The pandemic is changing how hospitals hire execs

The increased need to manage costs and ensure operational efficiency has prompted hospitals and health systems to look closely at every area of the organization, including leadership and management. 

As a result, many organizations are refocusing their leadership structure and recruitment to try to offset financial damage from the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is broad variability in how this is being done.

Reducing and/or combining roles

For instance, some hospitals are reducing and/or combining executive roles. 

Take Little Rock-based University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, which cut 15 positions to avoid layoffs and furloughs, including one of its COO roles. Christina Clark, who was named COO and vice chancellor for institutional support services at UAMS in January 2019, will continue serving as COO of UAMS and is also now COO of the university's medical center, UAMS Health. UAMS previously had two COOs, one at the institutional level and the other in the hospital.

Munson Healthcare, a nine-hospital system based in Traverse City, Mich., announced in June it is cutting 25 leadership positions to help offset financial losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Munson did not indicate what positions are affected by the cuts but did confirm its Munson Medical Center no longer has a COO.

And at Erlanger Health System, Mark Kimball, CEO of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Murphy, N.C., is among the 11 leaders laid off by the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based organization for pandemic-related reasons. Stephanie Boynton, CEO of Erlanger Bledsoe Hospital and Sequatchie Valley in Pikeville, Tenn., was tapped to take on the additional role of CEO of Western Carolina Hospital. 

Kelly Rakowski, group president of strategic talent solutions for healthcare staffing company AMN Healthcare, attributed the trend to multiple factors.

"It's a direct response to substantially lower volumes, rising costs and also the limitations to external hiring created by COVID-19, which necessitates reliance on remote interviewing, making recruitment even more challenging," she told Becker's

Recruitment and other trends

While some health systems are reducing and/or combining roles, Ms. Rakowski referenced other notable leadership trends amid the pandemic, including some hospitals leaving mid-executive vacancies open or filling them with interim leaders. 

At AMN Healthcare, about 50 to 70 percent of searches for hospital leadership positions across all levels are either on hold or have been accommodated in another way. For example, one of AMN Healthcare's health system clients has three active searches, two of which were put on hold with an attempt to fill internally, said Ms. Rakowski. A third active search, for a critical clinical leadership role, was kept as an active external search because there were no internal options available.  

At the most senior leadership levels, healthcare organizations continue to search for new talent with a growing emphasis on diversity, particularly amid calls for racial justice and an end to systemic racism in healthcare, Ms. Rakowski said. Perhaps one example is Columbia, Mo.-based MU Health Care, which in July named Nikki McGruder its first director of diversity and inclusion. Additionally, Grand Blanc, Mich.-based McLaren Health Care named Kimberly Keaton Williams chief diversity officer.  

Ms. Rakowski said these senior-level searches more often require external candidates due to inadequate succession planning for diversity and inclusion. Also, she noted, some roles cannot be consolidated due to expertise or certifications needed. 

Paul Bohne, managing partner and healthcare practice leader at global executive search firm WittKieffer, told Becker's one clear leadership trend he sees is the consolidation of shared services roles — which refer to positions that oversee certain business operations that are used by various parts of the organization — as well as regional operations roles. 

"The biggest changes we've seen are in the consolidation of shared services and regional health system roles," he said. "However, we've also seen a concerted investment in other roles, such as IT, risk and compliance and medical directorships, as these key areas continue to support organizational growth and performance." Mr. Bohne also noted that some health systems have deferred executive searches entirely due to the pandemic. 

This trend can be seen at Buffalo, N.Y.-based Kaleida Health, where president and CEO Jody Lomeo in April shared plans to retire by year's end, but decided to remain at the helm of the health system through the COVID-19 pandemic. The health system subsequently suspended its search for Mr. Lomeo's successor.

Mr. Bohne also predicts there will be increased levels of retirement in 2021.


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