The corner office: Catholic Health Initiative's Kevin Lofton on dog and pony shows

Early on in my career...I asked one of the department heads for some advice, since I felt uncertain if I could do my new job. He said something that has stuck with me over all of these years: "It's just another dog and pony show."


Kevin Lofton has been at the helm of Catholic Health Initiatives — a nonprofit, faith-based integrated system with 105 hospitals and locations in 19 states — since 2003.

During his time as CEO of the Englewood, Colo.-based system, Mr. Lofton has overseen major growth, adding numerous hospitals and other care settings to the system's care continuum. He also spearheaded the implementation of CHI's United Against Violence initiative and positioned the system to start offering commercial health insurance. He also spent time as chair of the American Hospital Association's board of trustees.

After coming to the Denver area from the east coast — he spent time as CEO of the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham, earned a master's in health administration at Georgia State University in Atlanta and went to undergrad at Boston University — Mr. Lofton has put down roots in Colorado, and his two adult children both live in the area.

In recognition of his decades of commitment to improving the delivery of healthcare and community health, Mr. Lofton received the Gold Medal Award from the American College of Healthcare Executives in 2015, the highest honor ACHE gives to individuals.LoftonPro4

Here, Mr. Lofton took the time to answer Becker's Hospital Review's seven questions.

What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

It's the ability to be in a business that focuses on people. I had majored in business management as an undergrad and then started working at Harvard Medical School in the office of administration when I graduated. I hadn't taken a biology class since high school, but that was how I was introduced to healthcare. It's the type of industry where I can practice business management leadership while helping take care of people and keep people healthy, and that is what piqued my interest.

What do you enjoy most about the Englewood area?

CHI grew so fast after we began to consolidate support services like IT and put in an enterprise resource system for the organization that we had to move. The move to Englewood allowed us to grow and be consolidated. We grew from about 150 FTEs to 2,200 FTEs in a four-year period.

Personally, home is about 3.5 miles from work now; and within a two-mile radius of the office there is virtually every type of retail store imaginable and one of the area's major malls. The combination of the proximity to shopping and the fact it allowed us to bring national operations together are the main things I like about where we are.

If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

I wish you had given me 10 options on this one. There are so many issues to deal with and it's hard to narrow it down. Right now I would choose the high cost and the difficulty of implementing and installing new IT systems. Healthcare systems and hospitals across the nation are putting in EHRs and transforming an industry that has been behind the times in using technology the way many other industries do. It's a big challenge and it comes at a high cost of capital investment. CHI will have spent $2.5 billion to install OneCare, our clinical IT system, and operating expenses to run it are just short of $1 billion a year. And once you install, you have to double the staffing to allow the clinicians to get trained and still take care of patients. Put all that together, and you still have inoperability where not all systems can talk to each other.

I think we're all working toward great solutions that will help engage patients and their families, but in the meantime we're in year four of a five-year install and I just wish there were ways to streamline the process, reduce the cost and then have the different systems be able to better talk to each other for all the money we have spent.

What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

It goes back to my upbringing and the fact that I've met a lot of people over the years — I would say it's my ability to connect with people. I'm comfortable relating to people from all walks of life, who are at different levels in their careers — presidents of the United States or people in the service department in a hospital. I have the ability to reach out to people, a way of helping put people at ease so they're not intimidated by my title.

I can hear where they're coming from and that helps inform me when I have to make critical decisions. I use it in the C-suite but in other ways, too, and in times outside of the office, like when I'm mentoring young people, giving lectures or working with young people at the local high school here in Denver. In those settings, people have told me how comfortable they feel talking to me.

How do you revitalize yourself?

The number one thing that brings the biggest smile to my face is interacting with my two grandsons. The baby will be 2 years old in April and the older boy will be 4 in May. My daughter lives in the Denver area so I see them often. Spending time with my grandkids is very fulfilling.

When I'm not with them, I enjoy bike riding and skiing. I also enjoy traveling. One of my favorite international urban cities would be London, and I took a first-time trip to Brazil during the holidays.

What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

Early on in my career, when I was finishing a hospital administrative residency and going to my first real post-graduate job, I asked one of the department heads for some advice, since I felt uncertain if I could do my new job. He said something that has stuck with me over all of these years: "It's just another dog and pony show."

Basically, he meant that you have it in you, you know what to do and don't make it seem more difficult than it really is. Approach it like just another dog and pony show. You'll be able to handle it. I leaned on that a whole lot more early in my career than I do today, but it's simple advice that anyone can use in a variety of settings — calm down, take a deep breath and go.

What do you consider your greatest achievement at CHI so far?

I think it would be stepping up and going through a major visioning process at CHI that we began in 2009. We took the board through a planning process to paint the healthcare industry of the future. We projected out to 2020, and when we look at it now we really hit a lot of home runs. We may not have used the same words that are being used now, but we started moving toward population health, creating healthy communities, forming clinically integrated networks — things like that.

We were able to get the board, senior leadership team and leaders across the country moving in that direction. CHI is better prepared because of it, and I think that under my leadership the organization has been able to move forward with a firm footing. There are a lot more chapters yet to be written, but to be where we are today — getting people to move in that direction when we all grew up in a fee-for-service model, getting people to recognize we had to change — is probably the greatest accomplishment.

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