If a staff member feels they’re part of a decision-making process that is helping to move the organization in a certain direction, they’re going to unite behind that.”

 

He says he especially loves the ideas that come from clinicians. “They’re the ones who are at the bedside.”

 

Besides, he says, his parents always loved to tease him about the importance of the front-line staff.

 

“I’d be on the phone with them and my dad would say, ‘By the way, just remember that the only reason you have a job is because doctors bring patients to your doorstep.’ Then my mom would get on the phone and say, ‘Don’t listen to your dad. The only people who know what’s going on with the patients are the nurses.’

 

“I give them a lot of credit for that.”

 

 

Leadership lessons: 'Empathy is the engine of innovation'

By | June 17 th,  2015 | Gary Hamel, Healthcare, patient satisfaction, Harvard Business Review, health system, Blog, CEO, Lakeland Health, leadership, empathy | Add A Comment

 

Management expert Gary Hamel offers a compelling story in Harvard Business Review about how a health system in Michigan used the so-called "soft skills" to not only improve patient satisfaction scores but to achieve clinical improvements.

 

"Empathy," declares Hamel, "is the engine of innovation."

 

The empathy movement has been gaining ground in recent years, perhaps epitomized by Cleveland Clinic's powerful video series. Hamel spoke to the system CEO at Lakeland Health in Michigan who came into the role and soon discovered that things were in worse shape than he expected.

 

With patient satisfaction scores mired between the 25th and 50th percentiles, the CEO created a strategy called "Bring Your Heart to Work" and set a goal to bring scores to the 90th percentile in 90 days.

 

It actually worked -- Lakeland's scores jumped to the 95th percentile. In one anecdote, hospital security was ready to call the police when a despondent husband reacted angrily to his wife's terminal diagnosis. A junior nurse stepped in and hugged him. He broke down in tears and the situation was defused.

 

“Beyond the improved satisfaction score," the executive noted, "there was a clinical benefit. We are in the business of saving lives, of enhancing heath, of restoring hope. When we touch the hearts of our patients we create a healing relationship that generates a relaxation response, lowers the blood pressure, improves the happy neurotransmitters, reduces pain, and improves outcomes — for both the patient and the caregiver.”

 

There is a neat personal revelation embedded in the story, but Hamel concludes, "If you want to innovate, you need to be inspired, your colleagues need to be inspired, and ultimately, your customers need to be inspired."

 

Hamel provides plenty of leadership inspiration for management teams, and food for thought too. To read the full article, click here.

 

 

Dignity Health’s Lloyd Dean leads from experience and welcomes ‘healthcare for all’

By | September 4 th,  2014 | Furst Group, Healthcare, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, executive, faith-based, health system, Modern Healthcare, Blog, CEO, diversity, leadership, Lloyd Dean, Dignity Health | Add A Comment

 

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

 

Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of Dignity Health, has an enviable track record in the volatile world of healthcare, where he made his reputation as a turnaround expert for his work taking the organization (then known as Catholic Healthcare West) from perpetual losses to profitability in the early 2000s. But what continues to make him a leader among his healthcare peers is his anticipation and forward thinking.

 

In 2009, the organization partnered with Blue Shield of California and a physician network for coordinated care. That put the organization way ahead of the curve on the accountable-care front. Dignity Health’s emphasis on outpatient facilities in the last several years also has earned the positive attention of investors. In addition, Dean led the system as it transitioned from an officially Catholic health system in 2012 to one that still honored its Catholic roots while also allowing for growth through partnerships with both faith-based and non-faith-based organizations.

 

Dean says such moves demonstrate that Dignity Health “possesses a culture that values innovation, future-focused thinking, experimentation and, above all, a bias for taking action.”

 

He’s shown a similar decisiveness as he has championed the Affordable Care Act and been heavily involved in California’s health care exchanges, which have fared far better than other state’s systems.

 

“So far, so good,” says Dean. “The lessons learned in California are that, number one, if there’s a will to accomplish something at all political levels, it can happen and, number two, you have to involve the community.”

 

On the national scene, Dean has been a visible and vocal supporter of the ACA.

 

“In the healthcare field, we are going through not an evolution but a revolutionary change,” he says. “I, for one, think it’s long overdue. While it’s complex and while it’s difficult, the objective is sound and it’s something we should be pursuing – healthcare for all.”

 

Dean sees the ACA compelling healthcare leaders to change, or fall to the wayside.

 


“For five years, this change has been on a rapid pace, and I think it has caused us as leaders to look at being nimble and being flexible. We need to make sure we have people in place who have the key ability to adapt to rapid change and instability as we implement the Affordable Care Act.”

 

That includes the C-suite and the board, he adds.

 

“These are delicate and important times and the stakes are quite high,” he says. “Therefore, the times demand an open and transparent relationship between management and governance. The board must be involved and engaged in key strategies, decisions and investments early in the process. Educating the board on key issues impacting healthcare entities has been and continues to be an important accountability of management.”

 

In addition, the changing face of healthcare must become more diverse as population health is addressed, Dean says.

 

“The demographics of this country are changing,” he says. “There are more minorities, and we need to ensure we have leadership that is representative of the nation and of our communities.”

 

Health disparities are something that Dean was immersed in from the day he was born. His parents were from Alabama but migrated north to Muskegon, Mich., to find work. Dean was one of nine children.

 

“My father worked in a factory, but it was an on-again, off-again kind of thing,” he says. “Mom was a housekeeper keeping us on the straight and narrow. We were on welfare many times; I know that system well.”

 

In junior high, Dean was bused to a middle-class white neighborhood, where his fellow students would miss classes because of doctor and dentist appointments, things unheard of among his family and his African-American neighbors.

 

“My father was the dentist, and I kid people that my mother was the nurse. But I also saw the impact of not having healthcare. I watched people in my community suffering and perishing from diseases. My colleagues at the school didn’t seem to be having those kinds of difficulties. Even as a teenager, you begin to think, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’

 

“It shaped me in a profound way.”

 

His father contracted black lung disease and emphysema from working in the factory. But not before he and Dean’s mother impressed upon their children the importance of education.

 

“Even though we didn’t have any money, education was important, so that gave me a way out,” he recalls. “Also, religion and faith were always very much a part of my family – when I think about my healthcare career, 24 years have been spent in faith-related systems. So I’m truly a product of my environment, and that motivates me.”

 

Being around the millennial generation also provides a welcome spark, Dean says.

 

“We’ve got young physicians and other talent coming into our organizations with a different perspective on lifestyle and what is important to them,” he says. “They come with a greater sense of community responsibility and less emphasis on huge corporate structures. In terms of cultural attributes and leadership opportunities, I’m finding that younger people are advancing at a much more rapid pace. Expectations are higher with the current generation.”

 

At 63, Dean can relate to such expectations, for they resonate with the ones he says he put on himself in a successful career that he is far from ready to close the door on.

 

“I think about how fortunate I have been to be working in healthcare in this country at a time when reform is actually happening,” he says. “I just hope I have used the blessings God has given me to help others receive quality health care regardless of economic status or ethnic origin.”

 

Dean doesn’t think much about legacies – there’s too much left to do, he says – but hopes his personal imprint on those he’s impacted will be just as strong as the professional one.

 

“I hope my family, friends, colleagues and those I have met along my journey will say, ‘He made us smile, and always treated us with dignity, kindness and respect.’ ”

 

Eugene Woods: Diverse leadership is key to solving health disparities

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.”

Georges Benjamin advocates for a better health system

By | August 7 th,  2014 | Affordable Care Act, Furst Group, Georges Benjamin, Healthcare, politics, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, executive, health system, Modern Healthcare, Blog, diversity, leadership, public health, affirmative action, APHA | Add A Comment

 

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

 

Georges Benjamin had a wonderful experience as a military physician, eventually rising to become chief of emergency medicine for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. But the diverse environment he experienced in those days bore little resemblance to what he encountered when he returned to life as a civilian.

 

“I was a beneficiary of a time when we had active affirmative action programs and had a significant number of minority students in my medical school classes as well as my residency,” he says. “There were many leaders who were part of a minority when I served in the military. When I went out to the private sector I noticed that I was far too often the only minority leader in the room. Thankfully, that’s begun to change.”

 

Today, as the executive director of the American Public Health Association, Benjamin is a strong advocate not only for the public health workers his organization represents, but also for diversity at every level of a company.
“In a country like ours, which has such a variety of experiences, the value in having a diverse workplace is that people bring in different ways of thinking,” he says. “We bring our experiences to the problem-solving process, and I think it helps create different solutions.”

 

In today’s political climate, he says, “we’re all kind of living in a type of echo chamber where we will only tune in and listen to people who agree with us. If you talk to yourself and answer your own questions, you’re less likely to get the most inclusive and innovative answers.”

 

Benjamin and the APHA are a non-partisan organization. They have both extolled and chastised Republicans and Democrats on issues that affect public health. But Benjamin says he’s seen a change in how politics can affect public health.

 


“Increasingly, politics is playing a role in healthcare, for better or for worse,” he says. “Many of my colleagues just want to follow the science, and we should. But public health practice is both an art and a science that often uses the policy process to make broad system change. That makes it political. It’s increasingly difficult to appeal just to science when people are camped out in their ideology, so we also have to convince them on the merits of the evidence when it does not line up with what they believe. I tell students we should not be afraid to engage in the political process and to be an advocate. Recognize also, that sometimes you have to compromise and that negotiation is the most powerful tool in your toolkit.”

 

Benjamin is a leader well-versed in the nuances of the D.C. beltway, and a student of its history. During a recent sabbatical at Hunter College, where he stayed in the former home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he spent time collaborating on a coffee-table book that compiled political cartoons on healthcare during the past 100 years. “The Quest for Health Reform: A Satirical History,” was released in 2013.

 

“The thing that struck me was really how the rhetoric against health reform has not changed all that much,” he says. “Some of these arguments against it have been around for a long time and have mostly proven to be false.”

 

If consensus around broad health reform was hard to achieve over the past century, Benjamin bore witness to at least a temporary change in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks for a more narrow reform of the public health system. At that time, Benjamin was the secretary of health for Maryland and was thrust into the national spotlight as his state and the nation grappled with deadly anthrax-laced letters.

 

Funding and support for public health reform was increased, and APHA, which Benjamin joined in 2002, was supportive of the Bush administration’s national public health preparedness program. But when the recession hit a few years later, budget cuts forced many of these public health programs to be curtailed, Benjamin says.

 

“The potential was there to build our public-health defense in a robust and organized manner, but then the recession came, and resources were withdrawn,” he says. “We have our first Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases here in the U.S. right now. We’re always going to have new diseases that emerge; having an adequate health and public health system to address them is our challenge.”

 

Public health, Benjamin says, “is a leadership exercise.” As such, APHA works with the Department of Health and Human Services on the report for the nation’s Leading Health indicators, and partners with UnitedHealth Foundation on America’s Health Rankings. It’s also been in the forefront of warning of health risks associated with climate change, and the need for sophisticated health information technology. “We are also strong supporters of the Affordable Care Act,” he says.

 

While Benjamin believes the U.S. healthcare system has made progress in reducing readmissions and hospital-acquired infections, his military discipline shines through when he talks about what it will take for the industry to get where it needs to be.

 

“What we’d like to do,” he says, “is get a health system that is predictable and raises the bar over time.”

Foresight is the key to David Lopez's leadership

By | July 14 th,  2014 | Affordable Care Act, David Lopez, Furst Group, primary care, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, executive, Harris Health System, health system, hospital, Modern Healthcare, Blog, CEO, leadership | Add A Comment

 

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

 

Over the last several years, as many hospitals and health systems across the country were building patient towers for their acute-care needs, David Lopez, the outgoing CEO of Harris Health System in Houston, was quietly shifting his organization in anticipation of some of the changes that the Affordable Care Act has brought.

 

He didn’t expect more revenues from inpatient services; he worked to build a strong wellness program and to ramp up primary care heavily. There’s a reason for that.

 

“If you look at our statistics, 64 percent of our patients have no insurance,” he says. “For us, more volume on the acute-care side means we spend more money. For us, it’s not about generating more revenue. It’s about managing our costs.”

 

Harris provides 35,000 admissions every year, but Lopez notes that outpatient visits have reached 1.4 million annually, with an additional increase of 300,000 expected in the next 18 months.

 

“If the patient can be taken care of in a primary-care setting or another setting, the best way to lower your cost overall is to avoid the admission,” he says. “You’re better off doing that than looking at the patient as a potential revenue opportunity.”

 


Lopez has been in hospital work his entire adult life and served as CEO at Harris for 10 years. He notes that healthcare has become “a lot more political” than it was in the past. “When you mix politics and healthcare and money, it makes for an interesting relationship between all three of those components,” he says. “There’s a very direct relationship between what we are able to do based on the money that’s available.”

 

As the leader of one of the largest public health systems in the country, Lopez was used to having to deal with funding that wasn’t always available, as well as the transparency and scrutiny that comes with public governance. A couple years ago, Harris County took a penny from the hospital district’s tax rate to cover some of their expenses. The health system hasn’t gotten that penny back and, with the district’s population growing by 100,000 people a year (“the unincorporated areas have a population larger than the city of Philadelphia,” Lopez notes), it’s a struggle to have a break-even budget.

 

Despite the challenges, Lopez’s respected work earned him an award as one of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives of the Year for 2014. John Guest, his predecessor at Harris, noted that Lopez “has the patience of Job,” a quality that was needed as Lopez and his staff worked to revamp the system so it would be less impacted by uninsured patients.

 

“Once you’ve established what you need to get accomplished, you’ve got to keep after it,” Lopez says. “You don’t let little things deter you. Maybe the outcome is not happening at the speed you wanted, but if your focus is right, you stay with it.”

 

In Lopez’s case, the focus was lessening the pressure on the emergency department by transforming the safety-net system into one more reliant on primary-care clinics.

 

“We want to be healthcare providers, not sick-care providers,” Lopez says. “We’ve designated all of our clinics as medical homes; they’ve all received certification. So now we’re trying to get our community members to understand that this is your doctor, and we need your help to address your health needs.”

 

Wellness is part of that strategy and something Lopez takes seriously. He’s been a runner for 40 years, and last year Harris ranked first among Houston’s largest employers for its wellness program. He says that, ultimately, Harris’ patients will need to do their part too.

 

“We’re trying to be inclusive with our patients,” he says. “It can’t just be something that we do for them. We need a partnership with them where they participate in the process and buy in to the concepts and approaches.”
Such an approach, of course, requires foresight and patience. Lopez has plenty of both.

Nursing roots important to Judith Persichilli as she leads one of the largest U.S. health systems

By | August 14 th,  2013 | Catholic, C-suite, Catholic Health East, clinical process, faith-based, health system, hospital, Lean In, Modern Healthcare, nurses, president, Sisters of Mercy, Blog, CEO, healthcare reform, leadership, nursing, safety, work-life balance, quality, Top 25 Women in Healthcare, Trinity | Add A Comment

 

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

 

“When I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, I see a nurse. I don’t necessarily see a healthcare executive.”

 

Those words don’t belong, say, to the CNO of a small Midwest hospital. They’re coming from Judith Persichilli, who serves as interim president and CEO of Trinity/Catholic Health East, one of the largest health systems in the country. (Prior to the merger of Trinity and Catholic Health East, Persichilli was president and CEO of CHE.)

 

Nursing, Persichilli says, “has always been in my heart. It still is.” In fact, there is no shortage of executives on Modern Healthcare’s list of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare who have a background in nursing, including Persichilli.

 

Why do many nurses become successful healthcare executives? Persichilli says she thinks she knows.

 

“The education of nurses prepares them to be leaders,” she says. “You’re educated across the continuum; you understand the clinical process. You need strong relationship and communication skills as you’re dealing with physicians and other allied health professionals to promote a plan of care. At the same time, you are responsible in many instances for the communication with the family and significant others of the patient.”

 

While Persichilli leads an organization with $12.8 billion in operating revenue, she says healthcare workers at any level can make a significant difference in safety and quality in an era in which cost has become a driving concern.

 

“With healthcare reform, I truly believe that people with clinical knowledge – including, of course, physicians – have the skills to make the right decisions about the clinical process of care and actually lower the cost of care overall. They will make the right decisions about where patients can safely be taken care of with the highest quality.”

 

The merger of CHE and Trinity created a huge, national Catholic health system. Previously, some other Catholic systems merged with secular counterparts, but Persichilli said that doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned their faith-based roots.

 

“The other systems that have merged may organize themselves differently, but they still have a faith orientation within their organization,” she says. “We have decided, based on the heritage and the tradition of the women religious who sponsored the healthcare entities that formed into a system, that our system would be Catholic. That doesn’t mean we won’t be welcoming to secular relationships that share our vision and values.”

 

In fact, prior to the merger, Persichilli was part of a team at CHE that made the difficult decision to sell Sisters of Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center system. The move enabled CHE to create a foundation that enabled the sisters to continue their work with the homeless, a population that depended on the faith-based care in the community.

 

“One of the Trinity CHE values is courage, taking risks,” she explains. “Our founding congregations came to this country with 50 cents in their pockets to take care of people. Mercy was an excellent hospital, but UPMC was so large. The situation gave us an opportunity to say, what are the unmet needs? How can we continue this ministry that was started more than 100 years ago by the Sisters of Mercy?”

 

Persichilli says she believes similar crossroads are in the future of many communities.

 

“I think we’re going to be making more of these decisions in healthcare as you look at the community needs assessments that are required under healthcare reform.”

 

Reform, she adds, resonates with the work that faith-based systems have been doing for years.

 

“That’s who we are in Catholic healthcare. It’s not just CHE and Trinity – that’s who we are. Sometimes it means saying, there’s enough acute care. How can we creatively develop the structures and the financial foundation to meet the unmet need? It definitely pulls us into environments that perhaps other people don’t want to go into – the homeless, the vulnerable.”

 

While it’s a well-known fact that the U.S. spends more than any other country on healthcare with less than stellar results, Persichilli says the belt-tightening prevalent in the industry doesn’t have to make quality decline at all.
“I spent three weeks with Catholic Relief Services in Uganda visiting AIDS clinics and looking at their ‘hospitals,’ ” she says. “And I came back to the United States with the understanding that, even in a time of constraint, we live in an era of abundance. We have to figure out how to tap that strength, to do things better at a higher quality and a lower cost.”

 

One idea on how to do that? Better communication.

 

“We can do it. It’s there. It will take people in the provider sector and the payer sector to talk to one another, not past one another.”

 

Persichilli says industry executives need to know their numbers, but also understand that healthcare goes beyond costs.
“No matter what, you need to know that you’re doing really important work. You have the privilege of taking part in and changing people’s lives. When I was a nurse, I used to say, ‘Let’s all stand together and ask the question: ‘What difference did you make in the lives of your patients today?’ ”

 

That kind of attitude is especially important to people at the beginning of their healthcare careers, she adds.

 

“Once you bring meaning to your work,” she explains, “you go about it with such commitment and passion that it’s hard not to be recognized. And once you’re recognized, you’re appreciated. Once you’re appreciated, you’re promoted. And once you’re promoted – if you bring that same passion and commitment forward – you will reach an executive level.”

 

Persichilli mentors a number of young female executives, but says she doesn’t get sucked into the “Lean In” debate.

 

“Work-life balance transcends gender when it comes to these executive positions,” she says. “I don’t ever step into somebody’s life and say, ‘You should do this or that.’ I always tell younger women, ‘It has to feel comfortable for you.’ And if it doesn’t feel comfortable for you and your career is going to be stalled as a result, understand the choices you make and be happy that at least you can make them.”

 

Today, she notes, stress about family isn’t confined to children – it could just as easily be about caring for one’s parents as part of the “sandwich generation.”

 

“If it’s too stressful and the children or your parents are not being taken care of the way you want, it’s not going to do anyone any good at work or at home. So understand who you are and what’s important to you. I don’t have any children, but I can tell you there’s nothing more important than raising good kids.

 

“I don’t have the answers here. I just know that, if you’re uncomfortable, own it and figure it out.”

 

Profiles in Leadership: Top 25 Minority Executives Kimberlydawn Wisdom overcame obstacles; now, she helps her community do the same

By | December 4 th,  2012 | Detroit, emergency medicine, Furst Group, Healthcare, executive, health system, hospital, Kimberlydawn Wisdom, Minority Executives, Modern Healthcare, Top 25 Minority Executives, Blog, Henry Ford Health System, leadership, physician 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 successful physician executive at Henry Ford Health System, Kimberlydawn Wisdom, MD, has attracted the attention of governmental leaders far and wide. Jennifer Granholm, then governor of Michigan, named her as the state surgeon general in 2003, a post she held for eight years. More recently, President Obama appointed her to his Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative Public Health. But the path to a medical degree was one that Wisdom had to clear of a number of obstacles.

 

First and foremost was the era in which she grew up, a formidable boulder indeed.

 

“In the 1950s and ‘60s, there wasn’t a plethora of physicians of color,” notes Wisdom, Senior Vice President of Community Health & Equity and Chief Wellness Officer of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit and an assistant professor for the University of Michigan Medical Center. “In my junior year of high school, my guidance counselor said I should choose a profession that was more suited for my race. For her, saying ‘I want to be a doctor’ was like someone saying, ‘I want to be an astronaut.’ She actually did want to ensure my success. But I think her sense was, ‘Let me bring you back down to something that’s manageable and achievable.’ “

 

Yet Wisdom’s mother, who grew up in the small community of Coatesville, Pa., did in fact have an African-American physician. And Wisdom became a caregiver for her mom at home as she dealt with severe migraines.

 

“During my childhood, she spent a lot of time in bed and I was regularly bringing her aspirin or some other type of pain medication,” Wisdom says. “It was very impactful to me as a young child to watch her go through that. But on another level, I could bring her water, I could bring her comfort. That began to ignite this desire to consider how I could care for people long-term.”

 


She was exposed to a wonderful hospital atmosphere from a tonsillectomy as a child, and soon had dolls and bears lined up in shoeboxes around her room, where she would tend to their medical needs. She graduated 20th in her high school class of 600, but her supportive parents weren’t so sure that marrying a young mechanical engineer was the best way to get through medical school. But when she crossed the stage to become an M.D., both her husband and parents celebrated together.

 

“They were all very proud,” she remembers. “It was a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and a tremendous sense of being thankful, because I couldn’t have done it without the support of family and without a strong spiritual grounding. It took a lot of prayer. I beat the odds in many respects.”

 

Despite her challenges, Wisdom says she had an idyllic childhood growing up in Mystic, Conn., the town made semi-famous by Julia Roberts’ first movie, “Mystic Pizza.” Those experiences, she says, have shaped her career as she sought to give her patients and her community the opportunities she was afforded.

 

“In part, I wanted to create a Mystic for the community in which I practiced, so they would have a safe place to grow up. So families could thrive. So people could reach their maximum potential, because they had a place where they felt they could achieve all that they were expected to achieve.”

 

But Wisdom has spent more than 30 years in Detroit at Henry Ford Health System – more than 20 as an emergency room physician – and she readily acknowledges that Detroit is worlds away from Mystic. As she saw the issues confronting her patients – violence, diabetes, obesity, teen pregnancy – she determined to take healthcare to them and not wait for them to come to her. Today, such goals are commonplace in any metro hospital, but back then her ideas were seen as unorthodox. Nonetheless, her bosses at Henry Ford told her to go for it.

 

“As an emergency medicine physician, the community comes to you in various states of disarray. I thought that, if I could go out and meet them where they are, I could have a greater impact,” she says. “When I look at many communities, so many people have not had the ability to realize their potential because they have made choices based on the choices they had available, not based on the best choices that would be ideal for them at any given time.”

 

So Wisdom started small, taking physicians, nurses and social workers out into the community, setting up shop in a community center or a faith-based organization. With each endeavor, Wisdom received more funding as she slowly and quietly attempted to address health disparities in the African-American community.

 

She and the health system now have major grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address child obesity reduction. Several foundations fund her work in attempting to reduce infant mortality in the Detroit area, a region that has one of the highest rates in the country. A faith-based program she designed received funding from the National Institutes of Health, and she serves on the president’s group that advises his cabinet regarding the National Prevention Strategy, a wellness initiative created by U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin.

 

The Ford system recently earned the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award, one of the highest honors for any industry, in terms of service excellence, and has established the Wellness Center of Excellence, called “Henry Ford LiveWell” for short, that focuses on preventative and lifestyle health.

 

It’s a long way from dolls in shoeboxes, but Wisdom says that, if anything, her passion and excitement for healthcare have grown.

 

“Empowering people,” she says. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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