Incoming CEO of Zuckerberg San Francisco General talks goals, focus in new position

After an extensive nationwide search for a new CEO, the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital found its next chief executive just 20 miles away at San Mateo (Calif.) Medical Center.

susan ehrlichBeginning in late April, Susan Ehrlich, MD, who has served as CEO of SMMC since 2009, will take the helm at Zuckerberg San Francisco General, the city's only trauma center and safety-net hospital. There, Dr. Ehrlich will lead a staff of 5,400, manage a budget of $1.1 billion, and oversee the hospital's move into a new seismically safe, nine-story tower.

It's not surprising Dr. Ehrlich was the fit for the job. She has nearly 14 years of clinical and leadership experience from her tenure at SMMC, where she also served as CMO, vice president and medical director. She is also uniquely embedded in the San Francisco community from a public health and policy perspective. She served with the city's department of public health as Budget and Planning Director and in addition to her medical degree, holds a graduate degree in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley.

We checked in with Dr. Ehrlich to see how she was preparing for the transition. Here, she reflects on her experiences at SMMC and how they will inform her newest undertaking.

Question: How would you describe your leadership style?

Dr. Susan Ehrlich: I really believe my job as a leader is to ensure my team has the support they need to provide excellent patient care and that they can all work together effectively as a team to accomplish the goals of the organization.

One of the most important things I do as a leader myself is to care for patients. I am a very devoted primary care provider for older adults and I plan to provide patient care at Zuckerberg San Francisco General as well. There are a lot of important reasons I do this. One is just for my own professional growth and job satisfaction, but it also really helps me know the organization from the ground up and work in an entirely different way with the medical staff and the entire team.

Q: About how much of your time is devoted to patient care versus your duties as CEO?

SE: Well, it varies. Here at San Mateo it's officially 12 percent of my time. I'm in clinic every Monday morning and every other Wednesday afternoon, but it varies from week to week, depending on what's going on with the patients and my other duties.

Q: Do you think you will carry a lot of those patients over to San Francisco General?

SE: No, sadly I am in the process of saying goodbye to my patients, which is one of the hardest things about leaving here, because I have taken care of many of those people for the entire time I've been here — 13.5 years.

Q: What do you consider your biggest accomplishment at San Mateo Medical Center?

SE: I have to identify two things. One is that we have — since I became the CEO here in 2009 — embedded lean tools in the organization to create a patient-focused, data-driven community of problem solvers. This is how we do improvements in the organization and I am very proud of that.

The other thing is that early in my tenure here I was asked to lead the development of the Ron Robinson Senior Care Center. I opened that clinic — it's where I still practice today — and it's an incredibly unique resource for older adults in the community. We serve about 3,000 people as a patient centered medical home for adults over the age of 60. It's a thriving clinic that provides a great service and I am really proud of that.

Q: What brings you to your new position at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital?

SE: There are many things that draw me there. There's a fabulous team of people there who are devoted to providing the highest quality of patient-centered care. It's an opportunity to join a world class group of physicians — the University of California, San Francisco physicians and Zuckerberg San Francisco General. It's reconnecting with many people I worked with at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and many faculty who taught me when I was in medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. And it's an opportunity to serve the community where I have lived for many years.

Q: What will be your main focus when you start your new role?

SE: The main focus will be moving into our new tower in the month of May. That's going to be a big focus of attention that will likely take up most of my time. Following that the hospital will start the process of implementing an enterprise-wide EHR. Both of those things are giant undertakings.

Q: You have a significant background in health policy and public health. What do you see as the most pressing public health issue in San Francisco?

SE: San Francisco is really distinguished in the sense it cares deeply about serving all of its citizens and that compassion has led to near universal access, first with Healthy San Francisco and then with the Affordable Care Act. Now that access is ensured financially for everyone in the community, we need to really eliminate disparities in health access and outcomes for the whole population. As a community provider for everyone no matter their insurance, that's a very important role for us, especially in such a diverse community.

Q: How do those issues factor into your long- and short-term goals at Zuckerberg San Francisco General?

SE: Eliminating disparities is really a long-term goal, so that is something we will be working on for many years. But in the short-term, we are really focused everyday on providing the highest quality service, the safest care, the best patient experience and the most efficient care for everybody who walks in the door.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

SE: I amhonored to take on this new role. Zuckerberg San Francisco General is an incredible community resource and I am deeply honored to join the team there.


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