Former Rush CEO Dr. Larry Goodman reflects on his biggest challenges and why a strong board makes all the difference

After 17 years at the helm of Chicago-based Rush University System for Health and Rush University Medical Center, Larry Goodman, MD, retired May 15. Here, Dr. Goodman looks back on his tenure, lessons learned and where he sees healthcare trending.

Question: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment as CEO of Rush?

Dr. Larry Goodman: It is tempting to list markers of growth, financial performance, or the opening of major new facilities as accomplishments — but, frankly, anyone fortunate enough to serve as CEO for 17 years should have been present for a fair number of these things. More importantly, while we have had our share of these terrific milestones at Rush, none of them are really my accomplishments. And they are not the most important things anyway.

Making sure that quality remains at the center of everything we do and helping to focus Rush on significantly reducing the health inequities that exist in the communities around us are much more important initiatives. But these, too, came less from our senior team than from just listening to the many people that work at Rush and participated in our planning process.

As for any personal accomplishments, it would be to have, hopefully, never [lost] sight of the importance of making sure that every project we began was consistent with our mission; that my actions were always striving to be consistent with our values; and that, as we planned for the future, I always listened carefully to the true experts — the many people that work at Rush.

Q: What is one leadership lesson that has stuck with you over the course of your tenure?

LG: It is something simple — everything counts. How any of us acts at an overnight town hall meeting or on the phone with someone complaining about their experience is as important as how we present at a board meeting or to the press. We will be judged, and reasonably so, on the sum of all of our behaviors. Acting respectfully in all settings is not just the right thing to do — it is also good business and an effective leadership strategy.

Additionally, it's a great way to approach partnerships. A partnership is not about getting the best deal; it's about getting a lasting deal. And that means it should be a great deal for both parties. And, here again, everything counts. Our partner in a minor deal today could become a potential party to the biggest deal in our history tomorrow, and they will remember how they were treated.

Q: What is one thing you wish you had known when you became leader of the health system?

LG: I wish I had understood how valuable a strong board could be. Fortunately, I did learn this over my first several years. The Rush board has been a tremendous help to me, our management team and all of Rush in countless ways. Most importantly, as committed members of our community, they have provided their best ideas, advice and counsel as we together worked through the typical assortment of thorny issues of all types that can arise in healthcare and in a health sciences university. I cannot thank them enough.

Q: What have been the biggest changes in healthcare since you stepped into the top post at Rush and how did you ensure the health system weathered those changes successfully?

LG: The biggest change has been the explosion of information and its availability in a digitized format. We can do quality reviews in a few keystrokes, and we can more quickly assess variables ranging from genetics to billing errors. Unfortunately, much of this data when initially collected is incorrect, or at least flawed, and it requires a great deal of thought and effort to make sense of it. Organizations that can understand this data collection-to-data accuracy gap the best, and then correct it and effectively use it, have a decided advantage. We are investing in data analytics and blending strong IT with equally strong clinical excellence to get to a product that can drive change with an absolute focus on creating something distinctively better. Our quality data analytics team is, I think, second to none and has allowed us to focus on areas that actually need improvement. As a result, we have consistently ranked among the best in the country in overall quality and safety.

A second big change is the recognition of the stress that current models of care and our healthcare culture put on providers, students and many others in our systems. This is an urgent national problem that must be aggressively addressed. We have hired a chief wellness officer, are modifying our benefits structure and have made a number of curricular and other changes to address this important issue, but more work still needs to be done.

Q: What do you hope to see in the healthcare arena in the next five to 10 years?

LG: We are living in a time of real discovery. As genetic analysis, CAR T-cell therapies, immunotherapies and other advances define a new standard of care for many disease states, inequities in healthcare outcomes will worsen unless we develop new strategies now. And these inequities go beyond access to quality care. The root causes of these inequities are the concentration of negative social determinants of health in specific locations. To effectively address this, we need to impact educational opportunities, jobs and local businesses, and neighborhood safety and infrastructure in our communities if we are to be truly dedicated to improving health.

I hope to see institutions more effectively leverage their supply chains, their hiring practices, their educational apparatus and their investment strategies to focus all of the components of our health systems on improving health. West Side United, on Chicago's West Side is one such collaborative, but the Chicago Heal Project championed by Sen. [Dick] Durbin and other collaboratives that are part of the Democracy Collaborative are also focused on this goal. Through these kinds of partnerships, I hope to see this inequity dramatically reduced in the coming years.

Similarly, attaining real diversity in healthcare at every level is necessary and overdue. Like nearly everything else, it will take careful planning, strategic investments and monitoring progress carefully and making appropriate adjustments.

This is the right time to share best practices around both of these goals so successes can be scaled as quickly as possible.

More articles on leadership:
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Former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb rejoins venture capital firm
Detroit Medical Center begins layoffs

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