The challenges, opportunities Henry Ford Health's CEO is ready to tackle

When Bob Riney became president and CEO of Detroit-based Henry Ford Health, he brought with him more than four decades of experience at the organization.

Mr. Riney, who initially joined Henry Ford Health in 1978, was tapped to take the helm this year after serving as COO since 2003 and president of healthcare operations since 2017. He also served as interim CEO after Wright Lassiter III departed in August to start his role as CEO of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health.

Mr. Riney's other roles at Henry Ford Health have included: senior vice president and chief administrative officer; senior vice president and chief human resources officer; and vice president of organizational design and effectiveness.  

Mr. Riney told Becker's Hospital Review about his goals in the new role, his outlook for hospitals and offered advice for his peers..

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

Question: What has you most excited about your new role as CEO of Henry Ford Health?

Bob Riney: I'm most excited about the innovation that is going to be required because of all the escalating inflation stemming from the pandemic. While for many people, that is a source of angst, I'm excited because I think that in burning platform periods, innovation, if you have the right culture, really flourishes. And so, my conversations around Henry Ford Health, to all our team members, have been around, this is the time to innovate. This is the time to think about how we can do something, not how we can't do something. It's the time to be creative because the status quo isn't going to work. We have a great culture and unleashing that energy around innovation is what really excites me. 

Q: What are a few of your top priorities for 2023?

BR: We're really focusing the expansion of our Medicare Advantage growth in our insurance company, Health Alliance Plan, where we can drive great value to our Medicare eligible citizens. We have also opened three major ambulatory medical centers in new geography for us within the last 12 months, and we want to ensure we are connecting with those communities and growing and moving market share based on the value that we're providing. Another priority is to elevate our new partnership with East Lansing-based Michigan State University around acceleration of translational research and the development of a branch medical school, so that we can produce the region's next generation of very diverse talent.  I'd say the last priority is to continue to find ways to redesign care, given the significant shortages that we find in so many of our allied health professions.

Q: What is the greatest challenge facing hospital CEOs today? 

BR: The greatest challenge is the continued recruitment and retention of talent, because at the end of the day, we're a very human business that relies on incredible talent. We saw an acceleration of departures from the field during the pandemic, as we all know, and so we're looking at a multiyear path to stabilize. At the end of the day, the talent that we have is the key to any growth that we envision.

Q: If you could pass along a piece of advice to other hospital CEOs, what would it be?

BR: One thing I have found is that truly being transparent gives you a lot of respect and ultimately discretionary effort from your team members. As I've gone out and done listening sessions, I have told our team members that there is no immediate or short-term fix to this systemic labor challenge, that it's going to be multiple years. And as a result, it's going to require all of us to work differently, think differently and do things differently than perhaps we have in the past. But there is a path to getting back to the talent levels that we need and enjoy.  I tell people to have that perspective as they go about their work. I tell our leaders to not get stuck focusing on things that we can't control. There are a lot of things we can't control right now. But there are a lot of things we can control and focus on every day and just work on the problems. I've watched and there are a lot of people that seem paralyzed, moaning about things we can't control, as opposed to putting their energy on things we can.

Q: What advice did Mr. Lassiter give you?

BR: One of the things that has been a continual area of focus is diversity, equity and inclusion work, because we are committed to having a workforce, at all levels, that truly reflects the richness of the populations that we serve, and to standing for causes that are critical to ultimately addressing population health. That was advice that certainly I was already completely supportive of. We're in a unique position in this market to really demonstrate incredible leadership. 

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