Inflation, access, hybrid work: 4 health leaders on tackling challenges

Identifying the obstacles to achieving healthcare system goals — including positive outcomes and patient satisfaction, sourcing and retaining quality talent, and getting payers to stay current on reimbursements — is the first step to organizations moving the needle toward success.

But those are the 30,000-foot view top priorities. What about the other issues that need leaders' attention, plus the unexpected crises — like a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic or a catastrophic weather event? 

Planning for those kinds of challenges is about leadership, strategy and accepting there will always be a fire to put out. There will always be ambiguity. How a hospital leader reacts to obstacles, big and small, sends a message to employees and other leaders.

Becker's spoke with four hospital executives about the challenges they are facing — other than employee shortages — that are top of mind.

Jason Harrington. President and CEO, Lakes Regional Healthcare (Spirit Lake, Iowa): The payer community seems deaf to what's happening in the marketplace regarding inflation. You simply cannot control healthcare costs by limiting payment updates to 2 to 3 percent and expect to maintain levels of access and quality. We will see massive hospital closures if something does not change at the payer level.

William Jennings. President, Hartford (Conn.) HealthCare Fairfield Region: As an industry, we have failed with providing access. You and I are lucky. We know the system and the experts who navigate the system. We have people. 

But for everyone else in our communities — who don't have people — they are lost in a complex web of phone trees, access centers and full provider panels.

Just have a friend (not in the business) try to get an appointment with a neurologist or oncologist or endocrinologist in your community. If they get an appointment at all, it will be in three to four months — if they are lucky. This is a failure on our part as industry leaders, and it's our problem to fix.

Gregory Nielsen. COO, LCMC Health (New Orleans): Healthcare leaders must be able to achieve their organization's strategic goals despite the multitude of environmental challenges that can arise — some known and some instantaneously surprising.

As leaders, we need to be nimble to ebb and flow when changes impact the environment and community around us. It is essential to do this while maintaining and focusing on the strategic direction of the organization.

Stephanie Schwartz. Senior Vice President, Atlantic Health System (Morristown, N.J.) and President, Overlook Medical Center (Summit, N.J.): Leaders are still learning how to lean into the hybrid world of on-site and work-from-home approaches and adapting that to the needs and environment of a hospital.

To compete for the best talent and to support team member resiliency, we must be able to create and support new dynamics to work differently, even in our patient- and family-facing environment.

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