Corner Office: Providing hope is a leader's job, Corewell Health CEO says

Tina Freese Decker serves as president and CEO of Corewell Health, the new name for the 22-hospital organization formed by the February merger of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spectrum Health with Southfield, Mich.-based Beaumont Health.

Ms. Freese Decker previously helmed Spectrum Health. She also held roles within Spectrum Health including COO, chief strategy officer and president of Spectrum Health Hospital Group. 

She told Becker's Hospital Review that she's excited about leading the organization and seeing what team members accomplish. 

Here, Ms. Freese Decker answers Becker's Hospital Review's seven Corner Office questions.   

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

Question: What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare? 

Tina Freese Decker: Watching my grandmother navigate her multiple healthcare appointments and cancer diagnosis shined a light on the tremendous opportunity we have to accelerate and advance what we do to make health better.

Increasing the life expectancy from 53 to 78 years in the last century has expanded our contributions, impact and vision. I am awestruck and grateful for the incredible advancements in medicine, creating new therapies, finding cures and improving outcomes. We must continue these advancements to reduce the gaps and improve outcomes among racial and ethnic groups and at the same time address root causes that impact health, such as opioid use, trauma and behavioral health.

And we must improve on some of the basics — making it easy for everyone to access healthcare, coordinating appointments and treatments, and making health part of life, instead of an afterthought or obstacle. With the advancements in technologies, we have the opportunity to seamlessly enable accessibility, ensuring that we partner with people to improve their health in ways that are more affordable, compassionate and humanistic.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Michigan? 

TFD: There's a lot to love about Michigan! It’s a unique place where each season has distinct beauty. 

From having the largest freshwater system in the world, to the emphasis on economic development and entrepreneurship, to embracing the arts and philanthropy, the pride in Michigan makes our state special. The best part is the people and their drive toward excellence and making things better, creating an innovative and collaborative environment. We have a sense of collegiality and community — we come together to partner and problem solve. 

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

TFD: 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.

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

TFD: I'm a good listener, and this is helpful personally and professionally. True listening is an active give and take, requiring curiosity, engagement, dedication and vulnerability. It is critical, especially now, to ensure all perspectives are heard and understood. 

Q: How do you revitalize yourself? 

TFD: Revitalizing yourself is critical. It is important to take time to rest, rejuvenate and refuel. Sometimes for me, it is just taking five minutes to reflect on what I am most grateful for, and that refocuses my energy on what is most important.

Q: What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

TFD: A great piece of advice from one my mentors was: "A leader's job is to provide hope." This is what I focused on during the pandemic, balancing the knowns and unknowns, the things that scared us and excited us, and turning what seemed to be impossible into something possible. 

I love this quote from Jane Goodall from The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times. She wrote, "Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I'm not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement."

We must have hope. If not, our aspirations and dreams will not become reality. 

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievements at Corewell Health so far?

TFD: I would say the greatest achievement has been driving bold transformational change, whether through scaling up our digital/virtual health platforms, beginning the transition to a value-based care model, or making health equity a key piece of our organizational vision. 

Transformational change can be scary, but it's necessary for us to keep moving beyond the status quo. It starts with a shared vision — our collective "why" gives people a sense of purpose and ignites their passion for a better future. 

With my team, I've found it's important to bring everyone to the table, ask questions, get feedback, hear different viewpoints and then work collaboratively toward a shared vision. It is important to lay the foundation but not hesitate to keep moving ahead. 

I am so excited to see all that we can accomplish together.   

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