Corner Office: Geisinger CEO Dr. Jaewon Ryu on rising to the challenges of the pandemic

Since 2018, Jaewon Ryu, MD, has helmed Geisinger, a regional health system with nine hospital campuses, a 550,000-member health plan, two research centers and a medical school. He has always been proud to be part of the organization, but he said that's especially true as he's seen workers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic amid challenges and uncertainty. 

Dr. Ryu, an emergency room physician, joined Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger in September 2016 as executive vice president and CMO. He served as interim president and CEO beginning in December 2018,  before taking the top role permanently in summer 2019. 

Before joining Geisinger, Dr. Ryu was president of integrated care delivery for Humana and CMO of University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System in Chicago.

Here, he took the time to answer Becker's Hospital Review's seven Corner Office questions.

Editor's Note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What piqued your interest in healthcare?

Dr. Jaewon Ryu: I had grown up with physicians in the family, so was always familiar with healthcare, but got interested in the policy side of things as well along the way. After college, I worked as an AmeriCorps member in a teaching and enrichment program within an inner-city school, where I saw firsthand the impact of policy on the lives of vulnerable populations. I took this interest with me to medical school, where I became active in community health programs where the same themes came to light — things like how "upstream" policies impacted people's downstream ability to attain health. It was this interest that led to many subsequent decisions, whether entering a joint-degree program to augment my formal learning, entering the field of emergency medicine, working in health policy, or then taking on roles in administration. All the while along the way, I enjoyed the clinical practice of emergency medicine and in many ways, it has informed these other stops on the journey. The ER really is the crossroads of healthcare where so many components of the industry come together.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Danville?

JR: Danville is a cozy town and a special place. Like other communities in our area, it's a tight-knit community and home to one of the highest concentrations of hospital workers in the nation. In so many ways, Geisinger is firmly entrenched in the community. Whether you're at the grocery store, at a restaurant, or just out and about, you'll probably run into someone with a connection to Geisinger. Being part of a community's DNA and having that privilege for more than a century gives us the kind of environment in which we can build great capabilities to drive better health that meet our communities where they are.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

JR: Fragmented care. We can better manage the health of a patient when we address their social needs, coordinate their care longitudinally, or even bring services into their homes. By breaking down silos — among different care teams, among patients and providers, among payers and providers — we can focus on a more holistic view that can yield the best outcomes and experience. We're continually looking for ways to do this at Geisinger. Our senior-focused primary care clinics, 65Forward, are a great example of this. In partnership with our health plan, members 65 and older can access a comprehensive suite of wellness, social and clinical services, as well as longer appointments that can help them with all their needs — physical health, mental health, fitness or social needs. We can connect them with the right solution. And yet, it doesn't stop there. They can also socialize with others, take an art class, work out and more. It truly is removing barriers to better health.

Q: What is your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

JR: I can make a pretty mean lasagna, and I'm a wealth of Brady Bunch trivia.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

JR: I try to get outdoors whenever I can, whether running, biking or hiking. I love this area because of all the natural beauty, and we have many great trail systems that I've been able to make use of. This area of Pennsylvania has such distinct seasons. There is something so comforting and optimistic about being familiar with a trail, yet it can look so different each time I'm on it. It's a perspective that often makes me think about the work we do. We can do something over and over, and yet there is always room to make it better, make it fresh, to try something new.

And of course, I love coming home to my family. We're fortunate to have a multigenerational household, so my girls get to grow up surrounded by family, and everyone is there for sports, recitals and all the activities they are taking part in (although obviously this year has been very different). 

Q: What is one piece of advice that you remember most clearly?

JR: A piece of advice that has stuck with me, especially over the past several months among the pandemic, is to embrace change and uncertainty. There is so much uncertainty in healthcare, and especially so with COVID-19.  Our team at Geisinger has tackled this pandemic head-on, pivoting when needed, shifting gears along the way and remembering that flexibility is what will help us come out the other side of this. I've never been more proud to be a part of a team as our Geisinger team has just risen to this occasion in these ways.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Geisinger?

JR: I have the pleasure of leading a team of dedicated, courageous and committed people at Geisinger. I have always known this, but the pandemic proved to me that no matter what is thrown at us, we have some special people here, and we are further supported by other special people in our communities. Working alongside them every day is one of my greatest achievements. And, while doing so, we have collectively worked to make health easier — focusing on care programs that make it easy for our patients to get the care they need. Some programs that I'm proud of and eager to continue shaping to meet the needs of our communities include:

  • 65 Forward, which are senior-focused facilities dedicated to meeting all the needs for health and well-being of patients 65 and older
  • Geisinger at Home, which brings personalized care to the sickest patients within their home, to keep patients healthier, safer and better connected to our healthcare team
  • Geisinger Primary Care Scholars, a program providing debt-free medical school and a modernized curriculum on emerging approaches to primary care
  • Mail Order Pharmacy: Geisinger has seen a 37 percent increase in medication adherence since we've delivered prescription refills to the home

 

More articles on leadership and management:
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'Terrible, no good year for rural health': Why healthcare leaders are leaving small-town America

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