Inside SSM Health's Wisconsin leadership realignment

In today's healthcare environment, organizations are focused on making adjustments to ensure long-term success. This includes realigning leadership structures. 

SSM Health, a 23-hospital health system based in St. Louis, is among the latest organizations to take this approach. Specifically, it is rolling out a leadership structure that further integrates operations across seven regional hospitals in Wisconsin. 

Financial pressures were not the primary driver of this change but rather a need for the Wisconsin region to function more efficiently, Regional President Sue Anderson told Becker's.

"In the Wisconsin region, we've got seven hospitals and a number of clinics, and they were often operating independently," she said. "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."

The new structure includes two regional vice presidents for acute care and a regional vice president role on the ambulatory side. 

Kyle Nondorf was promoted to regional vice president for acute care operations for SSM Health Wisconsin's northern hospitals. He will be responsible for acute care operations for hospitals in Baraboo, Fond du Lac, Ripon and Waupun.

In June, Dawit Tesfasilassie was named regional vice president for acute care operations for SSM Health Wisconsin's southern hospitals. He will be responsible for hospitals in Janesville, Madison and Monroe.

And Jason Craig was named SSM Wisconsin's regional vice president of ambulatory care.

"In many ways, those three individuals are coming together to fill what would be a traditional COO role," Ms. Anderson said. "We felt like we had enough strategic priorities in terms of our work that it was too big for one person."  

SSM Health Wisconsin has also broken the region into two so there is a regional vice president and two presidents for four of the regional hospitals. There will be a regional vice president and two presidents for the remaining three regional hospitals. 

This includes SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital - Janesville President Eric Thornton, who was named the new president of St. Mary's Hospital - Madison. 

Additionally, SSM Health Monroe Hospital President Jane Curran-Meuli, BSN, will expand her duties to include oversight of St. Mary's Hospital - Janesville and the Monroe facilities. 

DeAnn Thurmer, president of SSM Health’s Ripon Community and Waupun Memorial Hospitals, will expand her oversight to also include St. Clare Hospital-Baraboo. And Katherine Vergos, BSN, RN, will remain hospital president at SSM Health St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac.

"Each of our areas has a three-person team — two that are more focused on the day to day, and the third senior person who's going to help us with our strategic priorities," Ms. Anderson said. "It gives more leadership bandwidth. It gives the people with operational components [to their job] a larger scale that they're accountable for."

She also said the restructuring, which is being conducted in phases, allows leaders in the Wisconsin region to grow, which will help with succession planning. 

"That's something that I think all healthcare organizations are working on where there's much more of a ladder that people can gain increasing responsibility. And then the three individuals who are in that COO role, if you will, any one of them should be able to be a replacement for me or for another role in the system because they've had broad enough experience," said Ms. Anderson, who has been in her current role for about a year and a half.

SSM Health Wisconsin is not alone in adjusting its regional leadership structure. Becker's has reported at least 20 health systems that have announced changes to leadership ranks and administration teams in 2023. At the same time, some health systems are bulking up their C-suites amid organizational transformation. Some are also combining roles

"Some of the restructuring that you're seeing right now is obviously in response to economic challenges. How can we do our work with fewer people?" Ms. Anderson said. "But if we think ahead to what's going to be needed in healthcare in the future, it's going to be people who can move across broader territories, who can move across broader types of challenges and not be as siloed in their work. … I'm trying to create people that play well across our region and with the system so that we can help move the system forward faster as well."

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