Cincinnati Children's CEO on the hospital's 'relentless' pursuit to improve

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center's No. 1 spot on a national ranking doesn't mean the work is done, according to its leader.

U.S. News & World Report released its Best Children's Hospitals rankings for 2023-24 on June 21, with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center earning the top spot for the first time. 

While the ranking is notable, the organization's focus is elsewhere, according to Steve Davis, MD, president and CEO of Cincinnati Children's.

"We don't really focus on the U.S. News," he told Becker's. "But what we do focus on is an absolutely relentless effort to improve our overall quality."

The effort began years ago in the 1990s with former board chair Lee Carter and former president and CEO William Schubert, MD.

Dr. Davis said Mr. Carter and Dr. Schubert "put an emphasis on being the best at getting better, and they said it that way intentionally to emphasize that no matter where we are at any point in the journey, we're always going to be focused on being better than we are."

Dr. Davis said he and former CEOs, including Jim Anderson and Michael Fisher, continued that focus. Dr. Davis, a pediatric critical care physician, has been president and CEO of Cincinnati Children's since Nov. 22, 2021. 

"It's really been a long journey that started decades ago with Lee Carter and [Dr.] Schubert and then continued," said Dr. Davis.

One effort he specifically cited was during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He said Cincinnati Children's reorganized "to be able to make decisions more quickly. We understood we had to improve the lines of communication, and empower people who are in the trenches to make decisions."

The effort was a success and continued after the crisis part of the pandemic resolved, according to Dr. Davis.

"What we find is we have a more engaged workforce, and we have potentially better decisions being made more quickly, because they're being made by people who actually understand the systems that we're working on," he added. 

In the last several years, Cincinnati Children's has also focused on ensuring a strong, engaged and committed workforce. 

Dr. Davis said this resulted in various improvements in terms of employee experience and engagement efforts. 

"Because to deliver great care, you have to put your employees in a great position to do that," he said. "And I think we've been fortunate to blend the work of patient experience with the work of employee experience to know that they're really intertwined, and to have a great patient experience, you've got to have a really passionate workforce."

The organization has about 18,600 employees total. 

Outside of the workforce, Cincinnati Children's also focuses on improving outcomes metrics. Most years, the organization would receive about 85 percent of the available points in the U.S. News rankings based on outcomes. The hospital received 91 percent in the most recent rankings cycle.

Dr. Davis said he's particularly proud of the work the organization has done to reduce the difference in outcomes between Black and white children.

"Black children, unfortunately, often have worse outcomes for the same illnesses. And while there are many challenges — and some of the reasons for that are unrelated to what happens in the hospital — we decided, let's not make excuses for it, and let's actually go after it. And we improved outcomes in many areas, and we narrowed the gap," he said.

Additionally, the hospital has a dedicated board of trustees that focuses on care quality more than almost any other area, Dr. Davis said. 

"The board has many responsibilities," he said. 

"But they take their responsibilities around our quality more highly than just about anything. And at every meeting in the organization, we start out with a safety briefing, including at the board meetings, and that really permeates throughout the organization. When you have a board that is so supportive and in lockstep with the senior management, it definitely makes it easier."

Dr. Davis said moving forward, Cincinnati Children's won't rest on its laurels. This includes continuing to look at how to keep narrowing gaps in outcomes for Black and white children.

"We want to make sure that we continue what got us there," said Dr. Davis. 

"And that is by a relentless focus on being better tomorrow or next year than we are today. So, despite the fact that it really was probably our best year, and maybe best year ever, we continue wanting to be better. We have 6,000 kids who come see us every day, and those families depend on us to be at our best."

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