Spectrum Health CEO Tina Freese Decker on accomplishments, history and health equity

Tina Freese Decker's nearly two decades of leadership at Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spectrum Health have allowed her to address healthcare challenges such as access and affordability. Now, as president and CEO, she is also helping drive change in health equity. 

Ms. Freese Decker joined Spectrum Health in 2002 as an administrative fellow. Since then, she has held various leadership roles, including executive vice president and COO. She became president and CEO of the 14-hospital health system in 2018. 

Ms. Freese Decker earned her master's degrees in health administration and industrial engineering from the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Here, she answers Becker's questions for women in healthcare leadership: 

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Question: Who had the biggest influence on your decision to go into healthcare?  

Tina Freese Decker: My parents. They encouraged me to pursue my career aspirations — I just needed to be passionate about it. From a very early age, I had a desire to help others and make an impact for people in the community, and I saw healthcare as being one of the most important careers where you could really deliver that impact.     

Q: What do you enjoy most about being in the industry?

TFD: Healthcare is a complex industry. I enjoy taking on the really tough challenges and bringing together great talent to create, innovate and implement needed change to transform our industry.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you face as a female leader?

TFD: It's important as a female leader to truly be authentic and have an understanding of one's audience. While it can be a hard needle to thread, I believe it's at the core of what makes us effective. 

Q: How do you relax outside of the C-suite?  

TFD: I love to immerse myself in history, so reading history books is a big passion and a great way to unplug. And I love spending time with my family, whether that's taking a walk with our family dog or watching my kids excel at their passions. 

Q: How do you stay inspired on hard days?  

TFD: I stay grounded in our mission to improve health, inspire hope and save lives by making personal visits to patients and caregivers in our facilities. Those visits remind me my day is not so hard.

Q: What is your daily mantra?

TFD: I have two: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together," and, "Imagine the possibilities."

Q: What do you consider your greatest career success? 

TFD: I am most proud of my accomplishments as a leader at Spectrum Health over the last 18 years, starting out as an administrative fellow, in driving significant and transformational change to address some of our industry's most pressing challenges — access and affordability. I'm also incredibly proud of our system's focus on health equity, including a program that significantly improved maternal-infant health. We intensified those efforts this year with internal listening opportunities to help team members heal the pain of systemic racism. Well also the expanded initiatives and collaborations, including a commitment to reallocate $100 million over the next 10 years for programs and services to improve health and access among populations impacted by health inequities.



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