Responding to natural disasters, implementing EHR systems & more: 9 CEOs share their greatest accomplishments in 2017

Healthcare leaders across the U.S. faced numerous challenges in 2017 arising from political uncertainties, natural disasters and an industrywide transition to value-based care.

As the challenges billowed, hospital leaders rose to the test and implemented new strategies and initiatives to bolster their respective organizations. In 2017, some hospital executives helped their organizations implement new EHRs, while others oversaw construction of million-dollar facilities, worked to merge multiple organizations into one cohesive entity and, in some areas of the U.S., led their organizations through devastating natural disasters.   

Although 2017 has come to a close, hospital leaders look to tackle new challenges in the year ahead.

Below are the responses from nine CEOs, from various sized-entities, on their greatest accomplishments in 2017 and a challenge or goal they hope to overcome or achieve in 2018.

Note: The responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. The responses are listed below in alphabetical order by CEO first name.

1. Alan Kaplan, MD, CEO of UW Health (Madison, Wis.)

"Developing a new vision and strategic plan, which sets us on an exciting course to build on our strengths, secure market relevance and to do good for others. [In addition,] bringing a joint operating agreement between UW Health and UnityPoint Health-Meriter to the finish line [was a big accomplishment]. We have merged our provider-owned insurance plans and entered into a revenue and expense sharing arrangement. Through this unique partnership, between an academic health system and a community based nonprofit health system, we will be able to optimize our clinical offerings and avoid large capital expenditures. The spirit of this partnership is strong and work is already underway to achieve our patient-centered goals.

In 2018, a big challenge will be executing our strategic plan and supporting all aspects of our academic mission while addressing financial challenges and provider/staff burnout."

2. Carol Burrell, President and CEO of Northeast Georgia Health System (Gainesville)

"In 2017, after 18 months of planning, testing and training, Northeast Georgia Health System implemented a new EHR system. On Oct. 1, 2017, we went live with Epic, changing the way we deliver care across our health system. Now, our inpatient, outpatient and ambulatory services come together into one patient record and one bill. This milestone project not only improves efficiency for our patients and staff, but also unifies our clinical and revenue cycle teams. This year, we also launched our Graduate Medical Education program and received CMS approval of our ACO application to participate in the Medicare Shared Savings Program. 

As we look ahead to 2018, we will continue to build our GME program, in anticipation of our first physician residents arriving in 2019. We also will continue development of our clinical integration network in partnership with community and regional physicians and continue our quest for continuous improvement across the system."

3. Christopher Dawes, President and CEO of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford (Palo Alto, Calif.)

"Without a doubt, opening the doors of our new facility to our patients and their families was our top achievement for 2017. After more than 10 years of planning and five years of construction, to witness patient move day in December 2017 was truly exceptional. This expansion more than doubles the size of our pediatric and obstetric hospital campus and allows us to provide an unprecedented level of care to more patients than ever before. I am in awe of the dedication and passion that hundreds poured into this project, from management, staff, families, and everyone who had a hand in its development.

I think the greatest challenges of 2018 will come from that which we cannot yet see clearly. In healthcare policy legislation, protecting Medicaid funding is imperative for children with serious and chronic illnesses as well as for preventative care, and for the Children's Health Insurance Program, relied upon by 9 million children and expectant mothers. Cutting back these programs would result in repercussions for all children. This is what keeps me up at night as a leader of pediatric an obstetric hospital and healthcare network — and a challenge we will all have to work towards solving in 2018 for the health and protection of our nation's children."

4. Daniel DeBehnke, MD, CEO of Nebraska Medicine (Omaha)

"2017 was a pivotal year for Nebraska Medicine with the opening of the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. Nationally recognized clinical cancer programs and basic science laboratories are located in this beautiful 600,000-square-foot facility. 

In 2018, we will continue executing on our five-year strategic plan. This plan is centered around our journey to high reliability and focuses on organizational readiness, internal and external transparency, consumerism and supporting not only the healthcare but the health and well-being of the communities that we serve."

5. Johnese Spisso, President of UCLA Health and CEO of UCLA Hospital System (Los Angeles)

"One significant focus in 2017 was continued expansion of our ambulatory clinic network throughout greater Los Angeles to increase convenience for patients and enhance prevention and wellness consistent with our population heath model. We opened six new clinics, bringing the total to 170, and streamlined oversight under a single operations chief [executive]. We also advanced several strategic business and community partnerships. We're proud to be recognized for excellence in a broad array of care by multiple entities using varied performance metrics.

Clearly, continued market disruptions driven by changes to the ACA and in the political and regulatory environment demand ongoing innovation in how patient care is delivered. [In 2018, a main focus will be] to systematically develop strategies that continue to enhance efficiencies and capitalize on our strengths as an academic health system — among them tertiary and quaternary care, groundbreaking academic research and entrepreneurship."

6. Kathy Hull, President and CEO of Illini Community Hospital (Quincy, Ill.)

"Illini is a 25-bed critical access hospital in a service area of roughly 10,000. Having easy access to primary care is essential to improving the health of any community.  Implementation of [quality] principles in our rural health clinic resulted in a 44 percent increase in patient visits in 2017, which was a big accomplishment. At the same time, moving from one of six domains above the 70th percentile [on a patient engagement survey] in 2016 to five of six domains above the 70th percentile in the last four months of 2017 [was a huge accomplishment].

To start 2018, we have hired two nurse practitioner hospitalists that will allow us to provide better service and a more consistent/higher quality of care for our inpatients. We plan, and it's our goal, to have four specialty care services available for inpatient consulting via telemedicine for cardiology, GI, nephrology and pulmonology. Our plan is to allow more patients to stay in our facility as opposed to being transferred to a tertiary care facility — which is the desire of many of our local residents."

7. Marna Borgstrom, CEO of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health and Yale New Haven Hospital  

"Among Yale New Haven Health's top achievements in 2017 has been the advancement of our value strategy. We have significantly reduced serious safety events throughout our health system and increased transparency of our safety event reporting. In our annual employee safety survey we found that not only are we keeping our patients safe, but our employees feel safe and feel that they are a critical part of our culture of safety.

Additionally, [w]e rolled out new standards of professional behavior, training nearly 24,000 employees to create a common and better patient experience across the health system. Lastly, we completed the integration of L+M Healthcare into the health system — eliminating their operating losses and increasing patient demand for their services.

In 2018 we will continue to enhance the patient experience and reduce cost by reducing non-value added variation, and we will further enhance patient access to high quality care through the use of telemedicine technologies and more convenient outpatient services."

8. Theresa Larivee, CEO of Pennsylvania Hospital (Philadelphia)

 "At Pennsylvania Hospital, part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, one of our most significant accomplishments of 2017 was successfully converting to a new, comprehensive EMR system that allows our clinicians to communicate across the care continuum and effect seamless care transitions. Pennsylvania Hospital served as a pilot site for this transition across Penn Medicine, serving as a model for our colleagues and maintaining its positive quality, economic, and engagement measures during this critical evolution, which impacted every patient care setting at PAH and throughout the health system.

In 2018, Pennsylvania Hospital's biggest challenge will be the same challenge that many healthcare providers are facing across the United States: continuing to meet the expectation of high-value healthcare in an ever-evolving healthcare environment. We plan to meet this challenge through investments in interdisciplinary performance improvement work and leveraging learning across our health system."

9. Toni Brayer, MD, CEO of Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation (San Francisco)

"Our top achievement in 2017 was dealing with the largest fire ever in a metropolitan area in California that forced evacuation and shut down of 13 patient care centers in the Santa Rosa Firestorm. Despite fires that were not contained and were raging for a week, we managed to restore healthcare services within 24 hours … seeing patients in one location with many different specialties crammed in and sharing exam rooms. We had doctors sitting on the floor with their laptops, staff that were themselves displaced, and an offsite incident command center that was calling critical patients with conditions … including high risk pregnancy, chemo infusions, post op wound care … and getting them the care they needed at different sites. We took care of our doctors and employees, 14 lost their homes, and took care of our patients. One lesson learned is to focus on disaster preparedness and have a plan for action. It could happen to any health system or hospital.

I am on the Sutter Health outpatient ambulatory side. For 2018 one of our main challenges is primary care recruitment at a time when the supply is not adequate, integrated care is needed more than ever and competition for physicians is heavy.  Without primary care our other goals of improved service, access and quality are not achievable."

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