Words of appreciation: Thank-you notes from 15 health system CEOs

Thanksgiving week provides an especially appropriate time to show gratitude. In honor of this time, Becker's asked 15 CEOs to share notes to their staff, team members and families.

Michael Dowling
President and CEO of Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.)

More than 150 years before the place we call home ever became the United States, true Americans — the Wampanoag Indians —celebrated an autumn harvest with a group of uninvited immigrants from Europe. By doing so, they set an example of civility and a precedent of welcoming foreigners that undoubtedly enabled America to become the land of immigrants that it is today. Without a doubt, this kind, welcoming and truly American gesture set a precedent that led to the success of the grand experiment that welcomed those from far-away countries and forever changed the history of the world.

As students of history, we know that the vast majority of us are either immigrants ourselves or descended from those who come from someplace else. Very few of our ancestors are native to this land that we so proudly call "home." The fact that so many have come here — and so many still desire to come here — is a living, breathing testament to what “America” means and what together our ancestors have managed to create.

And so, this Thanksgiving, nearly 400 years after the first one, I think we should come together in thanks to America herself for the opportunity to come, live and prosper here. To honor this great gift we have been given, wouldn’t it be wonderful to remember who we are at our core and how we got here? Maybe then, we can return to the foundation of kindness and civility in our public discourse — one that has been absent lately — that allowed that very first Thanksgiving to occur and set in motion all of the amazing things that followed.

Mitchell Katz, MD
President and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals (New York City)

This year has been a time of much change for me. After so many years living and working on the West Coast, I returned home to New York City to serve America's largest public healthcare system.

During this time of reflection and Thanksgiving, I count my blessings for my family and for having the opportunity to spend more time with my elderly parents in New York.

I am also thankful to the more than 1 million New Yorkers who entrust us with their care every year — especially my own patients who keep me grounded and allow me to have a special window into the strengths and challenges of delivering care to all, without exception. I find especially gratifying how many of our doctors, nurses, and other staff relied on Health + Hospitals for their healthcare as children and now work at Health + Hospitals as their way of giving back to a system that took care of them.

And not just them! I am enormously grateful for ALL the employees of NYC Health + Hospitals who are so driven by commitment to our mission and have made my first year so memorable and rewarding. I am proud to serve alongside the 40,000+ healthcare professionals who have been at the forefront of transformation. Each and every day, they demonstrate a commitment to reduce health disparities, help patients avoid unnecessary hospitalizations, adopt new technologies and innovations, strengthen our primary care operation to keep more New Yorkers healthy, and build a more stable financial future for our health system.

And I give thanks to the new group of physicians and nurses who will consider joining us to help shape the future of America's largest healthcare system. (Learn more about our DOCS4NYC campaign.)

It's been amazing to witness what an important role our public health system plays in improving the lives of so many New Yorkers — and for that, I am most grateful.

Tomislav "Tom" Mihaljevic, MD
President and CEO of Cleveland Clinic

I'm reminded every day that I have more than 57,000 reasons to be thankful.

While healthcare continues to work through an ever-changing landscape of regulations, reimbursements and cost cutting, Cleveland Clinic has 57,000 caregivers worldwide who are committed to providing exceptional care in an exceptional way to every patient.

It's not always easy, but through it all they never settle for "good enough." Their expectations are to always do better. Better outcomes. Better patient experiences. Better safety.

"Patients First" is not just a motto. It's our mission. Patients trust us with their most valuable possession — their lives — and all of our caregivers recognize the immense responsibility that comes with that trust. They have bought into multiple efforts to strengthen our culture of safety, from tiered huddles to hand-washing initiatives to checklists, to name a few.

They understand that we are a team and we are in this together for the patient. Our purpose is bigger than ourselves.

I can't imagine a greater privilege than leading an organization with such incredible accomplishment and inspirational people.

Elizabeth Nabel, MD
President of Brigham Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital's parent organization (Boston), in an excerpt from an email to employees

Dear colleagues,

As I reflect on what I'm thankful for this season, I keep coming back to your unwavering dedication to our precious mission. Your devotion and compassion are a gift to thousands of patients and families. Whether through a kind word, helping hand or simply a warm smile, you bring hope and comfort to those around you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being a part of our Brigham family.

John Noseworthy, MD
President and CEO of Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.) 

Mayo Clinic's founders — Dr. Will Mayo and Dr. Charlie Mayo — believed that the combined wisdom of peers is greater than that of any individual. They invented the integrated group practice of medicine, where physicians, medical professionals and administrators work together to solve patients' problems. Dr. Will called it a "union of forces," and it remains our approach to any challenge we face as an organization.

Amid the industry disruption and constant change of the 21st century, I'm deeply grateful that our staff continue to live our founders' values. United by a culture of service, our teams have responded to the challenging healthcare environment with more than 400 projects to improve the cost, quality and value of our services, and dozens of re-engineering projects that helped cut nearly $1 billion in the past five years while integrating new technologies.

My role as president and CEO of Mayo Clinic concludes at the end of 2018. Many have asked me, when considering my tenure, what makes me most proud. My response is the daily stories I hear of how our staff make a difference in the lives of the patients we serve.

Mayo Clinic is powered by the union of incredibly talented people who are truly committed to a common vision and values. We wouldn't be Mayo Clinic without collaboration, and we wouldn't be Mayo Clinic without having extremely driven medical and scientific professionals. We're living proof that the two can co-exist when we are united in our primary value of "the needs of the patient come first."

Ronald Rittenmeyer
Executive Chairman and CEO of Tenet Healthcare (Dallas)   

The Thanksgiving holiday provides us with an important opportunity to think about gratitude. We often move so quickly, that we forget to stop and thank those who have changed something for the better in our professional and personal lives. That includes big changes, small changes, and changes that may have gone unnoticed by some, but truly made a difference in another person's life.

At Tenet Healthcare, we have embraced change over the last year and become stronger because of it. I am grateful for many things and would like to take this opportunity to extend my personal thanks to our patients, our communities, our partners and our employees.

To our patients: It is a privilege to serve you. Our caregivers and supporting staff across the country are passionate about providing you with the right care, in the right place, at the right time. We know you have a choice when it comes to your care, and we are committed to earning your trust. We are grateful for the opportunity to care for you in your time of need.

To our communities: From the West coast to the East coast, from Detroit to South Texas — we embrace the privilege we have in fostering a community of care. This means not only serving families in our hospitals and outpatient centers — but also collecting boxes of cereal during our annual cereal drive, filling backpacks with school supplies, walking together with the American Heart Association to raise awareness of cardiovascular health, and volunteering in our communities to serve and provide support. It means so many things to us as an organization, and it is also espoused by individuals throughout the enterprise.

To our partners: We are grateful to have the opportunity to work with you in support of our shared vision of helping people. Strong relationships are built on collaboration, respect and trust, and we deeply value our partnerships with you. We look forward to continuing to grow together and serving our communities. Thank you for your partnership and your commitment to improving the healthcare delivery system.

To our employees: Thank you for your passion to care for others. You provide patients with comfort during their most vulnerable moments and you demonstrate incredible strength, courage and professionalism. This comes naturally to so many of you as it's simply part of who you are — and for that I am incredibly proud. Providing our communities with a trusted, compassionate environment for care is central to our mission. I appreciate you, and I appreciate your efforts to work together so we can stay true to that mission. Thank you for working to exceed the high standards we set for ourselves.

Paul Rothman, MD
Dean of the Medical Faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine (Baltimore)

I am thankful for the amazing commitment, hard work, decency and heart of all of my colleagues in our shared undertaking: the doctors, nurses, maintenance workers, administrators, students, the list goes on. All of them work hard to do their best, and to provide the best possible care and support for our patients. Every day I am touched by the miracles that my colleagues work, not only saving lives and curing disease, but easing the pain of a grieving family member, or brightening someone's day with the helpful suggestion or a simple smile.

I'm also thankful to be part of the communities where we live and work, in Baltimore and beyond. We are all in this together; it is essential to remember that in the end, all of us are reaching for the same goals: meaningful work and personal lives, the opportunity to be part of a supportive community, and health, happiness and peace of mind for ourselves and our loved ones.

At Johns Hopkins Medicine, we draw strength from our purpose, which is above all to help and to heal. We are living in challenging, tumultuous times, with increased stress and anxiety for all of us. As we move forward, we must remember to support each other, to listen to one another and to remain keenly aware of our shared humanity.

Marschall Runge, MD, PhD
CEO of Michigan Medicine (Ann Arbor)

To the Michigan Medicine community,

As we approach the close of another year, I reflect on the many dynamics and challenges we all face on a daily basis. What is most rewarding is being able to be a part of Michigan Medicine, and to see the personal commitment that each of you bring to improving the health of those we serve. Every day, small victories add up to amazing care for our patients — from what may seem mundane changes in life, to miraculous team efforts for the critically ill. It is your talent, your innovation, your compassion and your dedication that makes this all happen. None of us could do what we do without all of us.

I have the privilege to see this in different ways nearly every day. This year, I hosted a series of breakfasts where groups of 10-12 leaders and their staff shared snapshots of their daily work — how they problem solve, enhance the patient experience, motivate and recognize their teams, offer support to colleagues, and encourage work/life balance. The list goes on, with a keen focus on not just our patients and the care they receive, but also on our employees, the resiliency of our teams, and the health of all of us at every opportunity. These discussions have been interesting and enjoyable. They so transparently and simply showcase the excellent caliber of our employees. Whether it be a voice from data analytics, finance, clinical care, research, education or other support functions, they most clearly convey their unwavering commitment to our institutional mission: advancing health to serve Michigan and the world.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to lead such an incredible workforce of clinicians, caregivers, researchers, educators and support staff. My sincerest thanks and appreciation to all of you, for the expertise, passion and dedication that collectively makes us uniquely Michigan Medicine.

Ernie Sadau
President and CEO of Christus Health (Irving, Texas)

Being thankful and expressing our gratitude is an important part of being happy in life. And, yet sometimes counting our blessings can be the hardest math to master. That's why this time of year is so important to me and to all of us at Christus. It gives us an opportunity to truly pause and reflect on our successes and appreciate another year of Thanksgiving. We have reached many important milestones and experienced great partnerships and growth this year. It wouldn't be possible without the support I receive from my wonderful family and my wife's continuous caring and backing of my work and life. I have unbelievable guidance in the form of our three sponsoring congregations, the Sisters of Charity of Incarnate Word of Houston, the Sisters of Charity of Incarnate Word of San Antonio and the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. They keep us focused on our mission, and we're honored to be part of their tremendous healing legacy.

I have also come to rely on the respect trust and candor of our Christus board of directors and I know I am grateful, as is the rest of our executive team, for their dedication and leadership. Our team of leaders, associates, physicians, volunteers and other caregivers help us successfully deliver on the fulfillment of our mission every day to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to all those in need. We are able to touch the lives of more than 6 million people each year through our ministries both in the United States and in Latin America. That's a blessing we love counting. 45,000 Christus associates making sure 6 million lives are embraced by God's healing presence and love. I gladly give thanks for all of this.

Kevin Spiegel
President and CEO of Erlanger Health System (Chattanooga, Tenn.)

Dear associates,

In today’s uncertain times many of us become concerned about our future and our families.  In the world of healthcare, our commitment is to provide safe and reliable care to our patients. But it is equally important to take the time to reflect and recognize how rewarding our careers are, despite the stress and frustration that can occur during challenging times in healthcare, both in our state and our country.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest thanks and gratitude to the Erlanger Health System, my family and friends.  While I try to give people the thanks they deserve all year round, this particular holiday is truly the optimal time to show others how much I appreciate their service to Erlanger and the patients we serve.

We are blessed by the unique opportunity to put patients and families back together who might be broken apart by psychosocial issues, trauma or disease. Erlanger is the place we take our own families for help. This unique ability of caring for others, as well as our own families, forces us to improve and innovate change for the better each and every day.

Thanksgiving is an important time of year because it reminds us to slow down and think about the things in our lives for which we are grateful.

I want to personally thank you for your commitment to Erlanger because I consider you part of my family. We are clearly united by our goal to provide world-class care to this community, and to improve the health status of our region.

Wishing you and your family a joyous Thanksgiving and wonderful holiday season!

Johnese Spisso
President of UCLA Health, CEO of UCLA Hospital System and Associate Vice Chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences (Los Angeles)

I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to every member of our UCLA Health team.

Every month, I receive numerous letters from patients and their families who are overcome with gratitude and respect for everyone they have interacted with during the course of their care. In addition to commending your expert skills, they all focus on one aspect of their care that left a lasting impression on them: your compassion.

Your daily acts of kindness — small and large — have brought hope and healing to our patients and their families and it's a contribution that will have a lasting effect on those we serve.

Thank you for all that you do at UCLA Health. I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season!

Tony Tedeschi, MD
CEO of Detroit Medical Center

During the fall and leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, there is always an increased energy and momentum to accomplish the year's operational goals. I believe this is also a time for any organization to reflect on its accomplishments and acknowledge efforts that have resulted in meaningful collaboration. Through recognition and appreciation, we can maintain positive momentum moving forward.

The healthcare industry continues to be in a state of transformation, and the environment is highly complex. For the most part, our destination is clear but continued uncertainties within the industry related to lower inpatient volumes, reimbursement and continued healthcare coverage for the poor requires a multifaceted approach that requires a keen focus on quality, safety and the overall patient experience. I can honestly say that the Detroit Medical Center's commitment to community and the patients we serve has never been stronger. The DMC is a community built on care — our family taking care of Detroit families. I am ever thankful for our employees and clinical care providers who demonstrate their strong commitment to caring for Detroit's residents every day.

I am also extremely grateful for the collaborative relationships we have with our community stakeholders, education and research partners. I was a physician long before I became an administrator, and as I reflect on why I chose the medical profession and what motivates me as a physician, it was and still is the desire to provide exceptional healthcare to those most in need within our communities. Working together, we are making a difference in the health and wellbeing of those who live, work and play in the great city of Detroit.

Nick Turkal, MD, and Jim Skogsbergh
Co-presidents and CEOs of Advocate Aurora Health (Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill.)

To the dedicated team members of Advocate Aurora Health:

As we approach this season of gratitude, reflect on the past year and look ahead to our future, countless reasons to say thank you come to mind. We are grateful for the many ways you deliver on our purpose to help people live well and embody the values of excellence, compassion and respect.

We recognize that's easier said than done as healthcare presents new challenges, and opportunities, placing unique demands on each one of our 70,000 team members, physicians and nurses. We also know that strengthening our focus on safety, both for those in our care and for ourselves, requires constant attention and effort in this dynamic environment.

Despite frequent hurdles, your performance demonstrates a passion and commitment to safety and quality that is greater than ever before — with phenomenal results on our journey to zero serious safety events, patient satisfaction scores, efficiency in care delivery and continually improving health outcomes. We see and hear how teams rally around each other, patients and their families, in groups and individually, to offer support through trying times. Many of you will give up special moments with family and friends this holiday season to make sure it is as joyful and comfortable for others as you would wish for your own loved ones.

For these solemn sacrifices and tremendous accomplishments, you have our deepest gratitude. Even though we are physically separated at 500 sites of care across two states, we are so proud to unite together in our hearts, with one purpose, to help people live well.

Penny Wheeler, MD
President and CEO of Allina Health (Minneapolis)

Throughout this season, I hardly know where to begin in expressing my gratitude for the everyday miracles that are the result of your work. I am amazed by the incredible things you, as healthcare professionals, do for each other. The collective impact of all the things you do is beyond amazing — whether holding the hand of a worried daughter, welcoming a new life, celebrating with someone who just completed chemotherapy, smoothing the pillow of someone who is dying, providing a listening ear to someone otherwise isolated, or greeting someone with a simple smile. The work we do in healthcare is profound and distinguishes us, but it's the small things we do every day that ultimately define us.

Without a doubt, healthcare is in the midst of significant fundamental changes. While we work through these changes, we cannot lose focus or forget why we chose this sacred and servant profession. It's about comforting those starkly facing their human frailty. It's tenderly placing a newborn into the awaiting arms of a parent. It's the ability to keenly diagnose a condition, leading someone to healing. It's about supporting colleagues in need. Most of all, it's about showing up and giving everything you have to give, especially on the hard days.

Over the past few days, I've been reflecting on the things I am most grateful for. Foremost among them is our talented group of 29,000 employees at Allina Health and the compassionate care they offer to each other, our patients, and our broader community. Thank you for the work you do to live our mission of providing exceptional whole person care. Without your commitment, creativity, hard work, and talents, we would not be able to touch lives in such a profoundly positive way.

For the rest of you committed to this calling, thank you for recognizing the whole person in front of you, including their wondrous and messy parts, and doing everything possible to support each one of them. Thank you for every single minute of time, energy and passion you've given in service of patients, community and each other. Who you are and what you do matters so greatly to so many, and you are making all the difference in the world.


Editor's note: This piece was updated on Nov. 21.



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