Hospital and health system CEOs recalibrate amid scarcity

In recent years, hospital and health system CEOs have guided their organizations through financial, operational and workforce challenges, as well as industry changes spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors. Now, they are turning their attention to transformational work to balance growth and innovation with the pressures of today's environment.    

Many organizations are focused on realigning leadership structures to ensure long-term success. The specific reasoning for the decisions and the details of the changes vary. But among the reasons provided for shifts are greater collaboration, consistency of patient experience and to further integrate operations across hospitals.

"In the Wisconsin region, we've got seven hospitals and a number of clinics, and they were often operating independently," said Sue Anderson, regional president at St. Louis-based SSM Health. "One of the things we've been talking about as a leadership team is creating much more of a single regional approach to things, which is why this structure will really help us."

Executives are also focused on pursuing excellence amid scarcity. They are paying attention to upholding the high quality in their work, on their team, and with their direct reports or managers, as well as building trust with front-line workers.

Michael Dandorph, president and CEO of Burlington, Mass.-based Tufts Medicine, emphasized the importance of transparency in building trust. This is especially important amid financial and other challenges in healthcare, he said; workers want to hear about all aspects of the organization.

It is important "to make sure [workers are] hearing all the great things that are going on within the organization, [as well as] the things that are not going as well or we're struggling with and that we're working on," he said. "Employees appreciate hearing both sides of that."

For example, Tufts is making financial turnaround efforts amid industry pressures. This includes outsourcing its outreach laboratory business and some operating assets to Labcorp. Labcorp announced the agreement with Tufts Medicine on Aug. 3 as part of a larger strategic partnership. 

"We've been managing through our own financial recovery, which we continue to make progress on," Mr. Dandorph said. "I've heard a lot from our employees that they appreciate knowing where we stand and the fact that I've been very transparent about that and what we need to do to work through the financial turnaround."

CEOs also are navigating shortages and other challenges related to the workforce. Many healthcare workers left their jobs or the industry altogether in recent years for numerous reasons. An estimated 145,213 healthcare providers left the workforce from 2021 through 2022, according to an Oct. 16 report from Definitive Healthcare. This included an estimated 71,309 physicians, 34,834 nurse practitioners, 13,714 physician assistants, 15,332 physical therapists and 10,024 licensed clinical social workers. 

With this in mind, recruitment and retention remain a key focus for executives for certain roles, and part of that focus involves ensuring workers' well-being.

"It's workforce, workforce, workforce," Michael Charlton, president and CEO of Atlantic City, N.J.-based AtlantiCare, told Becker's when asked about the greatest challenge facing hospital CEOs today. "We talk about the challenges and not having enough staff to do some of the things that we want to do, and it's really diving deeper. It's, 'Why did that happen?' We've known we've had a workforce problem in healthcare for years. I think the COVID situation really exacerbated that."

Still, he sees an upside to workforce challenges. "As difficult as that is, I think that as healthcare leaders, we have to look at that as sort of a blessing, because we're laser focused now in making sure that our caregivers and their well-being, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, that we're really, addressing some of these things," Mr. Charlton said.

He recommended that leaders stay focused on the "why" behind their daily work and stay engaged with staff.  


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