Embracing technology and improving care access: 1 year in with Ochsner's CEO

On Nov. 1, Pete November reached the one-year mark as CEO of New Orleans-based Ochsner Health.

Mr. November, who assumed the role when Warner Thomas accepted a new role as president and CEO of Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health, helms Louisiana's largest nonprofit academic health system. Ochsner operates 46 hospitals and 370 health and urgent care centers across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Gulf South. 

Mr. November has served in various roles at Ochsner since joining the system in 2012. He initially served as senior vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer. 

Now, a year into his newest role as CEO, he told Becker's he is excited about the work of the organization in terms of the workforce, innovation and providing access to care. He shared his top priorities, discussed his leadership style and offered advice for his peers.

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

Question: You have been CEO of Ochsner for about a year. What has you most excited about your role right now?

Pete November: Doing everything we can do to help our physicians and our nurses and all of our caregivers have everything they need to provide great care and creating the right environment for that to happen. I'm also really excited about what I think is the transformation and innovation that's going on in healthcare today, whether it's digital transformation or whether it's finding new ways to work or whether it's finding new ways to provide better access to patients. Continuing to build world-class programs. For our organization and me personally, the work we do in the community, whether it's making our communities healthier, helping build our communities from an economic perspective or an educational perspective. And being part of the solution in our communities.

Q: What is the overarching strategy for Ochsner in the next five to 10 years, and how do you plan to achieve it?

PN: Trying to be that place where our physicians and our caregivers want to practice because it's the right environment and they have all the resources they need. And they're excited about the mission of the organization. That's a big focus of where we need to go strategically. Certainly the digital evolution that's happened in healthcare and being very focused on that both from the perspective of finding new ways to provide care to our patients, better in different ways of providing care, using digital technology and using the technology to make it easier to practice medicine and provide care. Technology, too, can allow us to do things that we can't even imagine today in healthcare that will become possible. We're very focused on that, very focused on access. And I think we all know that healthcare is moving more to the outpatient setting. When that happens, your access is so important, and we've got to give our patients the ability to easily navigate the healthcare system. 

Then I'm always very focused on making sure you have the right culture and organization. So people get up and know this is where they want to work because it's the right environment and they know they're appreciated and cared for and cared about and have opportunities and that they want to stay here. And that people want to come here because we have that culture. 

I also certainly want to continue our efforts around innovation. We definitely will continue to focus on our risk areas and ability to take financial risk within value-based care. Then continued focus on programmatic building. We've seen this through our partnership with Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center, for example.

Q: Is there any detail or any piece of the system that you consider too small for the CEO's attention? As you're leading, how do you discern what, if anything, is too in the weeds for you?

PN: My philosophy in terms of how I lead is, I have to try to make sure we've got the best people, and we have amazing people in this organization. I really try to work with them to help develop an overall strategy and plan, and then I want them to be able to go out and feel empowered and have the autonomy to go execute on those plans. And my role is to help support them and do everything I can do to make them successful in doing that. And then certainly, you're always making sure you're looking at the right information and making sure that things are happening. But I really do try to create that environment where we set the plan as a team and then you let the team go execute, and they know I'm here to support them. All leaders pay attention to the biggest opportunities for an organization, and then you try to organize your time and your focus in those areas.

Q: Ochsner recently named its first community medical officer. Can you discuss any notable partnerships or collaborations that the system has established to improve healthcare delivery or community health?

PN: We announced our Healthy State initiative, a partnership with other healthcare organizations, businesses, churches, schools, community groups and state and local governments, back in 2020. We've been very focused on working to provide access across the state and access in places where they didn't have access before. We've been building community health clinics across the state to open up access, and I've seen a lot of benefits from that. We worked very hard in the community, working with schools, to help with education, to develop the workforce. And not just with colleges. We've worked on the Dr. John Ochsner Discovery Health Sciences Academy, which provides education in an area of Louisiana that was underserved from an educational perspective, as a way to help build the future of the community. We've worked hard on some partnerships in New Orleans around the homeless and providing medical care there, and Yvens Laborde, MD, the new chief community medical officer for the health system, has been very involved in that. We've been very involved in an organization called Son of a Saint, which helps mentor young men whose fathers either passed away or were imprisoned. And we've been able to see great results for young men who are growing up and go on and do amazing things. 

Q: What's one key piece of advice you'd share with emerging CEOs today? 

PN: Make sure that you spend as much time as you possibly can talking to the people in your organization and specifically the people on the front lines who are providing the care every day or the people who are doing all the things every day to make the organization work. When I think about how I figure out the direction of the strategy of the organization and where we want to go, so much of it comes from when I go out and meet with people in the regions and just listen, and learn from them and create an environment where they have an opportunity to share what's on their mind. And it's amazing when you do that the themes that come together. It becomes really clear what you need to focus on, where the opportunities are. But you can get to a place where you get scheduled and you don't do that. And I think there's really nothing more important than you can do than to go out and do that and listen and connect with the people who are taking care of our patients every day.

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