3 C-suite roles in higher demand at health systems

Hospitals and health systems need the best possible talent in the C-suite as they tackle a wide range of healthcare issues. At the same time, they face challenges in the labor market amid the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as workforce and financial challenges.

Take turnover with executives, for example: AMN Healthcare has reported increased departures across its C-suite. 

"We are doing more searches, and [it] feels a lot busier than a year ago, or especially two years ago," said Todd Drometer, lead executive partner in the firm's executive search practice. "I hear all the time people retiring and organizations trying to figure out what to do to replace those individuals. I've never seen a market as crazy as this. It's a candidate's market." 

He cited two factors contributing to the turnover. He said some leaders reflected and made the personal decision to retire and do something different. Others delayed their retirement during the pandemic and have more recently decided the time is right.

Last year alone, there were 56 hospital CEO retirements reported on by Becker's compared to 37 in 2020.

"There were some significant forces over these last couple years, and what we saw in 2020 and 2021 were a lot of deferred/delayed retirements across the board with C-suite leaders," said Paul Bohne, managing partner and practice leader in healthcare at recruitment search firm WittKieffer. "Now what we've been seeing over the last six months is a certain wave of accelerated retirements because there are still a lot of baby boomers occupying the C-suite. There are two waves that have contributed to a significant demand for C-suite talent across the board. It's because a lot of those retirements that were delayed or deferred started advancing then you had another wave on top of it which is acceleration of retirement because of burnout. The last six months have seen an explosion of all levels of C-suite leaders and the demand for talent across the C-suite."

This demand for talent includes some positions that have grown in popularity. 

Becker's spoke with Mr. Drometer and Mr. Bohne to understand some of the roles hospitals and health systems are working to fill. Here are three roles they identified as on the rise.

1. Chief wellness officer. One role showing up more in searches is chief wellness officer, according to Mr. Drometer.

"I never saw that as a true title until probably two or three years ago. A lot of times the role was more committee-driven internally and having multiple people come to the table focused on burnout and wellness. But now it's becoming a formal role," he said.

Mr. Bohne agreed. He said he is seeing the expansion of the wellness or well-being officer-level role, either as an extension of the chief people officer role or as a newly created role for a clinical leader. 

Los Angeles-based Keck Medicine of USC, for instance, appointed a chief mental health and wellness officer in 2021, and Edison, N.J.-based Hackensack Meridian Health appointed a chief wellness officer in 2020. 

2. Chief value officer. Aside from wellness, Mr. Drometer sees hospitals focusing on managed care contracting, especially given the financial effects of the pandemic. This focus may manifest through the role of chief value officer or chief managed care officer.

Karen Wilding began her role as chief value officer of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Nemours Children's Health on Jan. 24, and she told Becker's she views her new job as a unique opportunity in healthcare. 

As chief value officer, Ms. Wilding leads the network's value-based service organization, which is focused on population health issues, and oversees Nemours' integrated primary care network in Wilmington, Del.  

"The chief value officer role is really a recognition that the [healthcare] industry is changing in such a profound way," Ms. Wilding said in January. "We know that in healthcare, especially in light of COVID, that organizations are now starting to really evaluate with intention how they're working on staff efficiency, supporting their staff, improving care and outcomes and also bending the cost curve."

3. Chief diversity officer. Over the last year, hospitals and health systems have also hired their first chiefs around diversity, equity and inclusion. Among them are Burlington-based University of Vermont Health Network, York, Pa.-based WellSpan Health and Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare, to name a few.

"We see still a very high percentage of health systems we're working with where the diversity officer role is an inaugural role, so I think healthcare compared to higher education is still catching up along those lines," Mr. Bohne said.

His other observation: Healthcare organizations are looking at candidates for these roles from various industries.

"A lot of clients are agnostic and open to candidates coming from other complex service industries for diversity officers," Mr. Bohne said. "Supply does not meet the demand for that talent. A lot of organizations are open."


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