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The results are in: These are the Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2013

By | April 9 th,  2013 | Furst Group, Patricia Hemingway Hall, Top 25 Women, ACHE, Deborah Bowen, gala, Leah Binder, Marna Borgstrom, Modern Healthcare, Nashville, Sherrie Barch, Blog, leadership, Leapfrog Group, Marilyn Tavenner, Kathleen Sebelius, Sharon O'Keefe, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment



Furst Group is proud to continue to sponsor the Top 25 Women In Healthcare awards for Modern Healthcare.


This week's issue of Modern Healthcare has all the details on this year's honorees. First-time winners include Leah Binder, CEO of Leapfrog Group; Sharon O'Keefe, president of the University of Chicago Medical Center; Deborah Bowen, incoming president of the American College of Healthcare Executives; and Marna Borgstrom, president and CEO of Yale-New Haven Health System. Others selected include HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, Leapfrog Group CEO Leah Binder and Patricia Hemingway Hall, CEO of HCSC.


“The Top 25 Women in Healthcare have battled through a lot to get to this moment, and we applaud their talent and perseverance. Gender inequities remain in opportunities, compensation and societal and family expectations,” Furst Group President Sherrie Barch says. “These women are among the top leaders in our country regardless of gender.”


The program, along with the “Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare” awards, also sponsored by Furst Group, continues the firm’s efforts to ensure that the leadership of healthcare organizations reflects the communities they serve. This is the fifth year that Furst Group has sponsored the awards.The awards will be presented at the gala Aug. 6 in Nashville, Tenn. We hope you will consider attending.


To see the full list of honorees, please click here.

Profiles in Leadership: Healthcare reform a worldwide need, Bisognano says

By | September 12 th,  2011 | Healthcare, Top 25 Women, IHI, Maureen Bisognano, Modern Healthcare, patient-centered care, patient safety, president, Blog, CEO, healthcare reform, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, leadership, quality | 2 Comments


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


In her travels around the world as the president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Maureen Bisognano has discovered something: healthcare reform isn’t an exclusively American issue. Many countries, she says, are realizing they need to make some fundamental changes in their healthcare systems.


“There are so many similarities that it’s uncanny,” she says. “You need to use different languages in different countries, but the fundamental problems are very, very similar.”


Bisognano sees several universal issues, including finances, labor and patient-centered care.


“In every country that we work in, there are insufficient numbers of skilled people to do the kind of work we need,” she notes. “Even here in the United States, we’ve got a graying population and fewer people coming into the healthcare systems as caregivers.”


And, while American expenditures on healthcare outpace the rest of the world, Bisognano says the rest of the world is still wrestling with a lack of funds in that area.


“Even in the developing countries, and the low and middle-income countries, finances are an issue. We need new designs in order to provide the care with limited resources. All over Europe and the U.K., we’re seeing budgets needing to be constrained.”


Patients’ voices are being heard now more than ever in most sections of the globe, but Bisognano says they sometimes have a different idea of patient focus than in the U.S.


“When I’m in Malawi or Ghana, in talking about patient-centered care, they actually kind of chuckle because they think that we don’t understand what patient-centered care is – and, in a sense, they’re right,” she says. “Because there, it’s not just the patient. It’s the family, it’s the village, it’s the tribe. And if you don’t get all these supports lined up, then a woman will not get to the hospital for a delivery. So they have a much more sophisticated understanding about what patient-centered care means.”


IHI has long been known for its championing of patient-centered care. Bisognano and former CEO Don Berwick worked side by side for 16 years. She said she is encouraged by the strides she is seeing in this area, citing four examples:


**In Sweden, a young aerospace technician wanted to do his own dialysis. A nurse taught him. He taught another patient. And now, in this Swedish hospital, 60 percent of the patients run their own dialysis, and their outcomes are better than those that don’t.


**At Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the staff conducts “Huddles” every few hours to coordinate patient care where the focus is always on the future – what might happen. “In many hospitals, you’ll see nurses meet periodically to discuss what happened, but it’s always in the past tense,” Bisognano says.


**In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mercy Medical Center, without the benefit of being part of a large health system, has drastically reduced mortality rates and made patient-centeredness part of its DNA.


**In Pittsburgh, orthopedic surgeon Anthony Digioia has redesigned the way hips and knees get replaced. Patients who go through the new process spend an average of 2-1/2 days in the hospital and 95 percent go home without a walker or a cane.


Bisognano says these examples illustrate how innovation can revitalize healthcare.


“I think the old methods of management that were much more top-down control don’t work when you’re undergoing transformations as radical as we need to undertake in these times,” she says. “And so, people are turning to innovation, and they’re turning to quality improvement and design.”


As a former nurse herself, she sees nurses as an undertapped resource for driving improvement and innovation, because nurses have long had to troubleshoot at every turn.


“If the medication wasn’t there, if supplies weren’t available, if the IV pole wasn’t there or a patient was late in arriving at the operating room, the nurse would scurry around to make up for that deficit in the process,” she says. “Nurses were rewarded for being able to adapt and overcome process-level problems.


“We need to be trained a bit to be able to stop in the midst of fixing something and say, ‘Am I the only person this has happened to today? Is this a problem that happens frequently? Do I predict this will happen again tomorrow? If so, how do I use quality improvement methods to prevent this from happening tomorrow and to any other patient?’ ”

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.”

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.”

Profiles in Leadership: For Gail Donovan, the details matter

By | August 16 th,  2011 | business, profile, Top 25 Women, urban, executive, hospitals, interview, Modern Healthcare, New York, operational effectiveness, value-based purchasing, article, Blog, chief operating officer, electronic medical records, Gail Donovan, leadership, Continuum Health Partners, COO, quality | Add A Comment

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


As the daughter of a surgeon and an operating room nurse and now as one of the leading healthcare executives in the nation, Gail Donovan has been around hospitals all her life. So when she says she’s a bit worried about healthcare reform, one tends to listen more intently.


“Hospitals are like running 40 different businesses,” says Donovan, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Continuum Health Partners, Inc. “As a large provider system, our hospital emergency rooms care for 250,000 visits a year in our system and we have very large ambulatory services handling more than 3 million visits a year. I love being able to provide access and to make sure that, as much as possible, we’re able to meet the needs of the very large and diverse communities we serve.”


While she agrees that changes are necessary, Donovan says some of the details, like value-based purchasing, need to take into recognition the realities that urban hospitals and systems wrestle with every day.


“We know how to run financially distressed hospitals because we’ve had to learn how to do that, and move from operating in the red to operating in the black, all the while we’re trying to improve and demonstrate improvements in quality,” she says.


It’s the details that matter to Donovan in reform and in healthcare in general.


“The absolute top quality that an executive needs to have is operational effectiveness,” she says. “Essentially, you must be grounded in details and be able to be not just productive but effective in managing the details of your work and your job.


“It’s through this that you can then have strategic vision. I don’t think you can really have strategic vision unless you understand what you’re managing today.”


Donovan and her team long have been visionary about the need for electronic medical records, but she credits her board with having the courage to invest more than $100 million in EMRs even as the system was struggling to provide basic core services. With an eye to the future, Continuum is well-positioned for whatever reform may bring, but Donovan wonders where the funds to help urban hospitals with compliance will come from as value-based purchasing expands from six core measures to 30 or 40.


“For urban hospitals to potentially be penalized and have reimbursement taken away could take a very fragile healthcare structure and create significant problems and an inability to maintain services.”


Many urban hospitals, Donovan says, are capital-starved and have a high dependence on Medicare, Medicaid and the bad-debt charity care pools.


“If those dynamics are altered without having a proper definition of safety-net facilities, like a number of my institutions are, then that dynamic could completely upend our ability to meet the needs of the very large communities we serve.”


Despite that sober warning, Donovan clearly enjoys her chosen field. To varying degrees, she has been serving since she was 12 and first became a hospital volunteer. She interned in health administration before going to graduate school and did a residency as part of her graduate degree that was “pivotal,” she says.


“I still strongly advise graduate students to seek internships and residencies. They’re called different things now, but exposure early on to a number of different organizations and their components led to job opportunities for me.”


She also credits luck in finding professional mentors who championed her early in her career.


“I was usually the youngest in the room – and the only woman,” Donovan says. “I think that has changed in certain settings, but there continues to be a lack of women in the most senior of positions in hospitals and healthcare systems.


“I think we’re changing that, but it’s a little bit slower, perhaps because of some concerns about work-life balance. As a mother, I know that if I did not have a supportive husband who had greater flexibility, I wouldn’t have been able to put in the time and the commitment to do what I needed to do professionally as well as support my family.”


Her professional reach has extended far beyond her system. She was president of the Metropolitan Health Administrators Association before it became the New York chapter of ACHE. And, with Susan Waltman, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the Greater New York Hospital Association, Donovan spearheaded emergency preparedness measures in the wake of 9/11 that the Joint Commission has adopted as standards for all U.S. hospitals. Such responses, applicable to natural disasters as well as terrorist attacks, go beyond medicine, she says.


“So much of emergency response ends up dealing with adequate communications structures and systems,” she says. “And even in a sophisticated environment like New York, that continues to be one of the top challenges. So one of the outgrowths of the post-9/11 work was ongoing emergency preparedness that includes all the municipal structures and systems with the provider community.


“It’s why my job is fun,” she adds. “I actually love my job. Always have.”

Profiles in Leadership: Intermountain’s Linda Leckman aims for consistency, transparency

By | August 8 th,  2011 | Healthcare, surgeons, Top 25 Women, ACO, consistency, executive, Modern Healthcare, accountable care, Blog, CEO, transparency, Utah, Linda Leckman, physician leadership, quality | Add A Comment

medical group,


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


Linda Leckman was in her car – again – driving up to Ogden, Utah, from Salt Lake City, to meet with a group of thoracic surgeons. Road trips like this one – which Leckman actively seeks out to keep in touch with her colleagues and staff -- are common for the vice president of Intermountain Healthcare and the CEO of the Intermountain Medical Group.


“I’ve learned the value,” says Leckman, a general surgeon herself, “of sitting down face to face and actively listening to people.”


While Leckman’s reputation precedes her as one of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare, she is transparent about her growing pains in moving from a career as a surgeon in private practice to an administrator. Listening, she says, was actually something she had to grow into.


“One of the things I did not do very well, initially, was to listen. I guess, as a cliché, you could say, ‘Well, what would you expect from a surgeon?’ ” she jokes. “But I also got some bad advice in regard to approaching a contract situation, and I learned from that.”


Leckman is not one to waste a lesson. These days, the people around her know “listening” is a Leckman staple. Another is consistency.


“The medical group is spread across the whole state of Utah,” she says. “We have more than 130 clinics, so my management structure is geographic. My managers need to be able to make decisions on their own that will be consistent across the organization, so it’s very important that I be consistent, that we set up procedures and standards that are consistent.”


What’s also consistent is the way Leckman diverts attention away from herself and toward Intermountain.


“I believe one of the reasons I was recognized by Modern Healthcare was because I work for Intermountain Healthcare,” she says simply. “I take it as much of an acknowledgement of Intermountain’s role in leading clinical quality development as of anything that I specifically did. But that’s OK, because I’m a real cheerleader for my organization.”


Intermountain was in the spotlight several months ago when it was one of several prestigious systems, along with Mayo, Cleveland Clinic and Geisinger, to announce it had no plans to sign up for the government’s ACO program as it was then structured.


“The idea of accountable care is one that we totally support, the idea that quality needs to be improved and costs need to be reduced – that’s something we’ve been doing for years,” Leckman says. “One of the big concerns was that we were going to be measured basically against ourselves in terms of whether there is improvement or not. And since we have been working on it for a long time, a lot of what would be considered as potential gains for managing better are things we have already achieved. And so we really had more to lose than gain from being involved.”


If such a stance surprised the industry, it was not out of character for Intermountain, or for Leckman, who has been something of an unintentional pioneer. After graduating from Texas Christian University with a degree in history (and a minor in combined science, which included pre-med classes), Leckman enrolled at the University of Nevada to work on a master’s in history. It didn’t last. In her second year, she decided she really wanted to become a physician. A surgeon, no less.


“But this was the 1960s, and it was unusual for a woman to go to medical school,” she says. “And I was raised by my mom to be a housewife.”


Undaunted, she got her M.D. from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and became the first woman resident to finish the surgery program at the University of Utah.


“That’s been a pattern in my life – I end up in areas dominated by men,” Leckman says with a laugh. “But it’s worked out OK.”

Profiles in Leadership: Peggy O’Kane’s passion for superior care keeps industry on its toes

By | August 1 st,  2011 | Healthcare, National Committee for Quality Assurance, Top 25 Women, accreditation, executive, Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set, Modern Healthcare, NCQA, patient safety, president, Blog, CEO, diversity, leadership, listening, Margaret Peggy O'Kane, patients, quality | Add A Comment


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


If healthcare has anything like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, it is probably accreditation by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the organization that Margaret “Peggy” O’Kane founded in 1990.


Besides her appearance as one of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare, O’Kane often is also recognized as one of the 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare by the magazine. And for good reason. The Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set is NCQA’s quality measurement tool that is the gold standard in the industry.


O’Kane is a champion of healthcare institutions, but she is also tough on them.


“In an emergency situation, you’re often not in a position to make a choice – you go wherever the ambulance takes you,” she says. “We need to have hospitals that are uniformly safe.”


Safety, as one might imagine, is paramount to O’Kane.


“Safety resonates with the public,” she says. “When you tell an audience how many people die because of medical errors, people are completely astounded and appalled. There is great work being done, but it’s uneven.”


The beauty of NCQA’s work is that it sets a bar high without condemning the caregivers, whom O’Kane believes are “great people who want to do the right things. People go into healthcare to do good for patients and by patients.”


O’Kane has a master’s in health administration and planning from Johns Hopkins and worked for several years with an HMO trade association, but also has a renaissance background that includes a degree in French and work as a respiratory therapist and as an elementary school teacher. She says she believes healthcare is “behind other sectors” when it comes to women in leadership.


“I continue to be struck by how few women and minorities are in leadership in healthcare organizations aside from traditional roles like heads of nursing,” she says. “One of the great things that diversity brings is different perspectives. Healthcare still has a ways to go to be more representative of patients.”


For women emerging as leaders in healthcare, O’Kane’s counsel is twofold:


“Be stubborn”: “We’re in a period where change is the right thing to do. You’ve got to be really determined to bring that change.”


And “listen”: “Listening to patients is one of the major tasks of healthcare.”

Profiles in Leadership: McNutt makes sure IT’s voice is heard in healthcare’s future

By | July 15 th,  2011 | CHIME, clinical informatics, Dallas, Healthcare, Top 25 Women, executive, HIMSS, information technology, IT, Modern Healthcare, Pamela McNutt, Blog, chief information officer, CIO, College of Healthcare Information Management Execu, electronic medical records, female leaders, Methodist Health System | Add A Comment


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


Computerworld Magazine covers its industry to a T – make that IT. But amid major stories on automakers (“How IT is fueling Ford’s turnaround”) and competing systems (“Clash of the Clouds”), last Nov. 22’s cover features senior vice president and chief information officer Pamela McNutt of Methodist Health System in Dallas, who weighs in on “Healthcare IT: No Quick Cure.”


McNutt’s national stature also made her a wise choice to chair the policy steering committee for the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, and she and her colleagues have spent time advising the CMS on what works and what doesn’t in the federal government’s new regulations.


“One reason I’ve been so active nationally is there’s a lot of concern about meaningful use,” she says. “Are the incentives achievable? Are we moving too fast on some things? Too slow on others?”


Besides CHIME, McNutt is active in HIMSS and AHA. She earned a Leadership Award from HIMSS in 2001 and was named CHIME’s CIO of the Year in 2002.


While she is very hopeful about the future of electronic medical records, she cautions that there is a long road ahead.


“There is a sense that healthcare has been behind other industries in adopting information technology,” she says, noting that healthcare traditionally spends 2.5 percent of its budget on IT while other businesses devote 5 to 10 percent on new technology.


But shedding ink-on-paper for computer records isn’t as easy as some people think, notes McNutt.


“We still have issues with normalizing the way data is collected,” she says. “Even being on the same vendor platform doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to exchange data seamlessly.”

Beyond that are the issues raised by HIPAA.


“ ‘Contradiction’ may be too strong of a word, but we face a real dilemma as healthcare providers in reconciling privacy and security of records. We want to provide quick and easy access to provide the best possible care, but at the same time providing privacy and security.


“The whole industry is struggling with this on a national basis,” she adds. “What rights does a patient have to control, restrict or direct where their data goes and, on the flipside, what right does the caregiver have to see a complete and accurate picture?”


That dilemma won’t be resolved any time soon. But the growing role of IT in healthcare means that there are opportunities for workers in that field. McNutt suggests it’s also a window for women to move into leadership.


In fact, one area where healthcare has shone, she says, is in the development of female leaders.


“Healthcare has always been ahead of other business sectors in having female leadership,” she notes. “When I started in IT years ago, it was a male-dominated field. When you go to meetings of our professional societies today, there are so many more women. I think healthcare was a field that was ripe.”


IT workers with nursing backgrounds are proving especially valuable, she says, but adds that there is plenty of room for more. “Clinical informatics is a very special skill set, and we’re 50,000 people short nationally,” she adds.


If Methodist has a head start, it’s because McNutt had the foresight to revamp its IT system in 2003.


“We made a conscious decision to start over in 2003,” she says. “Rather than continue to put puzzle pieces together, we decided to bring in a bulldozer. At the time, it was a bit of a radical approach, but it’s working very well.”

Profiles in Leadership: In Detroit, Schlichting’s success story is one to celebrate

By | July 5 th,  2011 | chief executive officer, Detroit, Healthcare, risk, Top 25 Women, Modern Healthcare, Blog, finances, Henry Ford Health System, leadership, leadership academies, Nancy Schlichting, culture | Add A Comment

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


If you ask Nancy Schlichting about what sparked the most professional growth in her career as she rose to become chief executive officer of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, she is quick to point to people other than herself.


“Having strong mentors has probably been the most important element of my career,” she says.


The two key ones, she adds, are Al Gilbert and Gail Warden, who led Summa Health System in Ohio and Henry Ford, respectively.


“They are two individuals who had profound impact on my career,” Schlichting says. “Al Gilbert appointed me at the ripe old age of 28 to be executive vice president and chief operating officer of a 650-bed teaching hospital. That was what launched my career in so many ways.”


If there is one skill Schlichting learned from her mentors, and one that she made all her own, it is taking risks. In Schlichting’s case, she opened a new, $360 million hospital, West Bloomfield, during the worst economic downturn since the 1930s in a region of the country that has not seen an abundance of success stories in recent years. She topped off that move by hiring a non-healthcare executive to run the place.


Gerard van Grinsven became president and CEO of West Bloomfield after a successful career as vice president of the Ritz Carlton hotel chain. Schlichting calls his hiring one of her best moves.


“Gerard is my poster child for taking risks on people,” she says. “He came to us through his involvement on our board. I got to know him. He told me he did not want to be traveling as much for personal reasons. I had no clue what to do with him at first.


“But the more I thought about it, I realized that he had opened more than 20 hotels around the world and was an incredible leader of people – smart and competitive.”


In two years, West Bloomfield has surpassed all of Ford’s financial projections, and Schlichting says van Grinsven’s work has been “nothing short of phenomenal.” Simultaneous to West Bloomfield’s debut was a renovation of the Detroit flagship hospital that cost $300 million. Revenue has doubled in the last ten years.


No wonder, then, that Fast Company co-founder William C. Taylor talked about Schlichting’s work in transforming her health system in his new book “Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself” (William Murrow).


Given her successes, Schlichting believes that financial acumen is an overlooked but mandatory part of an up-and-coming executive’s skill set. “Many of my colleagues, both male and female, need to have a more in-depth understanding of finances. We are running very large enterprises. How we use resources affects the overall financial health of a hospital.”


The other key to focus on, she says, is simple – people. “Healthcare organizations are very people-centric,” she says. “Having good relationship skills is important. It’s about creating a positive environment for people to work in and helping everyone reach their potential.”


To that end, Schlichting has launched several leadership academies to develop leaders and help retention in a market that has its challenges.


“If you don’t have a good culture,” she says simply, “you’re not going to be successful.”

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