From rocks to rockin' health IT: 5 questions to CHIME, HIMSS CIO of the Year Randy McCleese

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society chose Randy McCleese, CIO of Henderson, Ky.-based Methodist Hospital, as the John E. Gall Jr. CIO of the Year for his "significant leadership and commitment to the healthcare industry."

"It is really hard to explain the feeling associated with this … it is overwhelming, I don't know how to describe it," Mr. McCleese says of earning the award.

Mr. McCleese wasn't always in healthcare. Instead, he hails from the oil and gas industry, where he worked as a geologist for nearly 15 years. He taught himself IT to keep up with the demands of the job and earned a Masters in Business Administration. Mr. McCleese left his geology days behind to manage IT full time, ultimately taking on the roles of vice president of information services and CIO at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, Ky., where he retired at the end of 2016.

That retirement was short-lived. In April 2017, Mr. McCleese joined Methodist, a system comprised of a 192-bed acute care hospital, a 25-bed critical access hospital and a 19-practice physician network, where he leads IT strategy.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 22 years, and I've loved what I've done," he says. "I want to continue doing it for a few more."

Beyond serving as CIO, Mr. McCleese has been a CHIME member since 1998, where he is active in public policy. He has held numerous leadership positions within the organization, including CHIME board chair in 2014 and chair of the CHIME Policy Steering Committee in 2015.

Mr. McCleese also has an extensive background with HIMSS, beginning in 1997. He was elevated to fellow in 2005 and is particularly active in the Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter of HIMSS, where he served as president from 2004-05. In 2008, he introduced the chapter's Kentucky Advocacy Day, an annual visit to state legislators.

"It doesn't matter what size organization you come from, you can still have some input into what is going on in the industry," Mr. McCleese says. "Frankly, I come from a smaller organization, and I like to think that what I've had to say, some folks have listened to.."

Becker's Hospital Review recently caught up with Mr. McCleese to hear why health IT beckoned him out of retirement and his advice for other CIOs.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: What made you decide to come out of retirement to join Methodist?

Randy McCleese: I left St. Claire's at the end of 2016 when the opportunity presented itself to take an early retirement, but I quickly learned I was not ready for retirement. I felt like I had a lot more to contribute. At the beginning of 2017, right after I left St. Claire's, the position at Methodist was posted. It took about three months to go through the interviewing process, but they called and offered the position, and I readily accepted because I love the community hospital-type environment.

Q: What is your biggest accomplishment?

RM: My biggest accomplishment was being the chair of CHIME because as far as I know, I am the only person from a smaller hospital to ever chair CHIME. As I look back at those who have chaired the organization, most of them have been a CIO of a much larger organization. The same is true for CIO of the Year because the only other winner I have seen from a more community-type hospital was Chuck Christian, vice president of technology and engagement for the Indiana Health Information Exchange. The others have mostly come from larger organizations.

Q: What is the most pressing issue CIOs face today?

RM: Security. It could affect any of us. No one in the industry is immune to this. I may not be affected today, but it's going to hit at some point, and we have to be prepared when it does.

It comes down to risk. Somebody has to decide how much risk this organization can withstand. We could spend billions of dollars putting up a defense and somebody could still get through it.

Q: What advice do you have to other hospitals concerned about cybersecurity? What is Methodist doing in this space?

RM: Methodist has been hit by ransomware in the past, but effectively, we are preparing for when another cyberattack happens. We as CIOs have taken the stance that we cannot guarantee a cyberattack is not going to happen, so we have to be prepared for when it does. We have to harden our network as much as possible, both from a technology standpoint and a financial standpoint. Although we have multiple layers of security in place, we know at some point, somebody will figure out how to get through those. If that happens, we need to do our best to be prepared and bring the systems back up and make them operational.

More articles on health IT:
AHA names 1st senior advisor for cybersecurity and risk: 5 things to know
Report: Healthcare No. 1 industry hit by ransomware, W-2 scams in 2017
Siemens, IBM join 6 other tech companies to launch cybersecurity charter

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