5 questions with retiring Memorial Hermann Health System CEO Dan Wolterman

Leading an organization through high-stakes change is no easy feat.

When Dan Wolterman was promoted to CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System in 2002, he had high expectations for the organization. Now, as he prepares to retire, Mr. Wolterman can reflect on the momentous change he spearheaded for the Houston-based system.

Throughout his tenure, Mr. Wolterman has led the health system through numerous achievements, such as year-over-year double-digit growth. Under his leadership, Memorial Hermann became the largest nonprofit health system in southeast Texas and one of the largest in the country. He also oversaw the launch of the Memorial Hermann Accountable Care Organization, the most successful Medicare Shared Savings ACO in each of the last two years.

Mr. Wolterman will retire in the second half of 2016 as part of a long-term succession plan implemented more than a year ago.

Mr. Wolterman took the time to answer some of our questions.

Question: You joined Memorial Hermann in 1999. As you reflect on your time with this system, what are your fondest memories?Dan Wolterman

Dan Wolterman: A couple of fond memories come to the forefront. I would say the first is receiving the National Quality Forum's award in 2009 for the highest and best quality in the country. That was a journey we set out on at the beginning of my presidency. We were able to get there in about 7 years. It was a great time of celebration for our physicians and employees, and a great memory to go to Washington, D.C., and receive the award on behalf of our system.

The other memory was from very early on in my tenure. It is the incredible, heroic response of our employees and physicians to the catastrophe of the Tropical Storm Alison and the historic floods that took out our academic hospital [in 2001]. We had no power. We were out of business for a long period of time. But through all of that, we were able to safely evacuate a completely full hospital of 700 patients and recreate those critical services in the community elsewhere in our system within a day or two. I've never been around a more impressive and incredible effort by such a large group of people.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement as president and CEO?

DW: The greatest achievement is our reason for being here. Our core business is providing high-quality, safe patient care. When we talk about achievements, ours is becoming the country's first high reliable organization in healthcare. We set that goal back in 2005. Are we there today? Do we have zero harm events? The answer to that is no, but we are very close. We are the farthest along of any health system in the country. Eradicating harm events in our hospital and achieving outcomes on a quality basis is the greatest achievement because patients benefit.

Q: What will you miss most?

DW: Anyone of us that has worked in the healthcare industry has been blessed. It's a people industry — that's what attracted me to it and that's what I'll miss the most. The people — employees, colleagues, my team, patients and their families — I love interacting with all of them, and that's what I'll miss.

Q: Do you have any post-retirement plans?

DW: I don't have any specific plans right now because I'm not exactly sure when I'll leave and have a successful transition to my successor. But I want to see some parts of the world, like Australia, New Zealand and Africa.

My wife and I have been to a lot of other parts of the world: Western Europe, China and Japan. Those are all crossed off the list. I also want to spend more time with our children. One thing you do as CEO is give up a lot of nights with the family to go to community events and other things for the company. You end up missing out on some family time. Retiring will give me a good opportunity to get reconnected to my children and my wife, and my side of the family who mostly live back in Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm one of nine children and my parents are still living. It will be good to spend time with them.

Q: What advice would you give new or young hospital and health system leaders?

DW: The No. 1 piece of advice I give when I mentor people is always remember to put the patient first. Yes, we're running a business here, but our core product is safe, reliable healthcare, and you always have to make decisions with the patient at the center of everything we do. Sometimes people come out of business school or MHA programs too caught up in the business aspects of the job, but at the end of the day, we exist to care for patients.

The other piece of advice I'd give is to be bold and innovative, and help transform this country's healthcare system to be better from a cost and access standpoint.

It's hard to talk about this since I still have nine months to go, and I really love what I do every day. I'm looking forward to retiring, but I want to stay involved in healthcare. My passion for the last 10 years has been being a part of transforming the country's healthcare system so it is more accessible and affordable for everyone. Once I can rejuvenate in my retirement, I hope I can somehow get my fingers back in to move the healthcare system forward.

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