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2016 Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare: Wright Lassiter: In healthcare's new order, no time to bask in past success

By | November 8 th,  2016 | Allegiance Health, Baldrige, merger, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, Health Alliance Plan, Modern Healthcare, president, succession, succession planning, transformation, Alameda County Medical Center, Blog, CEO, HealthPlus of Michigan, Henry Ford Health System, Nancy Schlichting, Wright Lassiter III | Add A Comment

 

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

 

Wright Lassiter earned kudos as a CEO for engineering a huge turnaround of the troubled Alameda County Health System in California. Now, as he succeeds Nancy Schlichting as the leader of the prestigious and celebrated Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, you might think he could take a deep breath and relax a bit.

 

But that’s not how he sees it at all.

 

“As we look at the next 5 to 10 years, the way that quality and safety outcomes will be measured will be different,” he says. “We’re clearly moving even more from volume to value and risk, so I think the measures for success for Henry Ford in the future will be different than they have been for the last 10 or 15 years. I strongly believe that there is transformation required for our organization. We need to focus differently than we have in the past.”

 

Henry Ford won the coveted Malcolm Baldrige Award for quality in 2011, just one of a series of major accomplishments in its long history of stellar healthcare. Lassiter says one of his tasks in seeking to propel Ford to even greater heights is to remind his staff that past glories are no guarantee of future results.

 

“In a rapidly changing industry that may require different things of us, some days I worry about the complacency that could spring from so many years of excellence,” he says.
In particular, notes Lassiter, the future success of Henry Ford may not be as closely tied to the success of hospitals as it has been in the past.

 

“For the next five or 10 years, we’re going to have to leverage our large medical group, community medical staff and our insurance company much more effectively than we have in the past,” he says. “That will require both executional and cultural shifts to do even more of what we call integrated care and coverage, this notion of a more narrow network. And I think we’re perfectly situated to do that.”

 

 

To grow, Henry Ford is stretching out beyond its traditional home of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties, where it has provided care for the past century. In recent months, the health system has merged HealthPlus of Michigan, an insurance company 75 miles north of Detroit, into Health Alliance Plan and merged Allegiance Health, a system 90 miles west of Detroit, into the system. They’re also partnering on the Aldara Hospital and Medical Center, a hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that will open later this year.

 

“These are the kinds of things we’ll be doing more of in the next five-plus years and that will require some transformation,” Lassiter says.

 

The announcement of Lassiter’s appointment as Schlichting’s successor struck some as unusual in the healthcare world simply because of the length of the handoff was two years. But, as Lassiter notes, there were some unusual circumstances.

 

“If it was a planned succession within the organization, two years is not necessarily that unusual,” he says. “But for us, the board thought it made sense because they had agreed on Nancy’s retirement date, and there was a lot of strategic work that they wanted to happen. The board was very clear that they wanted the new CEO to be fully engaged in the strategic work to reduce the risk of transition derailment or midstream change.”

 

When Lassiter came aboard, Schlichting quickly moved many of her key executives into a structure that reported to Lassiter. A number of those leaders, who had been contemplating their own retirements, warmed to Lassiter quickly and agreed to stick around as part of the transition team. And then came one of those unexpected circumstances that upped the ante – in June 2015, President Obama asked Schlichting to become the chairperson of the Commission on Care, which Congress established to find the best way to provide healthcare to military veterans.

 

“Nancy has acknowledged from day one that there was no way she could have served the nation in this role unless she and the Henry Ford board had agreed on an overlapping transition period,” Lassiter says. “The commission requires her to travel quite a bit, and that has actually accelerated the transition process as well.”

 

As Lassiter puts his own stamp on Henry Ford over the next decade, what will constitute success? He lists four items:

 

• HFHS will leverage its Baldrige award to become a high-reliability organization, one that can put its safety record up against the aviation and nuclear industries;

 

• It will be seen as the leading value-based healthcare system in the country;

 

• It will have developed a comprehensive statewide delivery system across Michigan – and beyond;

 

• It will be in the top 10 percent in metrics for employee engagement, physician engagement, customer service and safety scores.

 

“If I could look back 10 years and we had achieved these things, I’d say we had been wildly successful,” he says.

 

 

Wright Lassiter: In healthcare's new order, no time to bask in past success

By | May 20 th,  2016 | Allegiance Health, Baldrige, merger, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, Health Alliance Plan, Modern Healthcare, president, succession, succession planning, transformation, Alameda County Medical Center, Blog, CEO, HealthPlus of Michigan, Henry Ford Health System, Nancy Schlichting, Wright Lassiter III | Add A Comment

 

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

 

Wright Lassiter earned kudos as a CEO for engineering a huge turnaround of the troubled Alameda County Health System in California. Now, as he succeeds Nancy Schlichting as the leader of the prestigious and celebrated Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, you might think he could take a deep breath and relax a bit.

 

But that’s not how he sees it at all.

 

“As we look at the next 5 to 10 years, the way that quality and safety outcomes will be measured will be different,” he says. “We’re clearly moving even more from volume to value and risk, so I think the measures for success for Henry Ford in the future will be different than they have been for the last 10 or 15 years. I strongly believe that there is transformation required for our organization. We need to focus differently than we have in the past.”

 

Henry Ford won the coveted Malcolm Baldrige Award for quality in 2011, just one of a series of major accomplishments in its long history of stellar healthcare. Lassiter says one of his tasks in seeking to propel Ford to even greater heights is to remind his staff that past glories are no guarantee of future results.

 

“In a rapidly changing industry that may require different things of us, some days I worry about the complacency that could spring from so many years of excellence,” he says.
In particular, notes Lassiter, the future success of Henry Ford may not be as closely tied to the success of hospitals as it has been in the past.

 

“For the next five or 10 years, we’re going to have to leverage our large medical group, community medical staff and our insurance company much more effectively than we have in the past,” he says. “That will require both executional and cultural shifts to do even more of what we call integrated care and coverage, this notion of a more narrow network. And I think we’re perfectly situated to do that.”

 

 

To grow, Henry Ford is stretching out beyond its traditional home of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties, where it has provided care for the past century. In recent months, the health system has merged HealthPlus of Michigan, an insurance company 75 miles north of Detroit, into Health Alliance Plan and merged Allegiance Health, a system 90 miles west of Detroit, into the system. They’re also partnering on the Aldara Hospital and Medical Center, a hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that will open later this year.

 

“These are the kinds of things we’ll be doing more of in the next five-plus years and that will require some transformation,” Lassiter says.

 

The announcement of Lassiter’s appointment as Schlichting’s successor struck some as unusual in the healthcare world simply because of the length of the handoff was two years. But, as Lassiter notes, there were some unusual circumstances.

 

“If it was a planned succession within the organization, two years is not necessarily that unusual,” he says. “But for us, the board thought it made sense because they had agreed on Nancy’s retirement date, and there was a lot of strategic work that they wanted to happen. The board was very clear that they wanted the new CEO to be fully engaged in the strategic work to reduce the risk of transition derailment or midstream change.”

 

When Lassiter came aboard, Schlichting quickly moved many of her key executives into a structure that reported to Lassiter. A number of those leaders, who had been contemplating their own retirements, warmed to Lassiter quickly and agreed to stick around as part of the transition team. And then came one of those unexpected circumstances that upped the ante – in June 2015, President Obama asked Schlichting to become the chairperson of the Commission on Care, which Congress established to find the best way to provide healthcare to military veterans.

 

“Nancy has acknowledged from day one that there was no way she could have served the nation in this role unless she and the Henry Ford board had agreed on an overlapping transition period,” Lassiter says. “The commission requires her to travel quite a bit, and that has actually accelerated the transition process as well.”

 

As Lassiter puts his own stamp on Henry Ford over the next decade, what will constitute success? He lists four items:

 

• HFHS will leverage its Baldrige award to become a high-reliability organization, one that can put its safety record up against the aviation and nuclear industries;

 

• It will be seen as the leading value-based healthcare system in the country;

 

• It will have developed a comprehensive statewide delivery system across Michigan – and beyond;

 

• It will be in the top 10 percent in metrics for employee engagement, physician engagement, customer service and safety scores.

 

“If I could look back 10 years and we had achieved these things, I’d say we had been wildly successful,” he says.

 

 

Profiles in Leadership: Top 25 Minority Executives The undercover exec: Wright Lassiter III scoped out his hospital before he took the job, then forged a bond with his board to stage a remarkable turn

By | September 11 th,  2012 | board, Furst Group, Healthcare, executive, Minority Executives, Modern Healthcare, patient safety, Alameda County Medical Center, Blog, CEO, directors, leadership, Top 25, Wright Lassiter III, quality, trustee | Add A Comment

Lassiter

 

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

 

Back in 2005, before Wright Lassiter III interviewed for the position of CEO at the then-beleaguered Alameda County Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., he decided to see for himself if there were some signals of hope in an institution that had seen 10 CEOs crash and burn in the previous 11 years.

 

“I flew in the afternoon before and grabbed a taxi over to the hospital,” he says. “I was in street clothes; I wasn’t in a suit. No one knew who I was. I walked into the ER waiting room and then walked the hallways. I wanted to get a sense of how the staff functioned; to see if people might help you find your way.”

 

What he found surprised him, especially for an organization with such a troubled recent past. Everyone he encountered was consistently courteous and helpful to him as a visitor, and to patients.

 

“There wasn’t one interaction that was negative,” Lassiter remembers. “The people doing the work in the trenches serving the community were doing the best they could.”

 

That, Lassiter says, gave him some hope that the health system could be turned around with the right moves. It also helped persuade him to give up a solid, comfortable position at JPS Health Network in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where he was senior vice president of operations.

 

Fast-forward a few years and the work that Lassiter has accomplished earned him a glowing write-up in Fast Company magazine, a spotlight that brought him national attention as well as some good-natured ribbing from his peers, he adds.

 

But to Lassiter, none of it would have happened without the backing of his board of trustees, a source of strength that is sometimes overlooked in the business world, he says.

 

“Two board members who served on the search committee that selected me are a large part of the reason why I considered the job in the first place,” Lassiter says. “They were instrumental in the turnaround. I think it’s important for CEOs to partner with their boards to drive change.”

 


It was the board’s backing that enabled him, he says, to press forward with an aggressive plan to reduce errors and champion quality and patient safety.

 

“I generally take my board members to health care conferences to help them understand the nuances of what’s being presented,” he says. “But I purposely did not go with my vice chair when he attended an IHI conference on quality because I didn’t want to influence him. He went with our chief medical officer instead. When he came back, he told me, ‘OK, Wright, I get it. I am scared out of my mind, but we have to do this.’ ”

 

The leaders at Alameda County Medical Center presented a plan for “harm reduction” and, in 18 months, reduced incidents of harm by 48.5 percent across the system.

 

“People get uncomfortable with the word ‘harm,’ but the board agreed that it was the correct word to use. The groundbreaking report “To err is human” found that harm was happening in hospitals and we were willing to acknowledge that a problem existed,” Lassiter says bluntly. “Our work drew glowing comments from the Joint Commission and Donald Berwick, a member of the original committee that published the report on errors. That’s what happens when you educate a board well and then engage them.”

 

Healthcare and leadership are part of Lassiter’s heritage. His mother is a nurse, and his father is chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District. What he’s learned from them, and from his career, is that a critical factor in leadership is simply courage, like the move he made in accepting the Alameda position. “That doesn’t mean blind courage,” he notes, “or taking risks that are inappropriate. But when the lights are off and you don’t know what’s around the corner, you have to lead with courage.”

 

Closely aligned with courage, he says, are transparent communication and flexibility. “Communication is especially important with the medical staff,” Lassiter notes. “You tell them, ‘Here is our plan, and we will keep communicating with you all the way through this process.’ ” It’s a reason why he still takes part in new employee orientations, he says.

 

Flexibility is based in honesty, Lassiter says. “You have to do your planning with flexibility. You can plan so that you have a baseline for your actions as an organization, but you have to be willing to be flexible if conditions change.”

 

And as conditions change within the healthcare industry itself, he says, building a leadership team requires flexible people. “Healthcare is a relationship business, and I’m always looking for folks who can foster, build and maintain strong relationships. It takes perseverance too. You can’t be dissuaded easily by problems or challenges.”

 

At Alameda, the challenges have been formidable, but Lassiter and his team have stepped up to the task, stopping seven-figure financial losses and building a new facility while dealing with all the issues that come with being a safety-net hospital.

 

“When I talk to our people, I say, ‘Think of your loved ones and put their faces on the patients and families you’re caring for.’ When you approach your work with this in mind, you will do all you can to provide excellent service.”

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