Why a health system CEO invites employees to 'break it'

When Michael Charlton set out to plan a six-year initiative for Atlantic City, N.J.-based AtlantiCare, he passed along one philosophy to the organization's more than 6,500 team members and providers: "Break it."

"What I mean by 'break it' is, I went back to the organization and said, 'Listen, enough with the shiny new toys, enough with the headlines. There has to be substance. We have to execute," said Mr. Charlton, who was named AtlantiCare's president and CEO in October 2023.

"Essentially, we have to 'break it,' and we have to come to a point where we understand that although we do great work, we're burdened by a lot of things. But the circumstances don't mean that you're not responsible for the outcomes. We can't keep talking about the regulatory burden. We can't be talking about the workforce and colleges not producing enough physicians and nurses. They're the circumstances. We still need to be responsible for the outcomes."

This philosophy culminated with the launch of VISION 2030 on April 10. The initiative aims to improve social determinants of health, expand medical education opportunities, and lead the way for technology improvements through a partnership with Oracle Health.

Mr. Charlton told Becker's he's excited about all of these pieces, particularly when it comes to serving community members outside of hospital walls. The initiative specifically aims to reduce food insecurity for patients by 6%; reduce unsheltered homelessness by 20%; expand life expectancy by five years; and boost annual fundraising for the AtlantiCare Foundation by 20% year over year.

"The work that excites me the most, that I believe encapsulates AtlantiCare's unique perspective as an anchor institute, is what we are doing for our Serving Community initiatives around the social determinants of health," Mr. Charlton said. "This goes beyond the conventional scope of healthcare by tackling issues like housing insecurity and food scarcity. If health outcomes are determined by conditions that exist outside of a care setting, then that care should not just be delivered within the four walls of our facilities."

AtlantiCare's VISION 2030 also includes new partnerships such as the health system's affiliation with Cleveland Clinic Cancer Institute. The partnership aims to provide AtlantiCare patients with access to Cleveland Clinic's advanced research, clinical trials and expertise. 

Additionally, AtlantiCare announced a clinical training affiliation with Philadelphia-based Drexel University College of Medicine to provide clinical training to medical students, as well as a clinical partnership with Global Neurosciences Institute.

The Drexel affiliation will focus on medical education programs that grow and diversify the healthcare workforce pipeline, the health system said. The partnership with Global Neurosciences Institute aims "to take [AtlantiCare's] nationally recognized, comprehensive neurosciences services to the next level of care."

Above all, AtlantiCare's initiative prioritizes a people-driven approach — a natural fit for Mr. Charlton, based on his past experience. 

"My background is in hospitality, and my business philosophy is to be visible and be kind. I approached this plan as I approach most things — with people at the center of it all," Mr. Charlton said. "The rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, marked by technological advances, consumerism and industry consolidation, calls for leaders who are not only adaptable but also bold in their vision and execution."

However, patients can't benefit from new partnerships and innovations if their basic needs aren't met.  

"The significance of addressing social determinants of health and ensuring health equity also cannot be overstated," Mr. Charlton said. "Our commitment to being remarkable hinges on our ability to make a tangible difference for the community."

Read more about AtlantiCare's six-year plan here

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