Christina “Tina” Freese-Decker's engineering background makes her ideally suited to chipping away at the challenges that face healthcare systems across the country.
Since 2011, the 35-year-old president of 46-bed Spectrum Health United Hospital, Greenville, Mich., and affiliated 16-bed Spectrum Health Kelsey Hospital in nearby Lakeview, has devoted her energies to improving a patient-care process by creating a new departmental work-flow structure and taking additional steps to ensure the hospital's physicians and the administration are on the same page operationally.
“Healthcare is very complex, and what I enjoy most is identifying where we have some issues and some barriers and then removing those barriers to get the patient the right care at the right time and in the right places,” she says.
Freese-Decker has a master's in industrial engineering from the University of Iowa and with that background, she says she looks at the problems facing healthcare as a kind of puzzle. She also holds a master's of health administration from the University of Iowa, as well as an undergraduate degree in finance from Iowa State University.
The American College of Healthcare Executives will present Freese-Decker with its 2013 Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award for Young Healthcare Executive of the Year. The honor recognizes CEOs or chief operating officers younger than 40.
One of her major accomplishments that earned her the award was launching a physician-relations program to improve engagement with physicians at her facilities.
Communication is key, says Freese-Decker, who works to gain insight on issues from the front lines by regularly conferring with nurses, cafeteria workers and other staff members. “I ask them how they're doing and I talk to patients to see what issues are important to them,” she says.
Mary Kay VanDriel, president of Value Health Partners, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based alliance of seven Michigan health systems that includes Spectrum, nominated Freese-Decker for the award because of her work in building the local ACHE chapter. The alliance's members work in concert to address regional disparities in care while also representing their communities on policy issues affecting public health.
VanDriel calls Freese-Decker “very intentional,” meaning she always has specific reasons for her actions. She cited Freese-Decker's role in growing the organization into a vibrant chapter and developing a strategic plan that was later adopted at the larger Detroit chapter. She says Freese-Decker's vision and enthusiasm make her a valuable team member always dedicated to finding solutions that seem to elude everyone else.
The Great Lakes Chapter serves Southeast Michigan and has about 500 members. One of Freese-Decker's achievements was regularly videoconferencing the chapter's events, which made participation easier and helped increase membership, VanDriel says.
Freese-Decker joined Spectrum in 2002 as an administrative fellow. A year later, she served as a system director for planning and strategic development before moving on in 2006 to become vice president of system strategic planning and development as well as executive director of Spectrum's regional hospital network.
John Mosley, Spectrum's executive vice president and chief strategy officer, notes Freese-Decker's work with the system's 2011 acquisition of Zeeland (Mich.) Community Hospital. Mosley says she helped lead strategic planning with Zeeland staffers to ensure the ownership transition went smoothly.
He also mentions her involvement with the board of directors at the David D. Hunting YMCA of Grand Rapids, which gave her a bigger presence in the community. She has served as a board member since 2007. The work at the YMCA helped Freese-Decker gain community support, something a successful executive needs along with the support of hospital clinicians and other employees, Mosley says.
“That's one thing about Tina, she has the support of all those groups,” he says.