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.’ ”