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Susan DeVore’s bold leadership puts Premier on a path to transform healthcare

By | December 4 th,  2015 | women executives, innovation, Modern Healthcare, Susan DeVore, Blog, CEO, gender diversity, GPO, leadership, Premier Inc., 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.

 

Susan DeVore, the CEO of Premier Inc., is one of the most successful executives in the country. DeVore took the helm in 2009, integrating the company’s supply-chain capabilities with a formidable treasure trove of data and analytics, to create a leading healthcare performance improvement company dedicated to transforming healthcare from the inside. She took the company public in 2013 with an IPO of $760 million. The stock opened above estimates at $27 per share and has increased in price more than 25 percent.

 

Yet DeVore has led the growing company with the heart of an entrepreneur, including spending $100 million to beef up and integrate its data platform with streams of information from its members’ statistics on supply chain, labor, clinical, and safety measures, among others.

 

“Because we have all this data at Premier, we’re able to build, test and scale ideas that might actually transform the system,” she says. “If you believe in innovation and want to make a big difference, then you have to experiment.”

 

Since assuming the role of CEO, DeVore has grown Premier into the largest alliance of health systems in the country. Majority-owned by its members, Premier represents 68 percent of U.S. community hospitals and leverages multiple businesses and partnerships along healthcare’s value chain to drive change. Under DeVore’s leadership, Premier:

 

• Operates a leading group purchasing organization (GPO) representing $44 billion in hospital purchasing volume, with 1,900 GPO contracts across 1,100 suppliers.

 

• Provides data and analytics, and cloud-based data-warehousing services to health systems through a platform amassing insights on approximately 40 percent of U.S. health system discharges, including clinical, financial and operational data, while enabling peer-to-peer information sharing among more than 100,000 healthcare workers.

 

• Convenes large-scale national collaboratives, with 1,100 health systems engaged in data-driven, transparent performance improvement efforts in partnership with federal agencies like CMS. These initiatives have influenced healthcare policy, including the Medicare value-based purchasing program.

 

DeVore is well aware that, today, just over 5 percent of all public companies are managed by a woman CEO and public boards of directors only have 10 to 15 percent representation by women. While she had always been a champion of fostering leadership at a general level, there came a point in time that DeVore recognized an opportunity to develop leadership programs specifically for women at Premier.

 

“I don’t want to discriminate the other way, if you will,” she notes. “I want to make as many investments in men and in ethnic diversity as I do in women. But there are some specific topics that women can address together: How are you perceived? How do you speak up? How do you have a voice? How are you memorable? How do you advance your career?”

 

Those are questions DeVore has succeeded in addressing in her own life and career. She says her upbringing in a large military family (she has four sisters and two brothers) helped her early to develop self-sufficiency.

 

“You have to be comfortable around new cultures and different languages. I think it builds a natural navigation skill,” she says. “You’re open to more perspectives and different ways of thinking.”

 

She remembers vividly getting lost in Germany as a 3rd or 4th grader when she got on the wrong bus when she was trying to head home from the swimming pool. She ended up at a bar on the Rhine River many miles away and knew just enough German to allow the bartender to call her parents, who came and picked her up.

 

Those types of moments are an invaluable training ground for leadership, DeVore says. “I think one of the most important skills in leadership is the ability to communicate – to ask questions, to stumble and fall and get back up. There are so many life experiences that can be applied to business settings.”

 

For DeVore, her career has given her a steely determination not to allow corporate culture to label or limit her.

 

“In so many ways, women leaders are just like men. We are driven, we build high-performing teams, we execute strategy, we deliver results, we define culture and we have a passion for innovation in our chosen industries. But a woman’s road to leadership is further defined by our ability to balance our other roles – as wives, mothers and daughters. And, in my opinion, that requires a mindset shift.”

 

This became clear to DeVore one night early in her career. Tending to a sick child, she says she worried about how to balance the need to forgo sleep and take care of her family with deadlines at work.

 

“I kept thinking to myself … I am going to be so tired tomorrow; how will I function? In that moment, I decided that I was going to simply enjoy this time as a mother. I rocked and sang and truly enjoyed that time quietly into the night. I decided in that moment that being a mom and a working leader wasn’t going to be a trick question for me. I was not going to pit my work and my home life against one another, ignoring one for a time while I tended to the other. I was going to make my own rules. From that moment forward, I began to live one, blended life, made up of choices, compromises and non-negotiables.

 

“I don’t know if it would work for everybody,” she allows, “but it worked for me.”
She is passionate about the work at Premier and its impact on quality and safety. She was not simply handed the CEO role back in 2009, and says the competition helped her to crystallize what was important to her.

 

“What became really clear to me was that I felt very passionate about the social mission to improve the healthcare system, and what I was going to be able to uniquely bring to that was business principles,” she says. “It’s important work but I can apply all of my business knowledge to it – and those two things are not mutually exclusive.”

 

The social mission resonates with DeVore because of her own experiences with less-than-stellar care during hospitalizations for her mother, father and grandson. Though she is quick to point out that most families have similar stories, her leadership as Premier’s CEO gives her determination a powerful outlet.

 

“It’s personal to all of us,” she notes. “For all of our employees at Premier, our mantra is ‘Care is a verb.’ We need to transform this industry and create a better healthcare system for future generations.”

 

 

A devastating injury failed to derail Karen Daley’s remarkable career

By | August 2 nd,  2013 | prevention, women executives, C-suite, Karen Daley, medical devices, Medicare, Modern Healthcare, nurses, nursing shortage, president, sharps, Baby Boomers, Blog, injury, leadership, nursing, patient care, safety, safety needles, American Nurses Association, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment

 

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

 

Karen Daley loved being a nurse, and she was a good one. But all that changed one day in 1998 when she was stuck by a needle while treating a patient. From that one needle stick, she contracted HIV and hepatitis C.

 

Her clinical nursing days were over. Over the next couple of years, she would undergo exhausting treatment regimens. But she was determined that the incident would not end her healthcare career.

 

“I learned how resilient I was physically and emotionally,” says Daley today, now president of the American Nurses Association and one of the 2013 Top 25 Women in Healthcare as chosen by Modern Healthcare. “It was a grueling time. I was constantly worried about fatigue, falling and exposing others to my blood, and I had little appetite because of the drugs. I looked sick.”

 

Yet while she underwent treatment, she plunged into advocacy, petitioning the U.S. Congress to change laws to reduce the odds that other nurses would have to face what she was going through. The laws were eventually changed to mandate use of safety-engineered sharps devices that could prevent similar injuries. Now, more than a decade later, compliance isn’t where it could or should be.

 

“We had to educate the healthcare system that these injuries and associated bloodborne pathogen exposures were preventable,” Daley explains. “Not only were they losing workers to these injuries, they were risking the goodwill of workers who learned over time that these were injuries that should not have occurred.”

 

In hospitals, she says, “prevention often is not seen as a viable strategy because it often costs money on the front end versus money you may or may not have to pay on the back end.”

 

While more safety needles are on the market and in greater use, Daley says the price drop that was promised by the medical device industry for the costlier devices as market penetration increased has not occurred. She also says federal enforcement of OSHA requirements is now a priority issue because “we know there are employers who are still not compliant with the requirements under the law.”

 

Beyond the institutional level and despite evidence that the overall number of these injuries has declined since the law was enacted, Daley says operating rooms remain a very high-risk area because surgeons control the kits and sharps that are used in each procedure, and are often resistant to changing their instruments or sharps devices. That has to change, she says. “Everyone’s health and safety is at risk with these injuries. It really is about what’s right across the board for a safer work environment.”

 

And medical device companies haven’t stopped making conventional or less effective early-generation safety needles and devices , nor have hospitals stopped buying them, she laments. “Today, despite the fact that the technology has improved significantly, we have some of the same devices on the market as when the law was passed.”

 

In the process of advocating around this issue, she says she’s learned that change is never simple, and that it’s important to get all stakeholders to the table, even congressional leaders who are feeling pressure from constituents and lobbying groups.

 

“For any movement, persistence is necessary,” she says. “It’s seeing the change through. We are still not where we need to be on needlestick injury prevention, so the need for persistence is another lesson learned.”

 

That’s a lesson she’s taken to heart in her own life, where she has gone back to the classroom numerous times to earn advanced degrees. Beyond her bachelor’s degree in nursing, she has earned a master’s in public health from Boston University School of Public Health, and a master’s in science and a PhD in nursing from Boston College.

 

To keep up with technological advances, the growing complexity of the healthcare system and patient healthcare needs, and to help combat the shortage of providers in healthcare, nurses need more education, she says.

 

“We need to make sure we’re helping nurses go back to school to advance their education. It’s an expensive proposition and that investment doesn’t always get recouped when they go back into the workforce,” Daley adds. “We also need to continue to grow the number of advanced practice registered nurses to provide care that is not going to be met by primary-care physician workforce, just based on numbers and geography.”

 

But shortages of all kinds are facing the practice of nursing, Daley says. There is an impending shortage of nurses, of nursing faculty, of chief nursing officers, and nursing-school deans – due to age, experienced nurses are retiring in large numbers. But the lack of adequate numbers of qualified nursing faculty is particularly vexing, she says.

 

“The faculty shortage represents a huge barrier for educating enough nurses. In fact, over the past several years, we’ve turned away more than 70,000 qualified applicants from nursing programs each year in this country because we don’t have enough faculty or clinical sites to accommodate them.”

 

Taken together, those numbers mean Daley will often be headed back to Capitol Hill to ask for more government funding to help to ease the crunch, exacerbated by the prospect of 2 to 3 million Baby Boomers aging into Medicare every year for the foreseeable future.

 

“We have to make sure the supply of care providers meets the demand,” she adds. “That care is largely going to be nursing care. So we have to feed the pipeline, and I’m concerned when I see so much reticence in Congress around the budget regardless of the issue, that we might not be able to keep up with what is going to be a very unusual shortage and critical demand over the next decade.”

 

Part of the issue, she suggests, is a lack of understanding of the value the nursing profession brings to patient care.
“What has to happen,” she adds, “is nurses need to be better understood as not simply compassionate caregivers, but as knowledgeable and skilled providers who impact patient outcomes and are licensed and accountable as part of their societal contract to assure patients of safe, quality care.”

 

She notes the case of two nurses in Texas’ Winkler County who anonymously reported a physician for unsafe practices (their allegations were proven to be true). But a law-enforcement official who was friends with the doctor uncovered the nurses’ identities and they were fired, prosecuted and indicted. Though they were later vindicated and won a settlement, the entire episode gives other nurses pause about speaking up, Daley says.

 

She is no less candid in describing the state of women in the C-suite, noting the paucity of female leaders in healthcare. “If I were to characterize it in one sentence, I would say we’re not doing very well at all in shattering the glass ceiling. We need to make a lot of progress to raze that ceiling.”

 

Daley hopes she can play a small role in changing that view of the ceiling.

 

“As I go out and speak with nurses and other leaders around the country, my job is to inspire and empower them to find their own voice, and to encourage them to take the risks that are necessary for making change. I want to help them continue in their own journey to be effective change agents within a larger system.”

 

Undaunted by the setback that ended her nursing career, Daley is taking her own advice to heart.

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