Why use interim healthcare leaders?

Avoid negative impact of job vacancies in critical positions, take on complex, time-consuming quality improvement and safety projects

The resignation of a vice president, department director, or even unit manager leads to the consideration of appointing an interim to immediately fill the vacancy. Determining where an interim is critical, why an appointment is imperative, and who should serve as an interim are all important factors in deciding to go outside the organization and seek professional interim leadership.

Most healthcare executives use interim leaders as capable stand-ins to fill critical vacancies. Usually, an interim leader is brought into a hospital to manage a service line, department, or staff function while the hospital searches for a permanent replacement. This common use of interim talent can be very effective.

Interim leadership is one way to avoid the negative impact of vacancies in critical positions. The benefits of interim healthcare leadership depend heavily on the goals that healthcare systems state and the projects that interims undertake.

However, interim executives, clinical directors, and managers can also be used for other purposes—for example, to help coordinate specific hospital or health system projects.

Complex Time-Consuming Projects
Some organizations choose to bring in interim leaders when taking on complex, time-consuming projects.

For example, an interim OR Director may be brought in to supervise the expansion of a hospital's OR and the construction of new operating suites. Or, a hospital might hire an interim Director of Human Resources to lead the reconfiguration of compensation and benefits throughout the organization.

An interim healthcare leader may even be called upon to coordinate the assimilation of a recent strategic acquisition, such as a chain of urgent care centers or an ambulatory surgical center, or to assist in the merging of medical practices to support a hospital or system.

Hiring an interim healthcare leader to oversee a critical or potentially difficult project has its benefits. Doing so allows hospital and health system executives to draw on the knowledge of an individual with experience and skills specific to the task at hand.

In the Human Resources example mentioned above, for instance, the interim HR Director would have previously supervised changes in compensation at other organizations. So, they would know what types of resources were needed for the reconfiguration and could anticipate and mitigate any possible barriers to success.

Such specialized knowledge usually allows hospitals to achieve their stated goals more quickly and with fewer complications than they would otherwise. The interim leaders have the practical experience and knowledge and have seen best practices from their work in other organizations.

Quality Improvement and Safety Projects
Hiring an interim clinical director, manager, or executive can be the perfect opportunity to tackle quality improvement and patient safety projects. By selecting an interim with specific skills, you ensure that you have the right leadership to accomplish your organization's goals. Often, interims are charged with overhauling struggling departments and looking at the supply chain, inventory, efficiency, staffing, customer service, etc.

For example, an interim Director of Case Management can significantly decrease the length of stay (and associated costs) by using a fresh perspective to examine staff coverage, working with physicians, and caseloads. An interim Director of Pharmacy can save money by restructuring a formulary to include therapeutically equivalent, but less expensive, drugs.

Likewise, a skilled interim OR Director can turn around an inefficient OR, increasing block utilization, decreasing overtime, and boosting profitability. Because interim clinical directors and executives are skilled not only in running departments, but also in managing change, they are the ideal agents to help your organization make small changes that can lead to big cost savings.

Interim healthcare leadership can also make the crucial difference in rescuing a floundering service or launching a new initiative. Activities requiring significant change are best not left to inexperienced leaders. Similarly, challenges in employee relations and development, physician engagement, or the need for operational improvement can all be more expeditiously and effectively addressed by a seasoned hand who has been there, done that.

The occasion of a vacancy in a mission-critical or highly technical or specialized department presents a real opportunity to improve service and promote optimal performance while searching for the right permanent person to lead the department.

Make the Best Choice for a Permanent Hire
Hiring the right person to fill a clinical director or executive position can be extremely difficult and time-consuming. Often, the process of vetting and interviewing candidates can drag on for several months. As a hospital administrator, you don't want to rush such an important decision, but leaving a key department "un-manned" during this extended period can lead to operational issues that, in the end, can cost your hospital money. Using an interim leader to fill key clinical and executive positions while you start the search for a permanent replacement ensures that key departments continue running smoothly and allows you to take the time needed to make the right choice for your organization.

In all, using interim healthcare executives and clinical directors to fill vacancies and tackle key projects makes sense. The benefits and cost savings that skilled interims can bring to a hospital or clinic often outweigh the expense of hiring them.

In this way, interim leadership can help healthcare organizations reduce the costs and improve the outcomes of complex projects.

About the authors

Hugo Aguas, MPA
Hugo Aguas has more than 35 years experience in human resources management in large health systems, teaching and research hospitals, and community hospitals, as well as experience managing hospital operations in several clinical and support services departments. As the Director of Interim Services at Compass Clinical Consulting, Hugo develops strategic partnerships with hospital and health system clients, identifying and placing skilled interim healthcare executives, clinical directors, and managers to help clients meet both short- and long-range objectives. Before joining Compass, Hugo spent more than ten years as Assistant Vice President, Human Resources at Inova Alexandria Hospital and Inova Fairfax Medical Center, where he managed all facets of the Human Resources function, and had operational oversight of several clinical and support departments.

Hugo earned his Master of Public Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Loyola University in Los Angeles. He is a member of the American Society of Healthcare Human Resource Administration and the Society of Human Resource Management.

Kate M. Fenner, Ph.D., RN
Kate Fenner understands hospital leadership. First as a nurse and later as an education leader and consultant, Fenner has immersed herself in the regulatory and operational issues that face today's healthcare organizations.

As Managing Director and CEO of Compass, Kate has led and participated in dozens of mock surveys to help healthcare organizations meet the standards and expectations of regulatory bodies such as the Joint Commission, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and State Departments of Health, and guides hospitals and health systems through accreditation and regulatory compliance response and recovery efforts.

A regular keynote speaker throughout the country, she authored a leading college text on law and ethics in healthcare, co-authored other texts on a variety of healthcare issues, and currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal for Nursing in the 21st Century.

Website: www.compass-clinical.com

Contact: Haguas@compass-clinical.com

Contact: Kfenner@compass-clinical.com

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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