The cause and effect of Ketul Patel focusing on building his dream team of employees

Ketul J. Patel is the chief executive officer of Seattle-based Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and the division president of the Pacific Northwest CommonSpirit Health. 

Mr. Patel will be interviewing with Scott Becker, the founder of Becker's Healthcare, 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?

Ketul Patel: We intentionally focused on culture. When continued COVID-19 surges led to burnout and exhaustion across the healthcare workforce, we focused on bolstering employee engagement and implementing initiatives to better support, encourage, celebrate, and understand our team members. We invested in competitive compensation, including benefits like loan forgiveness and tuition reimbursement. Code Lavender provided VMFH (Virginia Mason Franciscan Health) employees in need with direct emotional support and referrals. Our respite, recharge rooms, and well-being debrief ensured team members had opportunities to reflect on their experiences and take needed breaks. Also, we celebrated Acts of Humankindness to honor team members who went the extra mile for patients and colleagues. We want our workforce to feel like they are part of a growing organization that puts a premium on their health and well-being.

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

KP: I am most excited about the future of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health as we continue to integrate, innovate, and grow to better serve our area's diverse health care needs. We're making significant investments to build a diverse team of clinicians who reflect our diverse communities, address health equity through community programs, and address the social issues and root causes that can lead to poor health. We will continue to provide world-class care for all who need it, especially the most vulnerable, and adapt to delivering that care in new and exciting ways.

Workforce challenges that dominate our industry are an ongoing concern we are addressing in many ways. This is an issue that is not going away any time soon. Reimbursement continues to be challenging, and the current economic climate has created uncertainty across the healthcare industry and beyond. We believe focusing on our team and the quality of care we seek to deliver daily helps distinguish us as we cope with these challenges. 

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

KP: The healthcare landscape continues to shift and evolve, requiring health systems across the country to create new, innovative care delivery models that prioritize patients' preferences for convenient, affordable, and accessible care. At VMFH, we leveraged several innovative partnerships this year to support technological advancement, community health improvement and increased access. This includes Contessa Health to offer hospital-level care at home as an effective alternative to the traditional inpatient stay; Intuitive Health to co-locate emergency room and urgent care services in a single facility where patients are triaged to the most appropriate level of care and billed only for the level of care received; and Confluence Health to expand specialty pharmacy services, increasing access to life-saving specialty medicines for patients living in underserved areas across the Pacific Northwest.

Q: What will healthcare executives need to be effective leaders for the next 5 years?

KP: They will need a sense of optimism and adaptability. If we learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is to expect the unexpected. We need to be willing to adapt, innovate and change. We also need to recognize the needs – not only of our patients but our team members – and invest in the health and safety of both. We must find ways to better serve patient needs outside our hospitals and be bold with our commitment to care. 

Q: How are you building resilient and diverse teams? 

KP: Resilience and diversity do not happen without a commitment from the top to make it a priority and recognize they are an integral part of our culture and success. We know meaningful change does not happen overnight. It requires a commitment to building diverse talent and an inclusive culture through investment and mentorship.  Through CommonSpirit’s 10-year, $100 million partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health has the opportunity to build a more diverse team of clinicians. It will better reflect the distinct communities we serve by training medical students in the Pacific Northwest through rotations in anesthesiology, urology and system-based practice.  In addition, we are working with local community colleges to recruit RNs from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. We hope to elevate recruitment efforts through these programs and build a more diverse team of residents, clinicians, and faculty to advance an inclusive care network.

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