'We can either thrive or survive': 5 Scripps Health executives on their new roles, priorities and COVID-19

Five executives began new jobs as San Diego-based Scripps Health in August, and they bring experience in medical management, information technology, human resources and strategy to their roles. 

Ghazala Sharieff, MD, MBA, and Anil Keswani, MD, have turned their interim positions into permanent roles. Dr. Sharieff is now Scripps' CMO for acute care, clinical excellence and experience, while Dr. Keswani is CMO for ambulatory and accountable care.

Shane Thielman, previously Scripps' interim CIO, is corporate senior vice president and CIO, and Eric Cole, an experienced leader in human resources and human capital management, is corporate senior vice president for human resources. Barbara Price, who served as corporate senior vice president and chief executive of the Scripps Accountable Care Organization, is corporate senior vice president for strategy and planning.  

"These individuals are nationally respected healthcare leaders, with proven track records of success in their specialty areas," Scripps Health President and CEO Chris Van Gorder said in a news release. "We are very fortunate to have such an accomplished team of experts helping to guide the direction of Scripps Health, so we remain on the optimal path to best serve the healthcare needs of San Diego County."

The five executives responded to questions from Becker's Hospital Review about their new positions. They shared their top priorities, discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and offered some advice for other hospital leaders.

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

Question: What has you most excited about your new role at Scripps?

Dr. Ghazala Sharieff: I'm most excited about the opportunity to continue and build upon the focused momentum that our organization has established. We have been able to pivot rapidly to provide the best clinical protocols, testing capabilities and staff protection possible, so we have shown that we can move quickly to innovate as an organization.

Eric Cole: I am excited about working with a leadership team that is passionate about its patients, providers and workforce. Scripps Health has a strong record of excellent patient care and a committed and engaged workforce. How we continue this dedicated focus in the years ahead will be important, and I look forward to helping develop a workforce that continues that great work. 

Dr. Anil Keswani: Each and every day, I wake up excited about the day ahead. Working collaboratively with employers, payers, clinicians, care management and patients to provide measurably better outcomes is amazing. The role allows me to lead Scripps Health into the future, while still being close enough to where the magic happens at the front lines. What better job could there be?

Shane Thielman: The proliferation of digital technologies across the enterprise, from the care team to our patients, is most exciting to me. The opportunity to use consumer insights to apply targeted digital solutions across the patient journey, to redesign the patient experience to be more connected, continuous and frictionless is compelling and transformational.

Barbara Price: Planning for the "new normal." We have had so many exciting improvements for our customers, staff and organization as a result of our response to COVID-19. Also, engaging with our customers in a different way to build long-term, trusting relationships.

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

GS: We will continue our patient experience journey with a laser focus on integrating our quality metrics with patient experience initiatives. We have initiated what I call "Sprint Teams" to design and implement our new focus areas and as the name implies, these teams were created to identify gaps and improvement areas in a specific area and to rapidly implement change management initiatives.

EC: We continue to focus on ensuring our workforce is safe, physically and mentally, through the ebb and flow of COVID-19.  The rapidly changing work environment also requires a more permanent support structure for those telecommuting and performing duties remotely using multiple electronic tools.  My goal, leading an extraordinary team of professionals, is to maximize the performance of our workforce, and this pandemic has allowed us to do that in creative and out-of-the-box ways, where past traditional approaches may have failed.  

AK: The single-biggest priority this year has been to navigate a pandemic of historic proportions. Our ability to effectively collaborate internally as well as externally was a key to our success. It was amazing to see people nimbly pivot during this time.

However, COVID-19 is not our sole activity. We continue to work on the quadruple aim, which is the underpinning of success for healthcare.This includes excellent patient experience; excellent health outcomes (quality); reduced total cost of care; and excellent physician/clinician/staff satisfaction.

ST: First, to build and expand the portfolio of digital capabilities across the patient journey to respond to consumer expectations for access, convenience and experience. This will include working with providers to cement telemedicine as a standard of care delivery; initiating implementation of continuous monitoring solutions for enhanced surveillance and treatment of patients with chronic conditions; and integration of digital and physical offerings across the care continuum to create a multichannel experience for patients. Also, continued investment in our cloud presence, enabling more agility to adapt to clinical and business requirements, as well as continued focus on information security. 

BP: Creating clarity in simple strategies for the "new normal," which become the purpose that excites and engages our people. Also, capturing our learnings and gains from our experience with COVID-19 and making sustained and continued improvements for customers — increasing affordability, access and convenience.

Q: What advice do you have for other hospital executives as they navigate the pandemic?

GS: My advice would be to stay consistent. There are many people pulling in different directions and asking for one-offs, such as N95s for just their procedures, or COVID testing for their patients. But once exceptions are made, credibility is lost. I also caution against using supply shortages as a reason to not provide the appropriate level of PPE protection. Trust has been obtained with our staff because we have not used this approach. When PPE was scarce, we reduced the number of procedures and surgeries that we could do so that we could provide the right level of protection based on the case risk. This has served us well, and trust is such an important part of pandemic management. It is truly earned daily.

EC: I believe transparency, availability and communications are key in ensuring alignment between patient and caregiver. Ensuring that an organization is clear on its approach to handling the multitude of questions, concerns and issues that arise through a crisis allows transparency into the "what, how and why." Being transparent, communicating key points and communicating them often while being open and available helps ensure we are all working in the same direction and any course correction that may be needed can be made efficiently and effectively. 

AK: There are two ways to look at this pandemic — we can either thrive or survive. I recommend that executives choose the former, but it requires us to change our mindset.  

The pandemic has been hard and has significantly impacted many lives. On the flip side, healthcare rose to the occasion to care for patients. Executives in healthcare have led changes in healthcare that people were just pontificating about for years.

The ability to lead the growth of telehealth and the pragmatic use of technology really changed the paradigm of healthcare. It is important for the executive to pause, reflect and celebrate these successes. This is harder in a virtual world, but it's important to promote connectedness. In the beginning of the pandemic, people resorted to telephonic meetings. I realized that this left me drained at the end of the day. Moving to video meetings, really changed the dynamics of interaction and allowed the team to feel more energized. 

ST: The breadth and depth of change in healthcare associated with the pandemic has been unparalleled. Adaptability and resilience are essential leadership attributes to navigate through uncertain times. These attributes foster problem-solving, innovation and teamwork across the organization to ensure the healthcare needs of the community are met consistently and reliably, while enabling a culture that is prepared for a dynamic future beyond COVID-19.

BP: Adaptability and resilience are keys for any leader, and this is especially true during the pandemic. Also, transparency and consistency of communication, information and data are all keys to building trust, and is particularly critical during the pandemic. We need new approaches to this, with much of our workforce now working remotely.


More articles on leadership:
How Forbes' best employers in healthcare are improving their workplaces for women
How 9 CEOs got into healthcare
4 CEOs share their best advice

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