Who health systems are adding to the C-suite

Kelly Gooch - Print  | 

Health systems are focused on having the right people with the right skills to tackle evolving issues in healthcare. This means the C-suite and leadership roles are changing. 

Business transformation

Today's newer titles fall into several areas including business transformation, according to Jason Petros, senior partner at WittKieffer, a global executive search firm.

Mr. Petros said many health systems began focused on business transformation before the COVID-19 pandemic, especially considering mergers and acquisitions activity across the U.S. More recently, he sees organizations looking closely at cultural integration and business function integration. 

"Those [focuses] have turned into [leadership roles], often chief transformation officer, and even occasionally chief integration officer to ensure whatever organizations are coming together are doing so aligned around the same ideas and vision," he told Becker's. 

One example of this is West Orange, N.J.-based RWJBarnabas Health, which named Paul Alexander, MD, senior vice president and chief transformation officer in May 2020. The health system said he is responsible for accountable care organization management, the employee health plan and other resources. 

RWJBarnabas Health isn't alone. BayCare Health System, a 15-hospital organization based in Clearwater, Fla., tapped Emily Allinder Scott as senior vice president and chief transformation officer last October. She is responsible for efforts around clinical variation, clinical care delivery models, value-based care and population health.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

Another area of increased focus for health system C-suite and leadership roles is around diversity, equity and inclusion. 

As Mr. Petros put it: "It's not just chief diversity officer anymore. I think there's a clear need, and we're seeing some of the systems put more resources behind identifying and prioritizing community-based functions as a component of population health."

He said these functions may include community revitalization efforts, housing, community development, job creation, education and/or access to high-quality internet. He has seen several titles around this work, such as chief health equity officer, president over the well-being division, chief community health officer, president over social determinants of health and vice president of accountable communities.

"It's an extension of what we already know, which is that social determinants of health show up at the front door of the hospital eventually," said Mr. Petros. "Anything we can do to expand our mission to avoid that is important."

Nneka Sederstrom, PhD, became chief health equity officer of Minneapolis-based Hennepin Healthcare this year, and she told Becker's in March that her team, among other things, created pop-up clinics in mosques, churches and other community organizations to offer COVID-19 shots to the high-risk communities.

Consumerism

In addition to diversity, equity and inclusion, health system C-suite and leadership roles are focusing more on patient behavior and experience. Newer titles in this area include chief consumer officer and chief consumer innovation officer. 

"We live in the Amazon age, and we live in an age of quicker gratification. And some of our clients [at WittKieffer] are bringing opportunities and processes to bear to meet that consumer need," said Mr. Petros.

According to a report released in March by Rock Health and the Stanford Center for Digital Health, 43 percent of 7,980 consumers surveyed used live video telemedicine in 2020.   

Payer performance 

In April, Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health named Erik Helms as the health system's new senior vice president and chief payer performance officer, indicative of a larger focus on payer performance.

John Gizdic, executive vice president and chief business development officer for Novant Health, said at the time: "We recognize that cost shouldn't be a barrier for our communities to receive remarkable care. I'm confident that Erik's extensive experience in driving successful business results for multibillion-dollar reimbursement programs will enable Novant Health to work with our payer partners to keep our high-quality care affordable."

Todd Drometer, lead executive partner in AMN Healthcare's executive search practice, hasn't seen that specific title — chief payer performance officer — prevalent across healthcare. However, he acknowledged the continued importance of managed care contracting, particularly more recently because of COVID-19 and the resulting increased focus on telehealth, and that organizations are looking more closely at leadership responsibilities related to this area. 

He said organizations are trying to figure out how they get paid for pandemic expenses, and how they contract with payers.

"They're spending a lot of time with this new norm. How are we going to build that into our contracts? What is going to be the reimbursement for telehealth services and when do we use it, when does it trigger? There's a lot of work being done here because of COVID-19," said Mr. Drometer.

He said new price transparency rules — which took effect Jan. 1 — also may contribute to newer responsibilities or titles related to payer performance. The rules require hospitals to post a machine-readable file with the negotiated rates for all items and services, and display the prices of hundreds of services in a consumer-friendly format. 

"There are a lot of things the managed care leaders are dealing with today that they weren't about two years ago, and maybe that's one of the reasons they've created some of these larger titles," said Mr. Drometer.

Ambulatory services

Mr. Drometer has observed another key area of leadership: chief ambulatory officer or senior vice president of ambulatory services. 

He attributed the emerging ambulatory services executive role to health systems' continued shift toward more outpatient services. 

"They're creating more stickiness by moving out and expanding ambulatory services into the surrounding community. That's really the growth play," he said. "So, if a health system is unable to grow through acquisition, the only way they're able to grow their net revenue in a profitable way — if they do it right — is through ambulatory expansion."

One example of ambulatory growth is in Massachusetts. Boston-based Mass General Brigham is planning a roughly $2 billion project, which includes a $400 million ambulatory expansion. The plans have faced opposition from a coalition that includes UMass Memorial Health in Worcester and physician organization Highland Healthcare Associates IPA.

"If health systems have not invested in ambulatory services to date, then they are planning to do so in the near future. As a result, [the] role of the ambulatory officer or leader is a critical one because we are seeing the transition and related investment," said Mr. Drometer.

Moving forward, he expects health systems will continue investing in that ambulatory leadership position.

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