La Rabida Children's CEO Brenda Wolf: Affecting policy is 'imperative' to transform, survive as a safety-net provider

In this special Speaker Series, Becker's Healthcare caught up with Brenda Wolf, president and CEO of La Rabida Children's Hospital in Chicago.  

Ms. Wolf will speak on a panel at Becker's Hospital Review 7th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable titled " Creating Healthcare Leaders: Aligning Development with Strategy Execution" at 12 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 12. Learn more about the event and register to attend in Chicago.

Question: What keeps you excited and motivated to come to work each day?

Brenda Wolf: I am very lucky. I work at an organization with an important and unique mission, driven staff and a dedicated board. We are small enough that I get to interact with our kids and families, and see first-hand the wonderful ways in which we have helped to make their lives better. The stories I hear warm my heart — whether they're accomplishments or opportunities for our children and their families, or the special kindnesses provided by staff. Witnessing all this is what keeps me going.

Q: What major challenges, financial or otherwise, are affecting hospitals in the markets you serve? How is your hospital responding?

BW: Even as a "safety-net" healthcare provider, we are constantly facing the reality that healthcare is a business. However, I am mindful that you can do good by doing well.

As the most Medicaid-reliant hospital in Illinois, we face increasing challenges. We know that healthcare is changing, and we need to adapt. By placing a lot of energy in maintaining the status quo of how healthcare is currently delivered to those insured by Medicaid, we risk stalling transformative thinking and new ideas for how we care for this population. It's imperative that we focus on affecting policy which allows us to innovate and respond to the needs of the market, especially for children with special healthcare needs. We, at La Rabida, don't want to be thought of as solely an inpatient provider; our focus is getting kids out of the hospital, and keeping them out.

Two important initiatives that we have undertaken to achieve this goal are La Rabida's NCQA-recognizedpatient-centered medical home for children with special needs. We serve 4,000 children with special needs in this capacity by providing primary care, care coordination and access to specialties and wrap-around services. 

We have also developed La Rabida Care Coordination (LRCC), a separate program, offering care coordination services for children with special needs. We are contracted with Medicaid managed care organizations to provide these services to their enrollees throughout the area. The vast majority of these children do not receive direct patient care at La Rabida. We are there to assist the primary care provider, the health plan and the families by offering support and being the hub that coordinates services.

Q: What initially piqued your interest in healthcare?

BW: I got into healthcare more as an evolution. I have a master's degree in special education, and early on in my career, I became involved in management of residential facilities for children with special needs. It was clear that the children's needs transcended education, but if management was my path, I needed better credentials; therefore, I pursued and received an MBA with a healthcare concentration. The skills I learned working with children with disabilities have made me a better healthcare leader.

Organizations that care for individuals with disabilities have been utilizing the concepts of interdisciplinary care teams and individualized plans of care for nearly 40 years. The importance of making the environment more home-like and client-friendly is another long-standing pillar of care for this population. These key practices were ones I could immediately bring to my work in healthcare.

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