The 3 essential skills for health system CEOs to thrive today, according to AdventHealth's Terry Shaw

Terry Shaw serves as president and CEO of Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth, overseeing one of the nation's largest faith-based health systems, comprising more than 50 hospitals across nine states. 

Before beginning his current role in 2016, Mr. Shaw served in various leadership roles at AdventHealth, including executive vice president, CFO and COO. He was CFO before adding the COO title.

This experience has provided Mr. Shaw with a unique perspective on the CEO role and what it takes to lead during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Here, he shares his top priorities for 2022, discusses the most pressing problem CEOs are facing and reveals what he deems the top skills CEOs need to thrive in today's healthcare environment.

Editor's note: Responses were edited lightly for length, clarity and style. 

Question: What is the most pressing issue facing hospital CEOs amid the pandemic?

Terry Shaw: CEOs are facing issues on multiple fronts that have been magnified by the pandemic, and the latest surge made it clear that we can't let our guard down. Workforce is one of the most significant instabilities we are facing, highlighted by the staffing challenges we are experiencing, and there is no light at the end of this tunnel.

Many front-line team members are retiring or just leaving the healthcare profession, and we find ourselves competing more and more with other industries to maintain our workforce. The number of clinical openings in our organization and within the industry is challenging for all of us. CEOs are getting more involved in strengthening and retaining their workforce.

Q: What are AdventHealth's top priorities for 2022?

TS: AdventHealth strives to deliver on our brand promise of providing whole person care, so our priorities for 2022 revolve around strategic aspirations for achieving this goal, which is part of our multiyear plan, called Vision 2030.

Some of our key priorities include building on what we are known for, like being a faith-based clinical company, but also working to significantly improve our focus on consumers and their experience. This means we are investing in our technology infrastructure to build a stronger, more connected network, as well as the consumer experience and interface. 

We are also introducing a series of team member promises to change and improve things that are important to them, including their benefits. We have expanded and promoted access to mental healthcare services. Also, we have created a more organized approach to address the issue of health equity in the communities we serve. Additionally, we are continuing efforts in how we improve clinical excellence and expanding services both geographically and in specialty areas like senior care.

Q: How is AdventHealth working with state and federal stakeholders to further pro-hospital, pro-healthcare initiatives, resources, funding and legislation?

TS: At the local, state and federal levels, AdventHealth has aligned its advocacy work along three important fronts. The first is our community health needs assessments, which look closely at where the gaps are in the communities we serve, so we can collaborate with the right community partners and public officials to address them most effectively. One of the top areas in this work is to address the inequities in healthcare, much of which was highlighted and exacerbated in the pandemic.

In addition, we are working to ensure that many of the allowances that the government provided for expanded access to care during the pandemic, such as telehealth, are made permanent.

And finally, we are collaborating with our sister Adventist systems through the Adventist Health Policy Association to advocate for public policy efforts that create healthier communities as outlined in our program, Five Steps to a Healthy America.

Q: What skills are essential for health system CEOs to thrive in today's healthcare landscape?

TS: There are three that immediately come to mind.

  • Having strong communication skills. This begins with active listening and a strong desire to use feedback from all stakeholders to continuously improve upon what you are doing.
  • Be ready to manage for change. Ensure you have strong insight into each of your leaders and know who among them is equipped not only to lead in the role they have been assigned but for the opportunities to come. We now train our leaders so they are better equipped to lead themselves, lead others and lead for results. 
  • Strengthen your skill at managing parallel processes. The pandemic has taught us how to make decisions better and faster with the multiple issues and priorities that are working through the system at different speeds and competing for limited resources. There are new and widespread instabilities impacting the healthcare industry, so gone are the days where we had much more predictable sequential processes for the work.

Q: What advice would you offer to another health system CEO, and why?

TS: Make it a priority to refresh and renew the spirits of your leadership team, starting with your direct reports. Go deep with them and encourage them to do the same with their teams. We've been through an experience that has taken a heavy toll on our teams. We often focus on the front lines, and rightly so. We need leadership to be strong to effectively guide the rest of the organization. I believe we have underestimated the impact the pandemic has had on their lives and what they have suffered. Our CEOs need to ensure they too have the resources and time to rejuvenate and find their resilience. 

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