Amid 'hard decisions,' Jefferson Health CEO puts culture front and center

Jefferson Health is on a journey toward building a unifying culture as it adapts to growth and changes, according to its leader.

The Philadelphia-based system has gone through a number of changes in recent years. It grew from three hospitals to 18 between 2015 and 2021 via mergers and has more than 42,000 employees. In 2021, it also acquired Health Partners Plans, which will be rebranded as Jefferson Health Plans, beginning with its Medicare plans in 2024. And in July, the system said it would cut 400 jobs.

"It's been a rapid change in our rapid expansion without really accounting for a unifying culture," Joseph Cacchione, MD, CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, told Becker's. "And I think we're taking a step back, and we're going to be [considering], what kind of unifying culture are we looking to build? And what are we going to be doing to help enable that culture in a way that it sticks across the system?"

Dr. Cacchione, who recently made the CEO Forum Group's latest list of the "Top 10 CEOs Transforming Healthcare in America" under the culture category, views the process of building unifying culture as starting with an organization's core values. 

He said this means identifying what the organization wants its culture to represent, then creating repetitive behavior.

"That starts at the leader level," Dr. Cacchione said. "When I talk about things, I'm talking about things that we're trying to instill in this culture, and we repeat that over and over" across the organization.

He gave the example of empowering people.

"We want that to be part of culture here, that people feel empowered, [no matter] the part of the business they're in, to solve problems," Dr. Cacchione said. "They're empowered to be the best stewards of the people they're serving, whether it be a patient, a student or a beneficiary."

He said he believes humility is also "very important from the top all the way down, because what humility allows you to do is to be open to others. It allows you to listen better and listen more intently. And it allows you to be more empathetic. So humility is, to me, a key component of the culture we're trying to build, [along with] empowerment."

Jefferson Health is on this journey of building a unifying culture amid business changes. In January, the system announced a reorganization plan to operate as three divisions instead of five to flatten management and improve efficiency. The system noted the change would result in layoffs, primarily among executives. 

In July, Jefferson Health announced it would reduce its workforce by approximately 1 percent, or about 400 positions. 

"Culture will always supersede, but there are business realities that we need to address," Dr. Cacchione told Becker's. "In any healthcare organization today, there are a lot of hard decisions being made. The way we approach this is to be open and communicate and be very transparent, that we always start with the truth. And the truth is this was part of helping to make Jefferson more financially sustainable."

He added that this "doesn't change the fact that Jefferson Health is trying to build a culture, but in every business, hard decisions have been made."

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