How the baby boomer generation is affecting Michigan's healthcare system with Brian Peters

Brian Peters is the chief executive officer at Lansing-based Michigan Health & Hospital Association. 

Mr. Peters will serve on the panel "The Big Priorities and Changing Role of Hospital Boards" at Becker's 10th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable. As part of an ongoing series, Becker's is talking to healthcare leaders who plan to speak at the conference on Nov. 7-10 in Chicago. 

To learn more and register, click here.

Becker's Healthcare aims to foster peer-to-peer conversation between healthcare's brightest leaders and thinkers. In that vein, responses to our Speaker Series are published straight from interviewees. Here is what our speakers had to say.

Question: What is the smartest thing you've done in the last year to set your system up for success? 

Brian Peters: I believe that doubling down on the most crucial asset in the organization, which is your people, is a brilliant move, both for an association like ours and certainly for the hospitals and health systems we represent. We know that hospitals have always been human resource-intensive. At the end of the day, we know that workforce challenges are the primary priority in the field.

It represents about 50 percent of our total operating cost, even in normal times, and these are not normal times. We have seen all sorts of factors that have escalated the cost of human capital and put incredible stress on the people doing this amazing work, including our Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA) team. Our staff has risen to the occasion to combat the pandemic and provide support to our members. They've done a phenomenal job, but that takes a toll. Stress and burnout in healthcare also impact our team. So, we've done everything possible to give the flexibility, protect the benefits, and give our folks the tools and resources they need.

Q: What are you most excited about right now and what makes you nervous? 

BP: Well, I always look at the silver lining in situations like this and I think the silver lining is that we're ready to push a reset button on American healthcare. We saw some of the fragility that exists in our healthcare ecosystem. That's certainly true here in Michigan. I think we'll be better prepared to deal with these sorts of challenges in the future regarding the supply chain and how we can embrace technology as a force multiplier.

We saw, for example, early on that the use of telehealth skyrocketed, even though we had a lot of folks saying, "Well, that's going to take years and years to adopt and implement and to get our patients and communities accustomed to that." Then, those numbers skyrocketed overnight when we were presented with a crisis. I think it's an example of how things that we think are seemingly impossible in healthcare can be made possible with leadership and the right set of circumstances. So I'm excited about what the future holds regarding improved healthcare delivery.

Furthermore, what keeps me up at night is the question, "Can we keep our frontline caregivers and the people responsible for the work at the end of the day safe, happy, and engaged?" Unfortunately, many have left healthcare in the last couple of years to retire or other opportunities in other sectors. And I think the challenge going forward is to encourage young people to be interested in healthcare and to come into this arena where there will be so many opportunities and they'll be desperately needed. But that's the number one concern that I am looking forward to.

Q: How are you thinking about growth and investments for the next year or two? 

BP: As I look to the future regarding growth and investment, I think you start with the demographic reality that this is an aging population in Michigan because of our aging and place phenomenon. We're aging even more rapidly than most states because of the baby boomer situation. Still, we don't have the same influx of immigrants and younger families coming to the state as you see elsewhere in the country. So, we are a particularly aging population, which puts increased pressure on the healthcare delivery system. Still, it also speaks to the investments that we need to make, not only from a private sector side of the ledger but certainly when we talk to the governor and lawmakers here at the state level. We need to make investments in public policy, whether through Medicaid policy or investments outside the traditional Medicaid budget, but we need to make those investments going forward.

Public health and behavioral health are in crisis. Funding will not solve that problem on its own, but without it, it won't be easy to get where we need to be. However, we will strenuously argue that we need to double down on our investment.

Q: What will healthcare executives need to be effective leaders for the next five years?  

BP: Well, I believe that the future healthcare leader will be well-versed in the political and public policy domain. I say that because if you rewind the clock 20, 30 years, the percentage of our patient population covered by state or federal programs, Medicaid and Medicare particularly, was much smaller than it is today. We've seen the growth in Medicare with the aging population, and that'll continue. We've seen Medicaid expansion here in Michigan and across the country. That's dramatically grown the Medicaid roles, and we're thankful for that because these are folks who would be uninsured otherwise in many cases. But the reality is that the decisions made in state capitals and Washington, DC, both in terms of funding and public policy, are more impactful to the healthcare business today than ever before. 

As a healthcare leader, whether in a hospital health system, provider role or technology, you need to understand how that political realm works, how to have your voice heard most effectively, and how to get a positive change through the system. That is not easy. That's an entire discipline unto itself. We have folks specializing in that role, our lobbyists and government affairs teams. But it's not enough to count on those individuals to do that independently; they need our support. We can't be afraid to open our doors to our elected officials at the state and federal levels and show them the challenges that we deal with every day. But I feel strongly that this is an all-hands-on-deck issue and politics should not be a spectator sport, certainly not for those of us in healthcare leadership.

Q: How are you building resilient and diverse teams? 

BP: Well, that's the main focus for healthcare leaders today because health equity has been lifted up as a top priority. I think the pandemic showed, once again, how we're not doing as well as we should regarding health equity. And the way you get at health equity in one way is through your diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, to build a diverse team so that you have the expertise and the sensibility to do the right things when it comes to providing care to your communities. Every hospital in our membership here in Michigan has signed a pledge to do the right thing regarding health equity and to address implicit bias in the healthcare ecosystem. So I'm very pleased that we're on the right path.

When you look at the resiliency issue, we've discussed that many people have left healthcare in the last couple of years. How can we look at the system and the approach to healthcare delivery to create a friendlier system for those who work inside that system? That goes beyond simply setting up safeguards that protect our frontline caregivers from physical and emotional abuse they've increasingly been dealing with in the last couple of years. We certainly have to do that, but that's not enough. We need to do more to make sure that they practice at the top of their license and feel empowered to engage with patients positively and more fruitfully.

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