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Donna Lynne: Healthcare leaders need to be able to manage crisis, volatility

By | July 30 th,  2015 | health plan, Healthcare, reform, women in leadership, Donna Lynne, president, Blog, Colorado, Kaiser Permanente, matrix, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment

 

One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.

 

Kaiser Permanente’s success in Colorado when the federal insurance exchange launched in January 2014 was a perfect example for Donna Lynne and her team of the new type of leadership needed under reform.

 

Lynne, president of Kaiser’s Colorado health plan and the EVP who leads its Pacific Northwest and Hawaii regions, said Kaiser was anticipating perhaps 3 percent growth when the new era began. Instead, Kaiser’s membership in the state grew a whopping 14 percent overnight.

 

“We recognized that we were beginning to have a situation that required extraordinary measures,” she says. “As a leader, you need to be nimble and you need to be confident that the people who are working for you can execute.”

 

Lynne’s leaders put together rapid-response teams to tackle needs like customer service, ID cards, appointment-setting and billing. “These were people who had not had healthcare before,” reasons Lynne, “and if their first experience with a health plan was not a great one, then we ran the risk of them making a different decision a year later.”

 

The approach was successful, says Lynne, and helped her team develop new skills.

 

“The primary characteristic of what people need to be able to manage in healthcare reform is volatility,” she says. “You need to be able to deal with ambiguity but you also need to have the skill set to be able to manage in a crisis environment.”

 

Crisis is nothing new to Lynne. She began her career more than 30 years ago working for the New York City government at a time when the city was bordering on bankruptcy. But she witnessed a remarkable thing. Leaders from government, business and labor unions set aside their own agendas and worked together to bring the city back from the brink.

 

“Everybody had to give a little to rescue the city from a crisis situation, and that taught me a lot,” she says. “You realize very quickly how interdependent you are on other people.”

 

Ultimately, Lynne spent 20 years working for New York City. She’s fiercely proud of that time in public service. “Sometimes people poke fingers at people who work in government, but I felt very committed to excellence in government. I wanted to make a difference on behalf of the millions of people served by New York City,” she says.

 

She was renowned as a labor negotiator, and that led to the next step in her career as she began to see from her dealings with unions that healthcare was as important as wages and pensions to the middle class.

 

“I felt very committed that, if I could do anything to make healthcare affordable, it would be a great pursuit,” Lynne says. She worked in operations for a health system before moving to managed care and rising to CEO of Group Health. Then she joined Kaiser Permanente.

 

The move to Colorado enabled Lynne to turbo-charge her already active lifestyle. She began climbing mountains and has tackled major peaks in Colorado and overseas. She’s also a skier who has done marathon ski events for charity.

 

“I think I like on-off switches, if you understand what I mean. I completely turn the work button off; I have to, because most of my pursuits involve risks so I need to concentrate,” she says.

 

Lynne grew up playing every sport under the sun – softball, field hockey, volleyball and tennis – and says sports were a natural training ground for leadership development.

 

“I felt very strongly that there were a lot of things that women either were told they couldn’t do or weren’t supported in doing. And I liked being a pioneer or even a little bit of a rebel,” she says. “By participating in sports, I understood the interdependence of all the positions on the field. In the business world or in government, you can work in your own silo and become an expert, or you can drive for change and try to get things done together.”

 

Lynne has chosen the latter, and says what some would call a matrix structure at Kaiser has served her well, helping her to focus more on the human side of leadership.

 

“I think some of it came with maturity,” she says. “Taking the time to engage and influence people is a critical part of leadership that I had to learn over a period of time, and Kaiser is in many ways the crown jewel in terms of a place where that really works.”

 

She’s also learned, she says, “to appreciate the importance of developing the leaders underneath you.” Kaiser has annual individual development plans for its executives, and that’s helped Lynne to “develop my leaders, who are now stronger and allow me to step back and do different kinds of things than I might have thought about when I came here 10 years ago.”

 

Leadership innovation is sorely needed, she says, as reimbursement models have caused upheaval in the industry.

 

“We’re all seeing less revenue because so many more of our members are coming from Medicare or Medicaid,” Lynne notes. “That’s creating tremendous pressure on us to reinvent the way that we do things.”

 

The turmoil has been felt among both providers and payers. Lynne says no one is sure how it all will play out, but both finance and delivery need to get along.

 

“I think the best way that payers and providers can work together is to acknowledge that, while we may have started out with different interests, we are ultimately trying to provide care to as many people as we can so that they’re healthy.”

 

 

Profiles in Leadership: Jeffcoat at ease under reform’s pressures

By | August 23 rd,  2011 | Boise, delivery, finance, Healthcare, reform, Saint Alphonsus, Top 25 Women, health system, hospital, Idaho, leaders, Modern Healthcare, operational effectiveness, patient safety, president, Sally Jeffcoat, wellness, Blog, CEO, clinical, leadership, operations, preventon, quality | Add A Comment

 

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

 

A lot of the dialogue about healthcare reform is focused on cost, but Sally Jeffcoat, president and CEO of Saint Alphonsus Health System in Boise, Idaho, says she thinks there’s an equally important element that is being overshadowed.

 

“Health reform has really taken shape in the form of financing reform, but what we haven’t done yet is the care-delivery reform that’s required,” she says. “This gets to the heart of operational effectiveness: how are we going to reorganize care delivery that shifts patients to lower cost environments so that we can still deliver better quality than what we have today?”

 

To do that, she says, some of the responsibility needs to shift to the patients.

 

“A focus on prevention and wellness is where we need to reform the system because, right now, there really aren’t any incentives and reimbursement for that type of care,” Jeffcoat says. “It’s difficult to manage the transition unless we reward our providers to deliver that kind of care and we shift some of the risk for those expectations to those patients and populations that we are trying to serve.

 

“Healthy behaviors are really where we can address some of the problems of our healthcare system today.”

 

All of that speaks to change, and that is something that Jeffcoat is comfortable with herself. A native Texan whose father was an Army surgeon, she worked for many years in her home state and Arizona, rising to a CEO position in the Ascension system, before taking her current role with Trinity Health.

 

“I’ve had the blessing of working in organizations that have a strong management development program, but I would not have been able to advance if I wasn’t willing to take on different roles that I had to grow into, or move to different locations,” she says. “Working in different environments shapes you as a leader, because you learn from the positive and negative experiences and integrate them into your leadership style.”

 

Strategic vision tops the list when Jeffcoat lists the qualities that rising female executives need in today’s environment. But vision must work in tandem with operational effectiveness, she says.

 

“You need to have the ability to take strategic vision and operationalize it,” she says. “You need to be connecting the dots from strategy to effective implementation to be successful. I also think the ability to communicate vision – the what and the why – is important for a female executive. If you can’t get people wrapped around the why, it makes it more difficult to implement your vision.”

 

Jeffcoat is known for her dedication to quality and safety, traits that were shaped not only by her pivotal role in Ascension’s “Journey to Zero” program but also by her history as a nurse.

 

“It’s so important to never get too far away from the bedside or from direct patient care,” she says. “I probably get a lot of my satisfaction from being able to interface directly with the caregivers who are on the front lines. The other thing I derive from that is the teamwork it takes to produce the kind of high reliability that we are all trying to achieve as an organization.”

 

And a clinical background, she says, can sometimes help a female leader shine.

 

“It’s important to have the business skills necessary to perform a CEO role. But some of the characteristics of women leaders that bring a balance, such as compassion and collaboration, are very important, particularly in an industry in which 50 percent of the workforce is made up of clinical caregivers.”

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