Interim healthcare leaders: More than a placeholder

  • Small
  • Medium
  • Large

Access to high-quality talent is, has been, and will be a top challenge for healthcare organizations for many years to come. It's especially challenging when a leadership position is vacant. It's hard to deliver quality care and financial results for your community and hospital when your organization has critical leadership vacancies.

Part 4 of the Hospital Executives Guide to Effective Interim Leadership series. Read...
Part 1: How to handle your healthcare staffing crises and challenges?
Part 2: Why use interim healthcare leaders?
Part 3: Is an interim healthcare leader right for your organization?

Consequences of Extended Vacancies
Hospitals typically plan for a four- to six-month leadership hiring process. It often takes much longer. But this intervening timeframe can lead to long-term negative consequences for your organization, including loss of focus on transformative patient safety initiatives and declining operational performance, staff engagement, and patient experience.

A growing number of hospital and health system CEOs are turning to interim healthcare talent to fill the gaps to offset the negative effects of these vacancies.

Change, Challenges, Crises
When considering an interim healthcare leader, many times the first questions asked are,

"Who are these interim executives, directors, and managers? What type of person chooses the change, challenges, and crises that will constantly confront them?"

The Profile of Professional Interim Healthcare Executives, Directors, and Managers
An interim healthcare leader is a highly skilled and dedicated professional with exceptional abilities and a take-charge attitude. Armed with relevant education, clinical expertise, and a depth of experience, they can serve in roles in the C-suite:

• Chief Nursing Officer
• Chief Medical Officer
• Chief Operating Officer
• Chief Human Resources Officer
• Chief Financial Officer, and even
• Chief Executive Officer

Interim leaders also serve in leadership roles in a range of clinical areas, including but not limited to:

Behavioral Health
• Infection Control
• Critical Care Services
• Case Management
• Women's Services
• Laboratory Services
• Emergency Services, and
• Surgical Services

Improve Quality of Care, Patient Experience, Bottom Line
Interim healthcare leaders are passionate about improving the patient care experience. They understand the mechanics of evidence-based processes, the complexities of internal cultures, and accreditation requirements and regulatory compliance. And they have a keen understanding of and focus on the organization's bottom line.

In the case of most interim engagements, improving the quality of care and the patient experience leads to a more engaged workforce, and improves healthcare delivery and financial performance.

That's the passion that drives the professional interim healthcare leader.

Provide Leadership During Vacancies
Interim leaders are a different kind of healthcare leader. They will go anywhere in the country at a moment's notice to help a hospital or healthcare organization with an immediate need for leadership, whatever the circumstances. These organizations need someone who can hit the ground quickly, be effective, and see results, and not just be a placeholder.

Fix Urgent Problems, Tackle New Projects
In addition to filling the critical vacancy until the hospital finds the perfect replacement for their organization, the interim leader may also be tasked to fix urgent problems, tackle new quality initiatives, or serve as a consultant that can provide the organization with new ideas and processes based on his or her experience in other successful organizations.

During an engagement, successful interims may also...
• Design and implement systems that positively affect efficiency, productivity, cost-savings, and profitability while improving the patient care and staff work experience
• Provide stability to organizations faced with chaotic, uncertain, or tenuous times
• Train and develop management teams
• Establish an atmosphere of teamwork and serve as a role model
• Establish processes that exceed regulatory standards and optimal levels of patient care

Make Tough Decisions
Interim healthcare leaders can also help you make tough employment decisions. They can evaluate current staff to see if someone an internal candidate is capable of taking over the vacant position. They can also identify potential gaps in skills and capabilities that may require moving personnel into other roles, providing counseling or coaching, or in some cases, documenting a corrective action plan to help improve employee performance.

Mentor and Educate
Interim executives and directors know that mentoring and coaching are an important part of their role. Also, interim leaders can help the staff develop educational programs where they can get in-house training, or identify conferences and seminars to attend to help improve the quality of care delivery and patient experience.

Go the Extra Mile
Interim healthcare leaders are used to high-intensity, 60-hour work weeks. They take them in stride. Also, they rarely live close to where they work. They travel to the healthcare organization and then go back home every other weekend to be close to family.

It takes a special kind of leader to go the extra mile. That's the definition and profile of a professional interim healthcare leader.


End of Part 4 of The Healthcare Executive's Guide to Effective Interim Leadership series.

Part 1: How to handle your healthcare staffing crises and challenges?
Part 2: Why use interim healthcare leaders?
Part 3: Is an interim healthcare leader right for your organization?

"Interim Healthcare Leaders: More than a Placeholder" is an excerpt from "The Healthcare Executive's Guide to Effective Interim Leadership," by Hugo A. Aguas, MPA, and Kate M. Fenner, PhD, RN.

About the authors

Hugo Aguas, MPA
Hugo Aguas has more than 35 years of experience in human resources management in large health systems, teaching and research hospitals, and community hospitals, as well as experience managing hospital operations in several clinical and support services departments. As the Director of Interim Services at Compass Clinical Consulting, Hugo develops strategic partnerships with hospital and health system clients, identifying and placing skilled interim healthcare executives, clinical directors, and managers to help clients meet both short- and long-range objectives. Before joining Compass, Hugo spent more than ten years as Assistant Vice President, Human Resources at Inova Alexandria Hospital and Inova Fairfax Medical Center, where he managed all facets of the Human Resources function and had operational oversight of several clinical and support departments.

Hugo earned his Master of Public Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Loyola University in Los Angeles. He is a member of the American Society of Healthcare Human Resource Administration and the Society of Human Resource Management.

Kate M. Fenner, PhD, RN
Kate Fenner understands hospital leadership. First as a nurse and later as an education leader and consultant, Kate has immersed herself in the regulatory and operational issues that face today's healthcare organizations.

As Managing Director and CEO of Compass, Kate has led and participated in dozens of mock surveys to help healthcare organizations meet the standards and expectations of regulatory bodies such as the Joint Commission, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and State Departments of Health, and guides hospitals and health systems through accreditation and regulatory compliance response and recovery efforts.

A regular keynote speaker throughout the country, she authored a leading college text on law and ethics in healthcare, co-authored other texts on a variety of healthcare issues, and currently, serves on the editorial board of the Journal for Nursing in the 21st Century.

Twitter: @Compasscc

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

Copyright © 2021 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars