The patient feedback that's stuck with UNC Health's Jeff Lindsay

Days after starting his new role as president and COO of Chapel Hill, N.C.-based UNC Health, Jeff Lindsay is already seeing the good around him. 

In his new role, Mr. Lindsay oversees daily operations of UNC Health, a 15-hospital academic and community health system.

He joined UNC Health in late December after a 27-year career at Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health, where he most recently served as executive vice president and COO. 

He told Becker's that he's excited about his new role and has already heard positive feedback from a patient who transferred to one of UNC Health's facilities from another part of the state. He shared details of his encounter with this patient, discussed the issues that are top of mind for him and offered some 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 at UNC Health?

Jeff Lindsay: A real interest in being able to be involved and addressing and tackling some of the biggest, most meaningful challenges around. And for me, thinking about the impact we can make in the state of North Carolina's health system and thinking about how we can improve health across the whole state for people, regardless of what ZIP code they were born in, which has such an impact on people's life expectancy and health status. 

When I first started learning about UNC Health, you think about world-class academics and research and care delivery and the highest level of quality services. All of that certainly exists here, and UNC Health has a lot of pride and commitment and investment to that component of their mission. But when I think of a world-class academic system, I don't often think that much or hear about rural health and health equity and serving the entire population of the state. But at this place, they talk about the commitment to health equity and rural health and behavioral health in solving those big problems that are real for so many people across our state. We talk about that as equally important and just as critical as the academic mission of preparing the next generation of healthcare providers and bringing the most advanced research and clinical care delivery. And when you can combine both of those two together, there's nothing more powerful than that. And being a part of that team is what has really excited me. 

I'm on my third day in my role today, at least in the office, and I had the opportunity to meet a patient and a patient's family that I saw on day one and day two. This was a patient who was transferred to the medical center in Chapel Hill from the mountains of the far western part of North Carolina. They were transferred here just before New Year's Eve. This is a person who has not gotten a lot of good news in the last year. And honestly, they aren't getting a lot of good news now. But when I went down and talked to them, they talked about not just the excellent and expert, high-tech care they're receiving, but they talked about the caring. This patient showed me pictures on his phone of caregivers he's taken pictures of because he wanted to remember them. And he showed it to me and said, "I want you to go thank this nurse and that case manager in that position for what they've done for me." And he said, "They're people I just would want to go have a beer with if I wasn't here in a hospital bed." And I realized how real and how much UNC Health brings to life that commitment to world-class care and world-class caring from across the whole state. And this is literally from someone who lives and was sent here from the other side of the state. 

Q: What is top of mind for you as you begin your first year at UNC Health?

JL: I'm trying to spend a lot of time listening. I'm trying to listen to teammates, to physicians, to people in various parts of the medical community and across our community to understand the things that make this place special. We want to know what those things are and we want to do it more and better and really double down on those things. And what are the things that we maybe need to do to sharpen our focus on our ability to really support? What we talk about here is the two most important people, our teammates and our patients. And one of the things that we need to sharpen up in terms of how we can even be more positioned to be the place that a team can come and do really special work. How can we make that more and more real and consistent? And the type of care that I described that the patient I've met over the last few days has received and that I know thousands of patients receive across our network every year. How can we deepen that, make that stronger, continue to make that better, continue to support patients and our teammates better? I'm going to be doing a lot of listening over the next few months to understand where I can help support and make those things better.

Q: What strategies are being employed at UNC Health to manage costs without compromising patient outcomes?

JL: This has been a really good time for me to join UNC Health because the system is engaged in revising the strategic plan as we look out over the next five-plus years. We have an effort that's actually called Forward Together 2030. That is a look across our entire enterprise of the work that we do, the services that we provide, the way we come together as a system to deliver on our commitment. It's a real opportunity for me to roll up my sleeves and join into that and start to understand it. 

One of the things that comes to mind when you ask about how we are making improvements that will reduce the cost structure without having any impact on our safety and quality and service is we've got a real focus on teammate retention. It costs a lot of money to replace an experienced teammate in any part of our enterprise. The expense of that recruitment or replacement and then all the value that we lose from that in institutional experience and expertise that they have. So, one of the critical work efforts that we have in our Forward Together 2030 work is looking at teammate retention and understanding what makes us a great place to work. How can we double down on those things? How can we really create an environment where we can attract and retain the brightest, best, strongest, most committed team in healthcare that's aligned with the mission that we have and our focus for serving the healthcare needs across our entire state? The better we can be at that, the more we will be able to reduce unnecessary expenses and be able to invest that either in our people or in patient care or both, and be able to improve quality, expand our reach, deepen our ability to invest in communities across the state and to invest in our teammates. 

Q: If you could pass along a piece of advice to other health system COOs, what would it be?

JL: I'm in a new system and a new role. I'm meeting new people. One thing I'm trying to keep in mind for myself and what I would advise for other people in a similar situation is to remember every single day that what you do and what you say and what you don't do and what you don't say is telling people who you are, and it's telling people what matters to you. It's really important for teams to know what matters to leaders. And hopefully that's about putting the patient at the center of everything we do and creating an environment where the best, brightest, strongest experts in healthcare can come together to provide that service. Hopefully that's the most important thing to you. But everything you do and say is either reinforcing or failing to reinforce that. So, being really mindful of that day to day. I'm finding myself at the end of each day thinking, "Did I do that today?" 

I think back to the experience I had meeting this patient and family on the first couple of days I was here. The other thing I would advise people of is there are lots of opportunities to make healthcare better. They're everywhere. We're always focused on the culture of continual improvement and raising the bar and getting better, and we should be doing that. And at the same time, I would remind people to look for the good, because it's everywhere and it's really, really good, and what our teams are able to do and what I experienced and what I observed from a number of our team members caring for this family that I had the privilege of meeting this week will literally take your breath away. Go find the good stuff and shine a bright light on it and celebrate it so that people know that's something to celebrate, and that's important. I think if people get out of the habit of looking for that and seeing it and appreciating it then it kind of withers. As a senior leader, don't let that happen. Go find it, look for it and celebrate it. 

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