Living like a leader: A day with UnityPoint Health President and CEO Kevin Vermeer

Vermeer_Kevin.jpg"Working at home is a reality of this job, so I'll often play catch-up at night, but I try to keep it reasonable — for my family and myself. If my team members feel compelled to work at home, I encourage them to set limits, too."

Between driving growth, meeting clinical objectives and navigating complex payer dynamics, there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day for healthcare executives.

Leaders succeed despite these challenges, each with their own habits, hacks, styles and methods to do so — and Kevin Vermeer, CEO of West Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health, formerly known as Iowa Health System, is no exception.

Mr. Vermeer first joined the health system in 2000 as CFO for Allen Memorial Hospital, a UnityPoint facility in Waterloo, Iowa. He then went on to serve as CFO for another UnityPoint hospital, before being named interim CEO of Unity HealthCare in Muscatine, Iowa. He became CFO for Iowa Health Systems in 2009.

After serving the health system for sixteen years, UnityPoint Health recognized Mr. Vermeer's leadership efforts in 2016 by naming him president and CEO.

Here, Mr. Vermeer answers the questions for Becker's "Living like a leader" series, which examines the daily routines of influential decision-makers to offer readers an idea of how they manage their energy, teams and time.

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

Question: What's the first thing you do when you wake up? 
Kevin Vermeer: I take our family dog out every morning — not a bad chore when it's warm out, but it's brutal when winter temperatures roll in.

Q: What do you do before you get to the office? 

KV: After I take the dog out, I make myself some coffee and catch up with my youngest son. He's usually on his way out to lift at the gym or heading to baseball practice, so I take any window of time I can get with him. Then, I'll skim through the news and try to work out. Emphasis on "try."

Q: What's the first thing you do when you arrive at work?

KV: I set myself up for the day and make sure I'm ready for whatever is on my calendar. I always double check what I think I'm doing and what I'm actually doing — and when. Then, I prioritize my to-do list.

Q: What kind of work do you like to get done before lunch? 

KV: I like to have most of my meetings before lunch. I've just had my coffee, and I feel alert and energized. Along those same lines, I like to connect with whomever I may need to speak to that day as well.

Q: Is there anything that makes your office set-up unique?

KV: I have our organizational values displayed prominently in my office. I do that to remind others, and myself, what to strive for each day, and how to live and work with a big heart and create the best experiences possible — whether interacting with patients or one another. I have a standing desk as well, which helps me balance those days when exercise just doesn't happen.

Q: How much of your time is spent with direct reports? 

KV: Our system leadership team is strategically situated together on one floor, so I'm able to spend a significant amount of time with them — whether through weekly senior team meetings, one-on-ones, or just quick check-ins down the hall.

Q: How often do you meet with clinical staff or perform rounds?

KV: I used to do a lot of rounding, but now we have a COO, so I don't do it as much as I used to. Instead, I focus on meeting with our clinical leaders, department directors and managers. Although, one of my favorite parts of this job has always been talking to our frontline teams who work directly with our patients. You won't meet a more dedicated, intelligent, empathetic and just genuinely good group of people.

Q: How do you think your routine is different than other healthcare executives?

KV: As a recovering accountant and "numbers guy," I'm constantly tuned into operational and strategic conversations — but some people might be surprised to know that I love collaborating with our marketing teams on things like monthly video messages to our nurses, clinicians and support staff, or creative Facebook Live videos. I like to say, I'm pretty good with a teleprompter.

Q: What is the hardest part of your day? 

KV: The hardest part of my day is when I must make tough decisions that impact people's lives. Aside from those tough decisions, I'd say figuring out how to prioritize best when a million plates are spinning and I'm trying to be everywhere to everyone at once.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your day? 

KV: I regularly meet with our cultural advisory council, which is a committee made up of team members across our entire system, in different roles and departments. These are the people at UnityPoint Health who aren't afraid to share their experiences — they let me know what's up with respect to clinical workflows, employee engagement, operational roadblocks and patient care. I love their candidness and their feedback is invaluable. In addition to our other engagement teams throughout the organization, which help shape our culture, make a tangible difference through new programs and policies, while also serving as a catalyst in our promise to show each patient and team member who comes through our doors just how much they matter.

Q: What is the last thing you do before you leave your office? 

KV: I do my best to declutter, so I can come back to an organized space in the morning with a clear mind. Then I make sure I have what I need to review in preparation for the following day, whether it's a meeting agenda, a stack of notes or a speech draft.

Q: Do you do work at home, in the morning or at night? 

KV: Working at home is a reality of this job, so I'll often play catch-up at night, but I try to keep it reasonable — for my family and myself. If my team members feel compelled to work at home, I encourage them to set limits, too. Even when work is incredibly busy, which it is almost every single day, it's important for me to maintain that work-life balance, so I can bring my best to the job every day.

Q: How do you unwind at the end of the day? 

KV: My family is my top priority, so I make sure to spend time with them — whether that's asking my wife how her day was, making dinner plans with our son, daughter-in-law and new grandson, or heading to my youngest son's high school sports events. The goal is just to be together, because that's what matters most to me.

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