Working Through Healthcare Changes: Q&A With Dr. Ninfa Saunders, CEO of Central Georgia Health System

Ninfa Saunders, DHA, MBA, MSN, has had her career take her across the United States and around the world.

Dr. Saunders earned her bachelor's degree in nursing from Concordia College in Manila, Philippines. She then came to the United States to earn a MBA from Emory University in Atlanta, a master's degree in nursing from Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and a doctorate in healthcare administration at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Further, she received Six Sigma black belt certification from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and attended the healthcare executive program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in addition to completing an international business program at the London School of Business.

On top of getting an education in three countries and five states, Dr. Saunders has about 40 years of clinical and healthcare administrative experience. She started her career as a nurse at Riley Memorial Hospital in Meridian, Miss., and eventually went on to serve as president and COO of Virtua Health Care in Marlton, N.J.

After all of that travel and a long career, Dr. Saunders returned to her home state in October 2012 to serve as president and CEO of Central Georgia Health System and the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon.

Here, the well-traveled Dr. Saunders shares insight into her first few months at MCCG, how healthcare has changed throughout her career and significant challenges facing healthcare leaders today.

Question: You joined the Medical Center of Central Georgia about four months ago. What attracted you to the position? Ninfa Saunders, president and CEO of MCCG

Ninfa Saunders: MCCG has a reputation for clinical excellence, commitment to quality and safety and an interest in innovation. It was also evident from the onset that the people here have a pervasive desire to serve their community by providing clinical services of outstanding quality, therefore improving the lives of each person who seeks care at MCCG.

On a personal note, Georgia is my home state. My family and I are thrilled to return home!

Q: What has been your priority during your first months on the job? What will you focus on in 2013?

NS: I have immersed myself in MCCG these past four months for the purpose of learning the organization, connecting with people and better understanding our community.

In 2013, our priorities will include defining an agile strategy, developing the operational processes to execute the strategy and building a coalition of stakeholders to implement our plans. Perhaps the most critical priority for 2013 will be our employees with an emphasis on talent development, talent mining and talent management, and our alignment and engagement of the physician community.

Q: As someone who has been in healthcare for almost 40 years, both as a nurse and an administrator, what has changed the most about healthcare during your career?

NS: A multitude of things! A few pivotal changes come to mind, though.

First, scientific advances in medicine have been extraordinary. We can treat clinical conditions and save lives today using invasive or minimally invasive interventions with incredible precision.

Second, the ease and speed at which knowledge is transferred have positioned learning and accumulation of knowledge at the forefront of what we do.

Third, the proliferation of clinical technology has facilitated system interoperability, access and accuracy of information. In clinical practice, robotics have successfully secured a presence in healthcare and augmented the practice of medicine.

Fourth, in spite of the country's spirited discourse about the need to reform healthcare and while we can [still] do more, our industry has made great progress on quality, safety, transparency and accountability.

Finally, consumerism has taken healthcare with a vengeance. Consumers today are sophisticated and are constantly comparing, shopping for and demanding valuable, quality healthcare services.

Q: What has been your hospital's strategy toward payment reform, such as bundled payments or shared savings initiatives? How do you see that evolving in 2013?

NS: Although we are currently assessing various payment modalities, our more immediate focus is on developing a readiness agenda. This agenda consists of five elements: a system of care which includes community- and ambulatory-based care, acute care and post-acute care; physician-hospital alignment and engagement; cost structure and efficiency; utilization and clinical performance; and integrated growth and performance management.

Once we have attained a certain level of readiness across these domains, we will work to better determine the implications of the various payment modalities.

Q: How has your black belt in Six Sigma influenced your leadership style?

NS: Enterprise and competitive analytics are integral to my ability to convey the value of the services we provide, the decisions we make and the investments we pursue. As a Six Sigma black belt, I am able to identify a process map that suits the desired outcome. I am able to identify the most appropriate analytical tool for the issue at hand, consider optimum solutions and then apply them to my decision-making process.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you have faced as a leader in healthcare and how did you overcome it?

NS: One of the most significant, ongoing challenges any leader faces is sustaining momentum around the interrelated nature of strategies, operations and people. We understand intellectually the three are intertwined; however, this concept is not consistently reflected in or supported by our practices. Such a disconnect inhibits the execution and sustainability of our work.

Furthermore, external and internal demands too often divert our attention to the more pressing daily aspects of our work. This tension is one I navigate constantly because it is only through a focused, consistent articulation of strategy, operations and people — with a weighted focus on people — that we are able to define value.

© Copyright ASC COMMUNICATIONS 2019. Interested in LINKING to or REPRINTING this content? View our policies by clicking here.


Top 40 Articles from the Past 6 Months