Emerging C-suite role elevates physicians, nurses

Hospitals and health systems across the U.S. are making room in their C-suites for a new physician- and nurse-focused role: chief clinical operations officer.

Chief medical officers and chief nursing officers traditionally elevated the clinical perspective during executive discussions and served as a liaison between clinical teams and the C-suite. The chief clinical operations officer takes those responsibilities a step further to bring their unique experience and expertise to hospital operations.

Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, one of the largest systems in the U.S., named Ernest Franklin, MD, senior vice president and chief clinical operations officer in March 2022. He was promoted from his role as chief medical operations officer at Tenet and has additional experience as senior vice president of clinical value and integration at Baylor Scott & White Health.

Dr. Franklin said on his LinkedIn page that he is responsible for the health system's clinical operations, including 61 acute care facilities and more than 400 surgery centers within the United Surgical Partners International network. Tenet has around 6,000 physician partners overall.

"Serving at the intersection of service, operations, clinical performance transformation, and concrete strategy, I work with our frontline teams to improve patient throughput, service effectiveness, quality performance and service culture to better the care of our patients," he wrote.

Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas also has a chief clinical operations officer: Rob Watson, MD. Dr. Watson was appointed to his current role in the spring of 2023, charged with improving clinical operations through physician and provider engagement. His appointment was part of a larger strategic shift that also named a chief delivery system operations officer, senior vice president of government affairs, chief medical officer and chief growth officer.

"With these changes, we are cementing what we believe is one of the strongest clinical and operational leadership teams in the country," said Pete McCanna, CEO of Baylor Scott & White, in a news release. "We are also shaping our focus on growing strategically, as this powers our ability to deliver care when, where and how customers want it. Working together, these leaders will ensure continued performance on quality and patient safety initiatives, expand our access points, and help us deliver exceptional experiences to those we serve."

Hartford (Conn.) HealthCare, which has more than 500 locations and a multispecialty physician group, also has a chief clinical operating officer: Jeffrey Cohen, MD. Dr. Cohen has experience leading the health system's 800-plus clinician medical group as chief physician officer and spent time as system vice president for physician network development. He is now the executive vice president and chief clinical operating officer for the system, focused on systemwide clinical integration and operational efficiency as Hartford expands its footprint.

Other health systems have appointed nurses to the chief clinical operations officer role.

Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health named Denise Mihal executive vice president and chief nursing and clinical operations officer in 2016 and she has been transforming clinical operations since then. Ms. Mihal oversees clinical operations for Novant's professional nurse resource and case management teams, and works closely with other clinical departments to elevate patient care.

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, N.Y., appointed Ronald Andro, BSN, RN, senior vice president and chief clinical operations officer in 2022 to ensure safe and efficient care delivery. He is responsible for establishing a culture of teamwork, effective communications, and collaboration, according to his LinkedIn. Already under his leadership, the cancer center increased patient volume 13 percent and patient experience scores 2.1 percent.

Even in the absence of a chief clinical operations officer role, some physicians and nurses are elevating to COO roles. Michael Ash, MD, is executive vice president and COO of Nebraska Medicine in Omaha; Michael Cruz, MD, is COO of OSF HealthCare in Peoria, Ill.; and Brian Donley, MD, became executive vice president and COO of NewYork-Presbyterian earlier this year.

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