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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.”


Profiles in Leadership: Proctor puts priority on outcomes

By | August 30 th,  2011 | Healthcare, St. Joseph Health System, strategy, Top 25 Women, faith-based, hospital, Modern Healthcare, outcome, Blog, CEO, leadership, safety, culture, Deborah Proctor | Add A Comment

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


Outcome vs. strategy: which takes the lead?


Deborah Proctor, president and CEO of St. Joseph Health System in Orange, Calif., makes it clear where she stands on that age-old business dilemma.


“One of the things that I learned in my career is that most people will develop a strategy and then measure how well they’re accomplishing that strategy. To me, that’s an insufficient process,” she says. “I think you have to first determine what outcomes you’re trying to achieve and then develop strategies to get to those outcomes.


“But you keep measuring the outcome and you adapt the strategies if they’re not getting you to the outcome.”


Proctor’s belief in outcomes colored the strategic plan that she and her staff created in 2006, and she made sure it was tangible and accessible for all St. Joseph employees.


“Instead of sharing strategies like improving financial performance or aligning with physicians –which are certainly important – we focused on talking to employees about outcomes,” she says.


St. Joseph identified three goals “that every employee could relate to,” says Proctor:


**That the employees of our system would strive to provide perfect care.


**That the communities served by St. Joseph Health System and its hospitals would be among the healthiest in the nation.


**That every encounter with patients, community members, and one another would be a sacred encounter.


“Perfect care” sounds like an unattainable goal but, to Proctor, who began her career at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California as a registered nurse, it has to do with focus.


“Obviously that’s a very tough standard to live up to,” she admits. “But what are you going to say, that I want to give people the best care 90 percent of the time? I don’t think we can say the aim is anything less. Perfect care doesn’t mean perfect outcome, but it means that everything that’s within our control will be done exceptionally without errors.”


Proctor’s insistence on a culture of safety stems from her experience in another health system.


“We were having a strategic meeting and, in the middle of the meeting, one of the physicians got a phone call that informed him of an unnecessary death had occurred in one of our facilities,” she remembers. “From that time, it really became a focus area for me.”


To make it tangible, St. Joseph Health System set out to improve its record with ventilator-associated pneumonia, which was straggling behind more than 60 percent of other U.S. hospitals. In one year, it moved up to the top 10 percent in the country.


“Quality,” she says, “has always been given an equal standing with finance in terms of what executives are held accountable for on their goals.”


If Proctor sounds like a decisive executive, it’s because she is. But the faith element of her career is never far below the surface.


“My faith is a critical part of my life,” she says. “That ability to have coherence between my personal values and what I’m doing at work – to me, there’s nothing better because it’s so much more than a job.”


And St. Joseph Health System’s mission, “extending the healing ministry of Jesus in the tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph,” is key to Proctor’s motivation.


“I use all my best business knowledge. But to me, working in a faith-based system is more fulfilling because I’m very clear about our mission and what we’re trying to accomplish – which then makes the business decisions have more relevance and meaning.”

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