Hospital CEOs zoom in on leadership amid transformation

Having recently guided their organizations through financial, operational and workforce challenges, hospital and health system CEOs are turning their attention to transformational work. Their goal: to balance growth and innovation with the pressures of today's healthcare landscape.

At many organizations, a strong focus on leadership is part of these efforts. This may include realigning leadership structures or changing roles. 

For example, Texas Children's announced in May that it would search for a new president. Mark Wallace, who has served as president and CEO of the organization since 1989, remains CEO of Texas Children's, and Debra Feigin Sukin, PhD, began her role as president in January.

"In September, we appointed [Dr.] Sukin to the role, and I couldn't be more excited for what's ahead," Mr. Wallace told Becker's earlier this year.

"Things are only getting better for Texas Children's in 2024. I've spent the last year telling our team to think differently and lead differently. We've always done this, but COVID-19 really changed the ways companies operate globally and domestically. As a result, we need to have a strong focus on leadership."

CEOs are also focused on the workforce. In January, the American College of Healthcare Executives released its annual survey of top issues confronting hospitals, and hospital CEOs ranked workforce challenges as their No. 1 concern in 2023. 

The latest survey marked the second consecutive year that hospital CEOs have ranked workforce challenges, financial challenges and behavioral health and addiction issues as the top three concerns, and the third consecutive year that workforce or personnel challenges have been the top-ranked issue.

Todd LaPorte, who brings more than 35 years of healthcare experience to his role as CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based HonorHealth, described his own concerns and approaches related to the topic during an interview with Becker's.

"As baby boomers keep aging, the demand for healthcare services keeps rising because of this acuity that keeps rising in our country as well," he said. "And yet we talk all the time about a labor shortage of healthcare workers. 

"So we're going to have a real supply and demand issue that's going to come at us and, frankly, we have to do this as a defensive posture. But the real reason we do it is because that's our mission. Our mission is to improve the health and well-being of those we serve. So it starts there. But it also happens to be a matter of self-defense that we may be challenged with having enough supply of caregiving to meet the demand. We need to get out on the front end."

To that end, he said HonorHealth is promoting a Blue Zones project in a nearby community focused on "how to improve the built-in environment of our community that makes it easier for people to live healthier lives and  allows them to live better and longer."

Additionally, executives are focused on building trust with front-line workers as well as workplace culture. They view these as contributing factors to workers' satisfaction at the organization and overall willingness to stay there.

For example, Cliff Megerian, MD, CEO of Cleveland-based University Hospitals, launched a book club for employees in 2022. Today, Cliff's Notes: A UH Book Club, which is named after Dr. Megerian, continues to evolve.

He told Becker's earlier this year that the trust that's gained at the book club meetings — where there are sometimes intense discussions as people give their opinions and perceptions of a book — has elevated the culture of University Hospitals.

"Whether it's the CEO or whether it is anyone else in the organization … that person's opinion matters. And I think this also has helped elevate one of my goals … of creating a speak-up culture where people feel empowered to speak up when they sense that something needs to be called out, something needs to be changed," Dr. Megerian said.

Buffy Key, CEO of Cookeville (Tenn.) Regional Medical Center, expressed similar sentiments, noting her focus on listening to people around her. She told Becker's this year that she has spent time refreshing and reestablishing relationships, programs and employee morale.

"If we focus on our people, they will care for our patients even better," Ms. Key said. "If we rebuild relationships, they will be our biggest cheerleader. If we see the needs of our community, we can help build a healthier community for them."

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