6 CEOs on the issues they would fix overnight

Hospital and health system CEOs face various challenges, from staff shortages to addressing patient access barriers. The Becker's Hospital Review Corner Office series asks these leaders to share the healthcare problem they would eliminate overnight.

Here are answers collected since September, in alphabetical order.

Leslie Davis. President and CEO of UPMC (Pittsburgh): One of healthcare's most challenging and lingering problems, an after-effect of COVID, is reduced staffing, and unfortunately this problem isn't going to be eliminated overnight. It's imperative that we develop innovative ways to support and strengthen our workforce. UPMC recently announced a student loan forgiveness program for nurses, with additional incentives to build our nursing and other career ladders. Additionally, UPMC has bolstered recruitment in our own schools of nursing and formed key strategic partnerships with external nursing schools and other specialty training programs to help ensure a pipeline for future healthcare professionals. Throughout the pandemic, we were very focused on caring for our employees, in terms of both their personal health and well-being as well as their employment. We instituted a pay protection program long before the federal government adopted its program, and we also developed a special paid leave for employees who became ill. Before this, UPMC was the first healthcare organization in Pennsylvania to announce and achieve a minimum starting wage for our non-union workers of $15 per hour by 2021. We need to continue to find creative ways like these to build and support our healthcare teams. 

Tina Freese Decker. President and CEO of Corewell Health (Grand Rapids and Southfield, Mich.): As an ambitious vision, I would want people to be free of disease. But, for today and tomorrow, our aspiration should be on ensuring access to healthcare for all in our community. This means delivering on the promise to make it easy to access healthcare, to ensure it is affordable, simple, equitable and exceptional.

Robert Garrett. CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health (Edison, N.J.): I would like to end the sad reality that in the U.S. your ZIP code too often determines the state of your health. We all know the terrible stats: Black Americans have a life expectancy that is on average three and a half times shorter than white Americans; Black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer; and Black newborns are three times as likely to die as white newborns. The good news is that health equity is on the front burner in the industry and will require comprehensive and robust engagement from all stakeholders, public and private. Advancing health equity is one of our major strategic priorities, and we have signed the Global Health Equity Network Zero Health Gaps Pledge. You can't transform healthcare without improving outcomes for all communities.

Catherine Jacobson. President and CEO of Froedtert Health (Milwaukee): The byzantine finance structure of healthcare drives perverse incentives all over the place, such as reimbursing fee for service and underfinancing government benefit programs that forces cost shifting. This drives a lot of problems, and it's an area we need to fix.

Candice Saunders, BSN. President and CEO of Wellstar Health System (Marietta, Ga.): Health systems across the country are currently facing many multifaceted challenges. One challenge that is personal to me is the workforce shortage, especially that of physicians and nurses across the country, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Our healthcare system relies on physicians, nurses and other caregivers serving on the front line to provide high-quality, compassionate care to our patients and their families every day. While there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, I am passionate about finding creative and innovative ways through public and private partnerships that support the education, recruitment and retention of current and future physicians and nurses, as well as other key healthcare roles that drive the advancement of healthcare delivery models through technology and support the evolving healthcare needs in the communities we serve. 

I am very proud of Wellstar's partnership with Kennesaw (Ga.) State University and the Wellstar School of Nursing to create funding for annual nursing scholarships and to support the hiring of additional nursing faculty and staff. We are also looking at innovative models that allow community-based health systems to work with academic medical centers to expand opportunities for students to train and learn in the medical field. Additionally, we are partnering with our academic and community partners and thinking beyond the traditional clinical workforce needs about how we can help prepare individuals for future roles in healthcare. At Wellstar, we are investing time and resources in youth programs and working with our partners to develop career pathway programs to help prepare high school students, as well as individuals who are wanting to make career or industry transitions, as we look to expand the potential pipeline of future healthcare workers.

Beth Walker. CEO of Ochsner Baptist (New Orleans): Staffing. Like other hospitals and health systems, we continue to be challenged with having enough bodies and expertise in the right areas to take care of the demand. COVID has only exacerbated that. It was a problem before that. We didn't have enough doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, and COVID took that to a new level.

The other thing is access to care and coordination. We don't have enough services to go around, but I think we have a huge opportunity to make more meaningful use of what we do have and to help people navigate our systems better. They are really complicated systems and only getting more complicated. We have to figure out how to make it more accessible to all patients and close healthcare gaps in a variety of ways so that we can all be a healthier and stronger community going forward.

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