The upside of workforce challenges, per AtlantiCare's CEO

Michael Charlton was named president and CEO of Atlantic City, N.J.-based AtlantiCare on Oct. 3, and he brings experience at the helm to his role. 

Before becoming the permanent president and CEO, Mr. Charlton held the job on an interim basis since June 1. He leads a team of more than 6,500 individuals at a system that serves people in five southeastern New Jersey counties.

Mr. Charlton is a former chair and former member of AtlantiCare's board of directors. He also served as a member of the American Hospital Association board of trustees and currently serves on a national committee that is focused on the healthcare workforce.

Mr. Charlton told Becker's Hospital Review he's excited about the future of his organization. He shared his top priorities for his first year in the permanent job, discussed the top challenges facing hospital CEOs 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 as CEO of AtlantiCare?

Michael Charlton: The trust that the board has placed in me in leading this organization. This is a fantastic organization, and with all the challenges in healthcare right now, I think we're poised to do some really great things both strategically and for our community. Being able to lead that work with the great team we have is what most excites me.

Q: What are a few of your top priorities for your first year at AtlantiCare?

MC: Goal No. 1 is what we're calling Vision 2030 to set the vision in the strategic direction for the organization. And not that finite time frame of typical strategic plans, two or three years, but really what is the next six years going to bring toward the beginning of the new decade for AtlantiCare? What's our vision of this organization? How to best serve our patients and our community given the framework of where healthcare is headed. 

The second key priority is how we support the well-being and the holistic well-being of our workforce. What is the workforce of the future going to look like? We deliver exceptional care to our patients, but we also make sure that our workforce is taken care of. 

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

MC: It's workforce, workforce, workforce. We talk about the challenges and not having enough staff to do some of the things that we want to do, and it's really diving deeper. It's, "Why did that happen?" We've known we've had a workforce problem in healthcare for years. I think the COVID situation really exacerbated that. As difficult as that is, I think that as healthcare leaders, we have to look at that as sort of a blessing, because we're laser-focused now in making sure that our caregivers and their well-being, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, that we're really, addressing some of these things. Because without taking care of those things, I don't know how we deliver great care to our patients as well as take care of the so many challenges we have from a community standpoint. It's top of mind for me every day. Every day that I touch base with the 6,500 people that are part of the AtlantiCare family.

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

MC: These are incredibly difficult jobs and incredibly difficult times. My advice is to make sure that you're focused on the purpose of why we do what we do every day. The challenges are many. The circumstances are difficult. And what I always find for me personally is making sure that I'm engaged with the people who are doing the work, being on those hospital campuses, being at the ambulatory site, really grounding myself back on the purpose and why we do what we do. I think that's critical in difficult times. I think it's what is going to get most CEOs and healthcare executives through the tough times.

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