How 4 hospital and health system CEOs spend the bulk of their time

Chiefs from Baylor Scott & White Health, Henry Ford Health System, Rush University Medical Center and Saint Francis Medical Center define their top priorities.

At the Becker's Hospital Review 6th Annual Meeting in Chicago May 8, four hospital and health system leaders responded to a question posed by Tucker Carlson, moderator and Fox News correspondent: "What are two to three issues you spend the most time on?"

Panelists included:

  • Nancy M. Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit
  • Steven Bjelich, president and CEO of Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
  • Larry Goodman, MD, CEO of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and president of Rush University
  • Joel Allison, CEO of Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas

Ms. Schlichting said her priorities are people and strategy. Henry Ford Health System has had a stable and "wonderful" leadership team in place for more than 10 years, but that is changing. Ms. Schlichting plans to transition out of her role at the end of 2016, a decision that has placed an enormous amount of value on succession planning over the past few months. She said the system is always thinking strategically about its future and its role in the community, which has taken a hard hit. In 2014, it was reported the city's population fell to fewer than 700,000 residents. "Detroit has gone through incredibly difficult times, with bankruptcy and a 30 percent drop in the population. We have to constantly think about how to drive strategy to grow an organization that's not in a market that's growing," said Ms. Schlichting.

Five-hospital Henry Ford is more than an anchor of health in Detroit — it's an economic force. More than 24,000 people in the region work for the system, 8,500 of those in the city of Detroit. In 2012, the system unveiled its urban renewal plans in collaboration with Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health and Detroit Medical Center. As part of that plan, Cardinal Health will relocate a medical products distribution center to Detroit's midtown area, bringing 140 jobs to Detroit. This was the first phrase of the $500 million to $750 million community revitalization effort over 300 acres of land, which will also include affordable housing.

Mr. Bjelich said advocacy is demanding much of his attention at Saint Francis, a 284-bed Catholic facility serving more than 650,000 people throughout Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. "Unfortunately, in Missouri, we've not expanded Medicaid. It's a frustrating experience every CEO has had that goes beyond education," he said. "It's a matter of legislative people making a decision. Our inability to get that through has been very expensive to the state of Missouri and hospitals." He is also spending a lot of time and attention on the leap from volume- to value-based reimbursement, and how that will affect relationships within his organization. The hospital is working on a statewide collaborative focused on quality improvement and cost reduction, but is not yet moving into risk-sharing.

Dr. Goodman said he spends a significant amount of time on strategic planning, budgets, integration and building partnerships. "Chicago is a fairly densely populated city," he said. In the heart of the city's medical district, the 676-bed academic medical center is less than a mile away from John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County, flagship of the county's public health system, and UIC Medical Center. It neighbors Mt. Sinai Hospital, which is less than two miles away. Dr. Goodman said these systems share overlap with patient populations, but they are collaborating and working more together. "If we're not, we're not really serious about improving the health of our community," he said.

Chicago is home to one of the highest racial disparities in breast cancer mortality rates in the United States. The communities impacted the most by the disparity in breast cancer deaths are on the city's South and West Sides. Since 2005-2007, the racial breast cancer disparity has decreased 35 percent. Dr. Goodman attributes this progress to healthcare partnerships and collaboration. "It requires a combination of efforts," he said. "I'm incredibly optimistic, but I worry sometimes that it can't be a regulatory thing, it can't be a huge financial hit and it can't just be us."

Mr. Allison said the majority of his time is focused on the integration efforts involved with a large merger. The combination of Baylor Health Care System with Temple, Texas-based Scott & White Healthcare in 2013 created the largest nonprofit system in the state with 43 hospitals, approximately 34,000 employees and $8 billion in combined assets. "The message has been, 'We are one. We will be one,'" said Mr. Allison. It takes an extensive amount of communication from leadership for employees to understand the value of the merger. "I would just reiterate: Communicate, communicate, communicate. It's about the people and it's about relationships. We cannot forget that."

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