6 CMOs on their most pressing issues 

Although hospital and health system chief medical officers touch different corners of the nation, many agree on one core issue: improving the patient experience. COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen 11 percent as of Sept. 6, according to HHS data tracked by The New York Times, allowing CMOs to shift their attention elsewhere.

Becker's asked six CMOs what their most pressing issues are for the remainder of the year.

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

Adrian Cotton, MD. Chief of Medical Operations at Loma Linda (Calif.) Health: Providing healthcare in the Inland Empire of Southern California is our biggest challenge — the population has increased in the past five years while the number of hospital beds has decreased, and the payer mix is predominantly government-sponsored. Additionally, we continue to incur staffing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic pushing healthcare professionals into early retirement or other professional fields over the last two years. Our primary focus for the coming year is improving the flow of patients through our system to help us balance the overwhelming number of patients we are seeing.

Aimee Becker, MD. Chief Medical Officer at UW Health (Madison, Wis.): Our top priority can be summarized with one word: health. At a system like UW Health, this means building the care models, the workforce and the clinical programs that can deliver remarkable care and meet patients where they are. All of this needs to be accomplished at a time when most health systems are facing financial headwinds and a volatile labor market. Through the pandemic, we’ve actually been able to grow our workforce, adding many talented providers and staff. We just broke ground on a new medical center that includes a first-of-its-kind treatment option for proton therapy. We’ve also dramatically expanded our virtual care options, whether that is telehealth or programs like our eICU and Telestroke. Our patients expect us to meet their needs and expectations, and they won’t accept the pandemic as an excuse if we don’t. So we get creative and find ways to build upon our already remarkable care even through multiple challenges.

Daniel Varga, MD. Chief Physician Executive at Hackensack Meridian Health (Edison, N.J.): Hackensack Meridian Health is focused on harmonizing our approach to physician alignment and engagement and optimizing our end-to-end provider experience, which will allow us to continue setting the standard for quality, accessible and integrated healthcare for patients in New Jersey and beyond.

David Williams, MD. Chief Clinical Officer and Senior Vice President at UnityPoint Health (Des Moines, Iowa): All health systems are facing an incredibly challenging healthcare environment right now, and for UnityPoint Health, we remain focused on finding ways to invest in the health, safety, wellbeing and recognition of our teams. With flu season approaching, we'’re working diligently to recruit for key patient-facing roles and retain our amazing team members, so we can continue to serve our communities across three states. We’'re also accelerating advancements in quality and safety, so our operational approach remains as strong as our culture.

Jill Kalman, MD. Chief Medical Officer, Senior Vice President and Deputy Physician in Chief at Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.):  As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic while also fighting to contain Monkeypox in at-risk communities across New York, Northwell Health has identified another key area of focus now and into the future: behavioral health. Addressing burnout and stress among our amazing and resilient workforce – a significant outcome of the pandemic – is an ongoing priority. That means safeguarding the wellness of team members by providing a positive work environment, connectedness and peer support. 

We also are working to ensure better access to care in underserved communities, with an emphasis on mental and maternal health outcomes. Championing health equity has been a touchstone at Northwell, but the pandemic really forced us to redouble our efforts with testing and then vaccination efforts. Diversity, equity and inclusion is more than a box we check. Northwell has been rated the No. 1 health system for diversity in the United States for the third consecutive year, according to DiversityInc.

Northwell wants to ensure that DEI is reflected in our core values through continuous, comprehensive patient and family centric care. We’ve found that in many cases, family health decisions are made by women. They are the caregivers. As a result, we’ve placed renewed emphasis on women’s health. That includes maternal health as well as providing safe decision making for women. Women’s health is under attack in statehouses across the country, but our job – our sworn oath, really – is offer shelter from the storm. And we’ll continue to do so.

Tammy Lundstrom, MD. Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Trinity Health (Livonia, Mich.): Since the pandemic began, we have seen the profound impact on our providers, who were already feeling strained. Trinity Health's focus is on caring for caregivers across our health system. We are exploring how we can better work in innovative team-based care models, use technology to remove, not add to the burden, and provide better resources to support our providers through colleague care programs. We are people caring for people and that is our top priority right now.


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