It's not easy to muster more political clout than someone who has been in the White House for eight years, but managed-care association leader Karen Ignagni has pulled it off.
Ignagni, president and CEO of the American Association of Health Plans, ranked 21st on a list of the "50 Most Powerful People in Politics" published in George magazine's farewell issue.
Ignagni was the only healthcare leader and the highest-ranking woman on the list. She beat out both a former first lady, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York (No. 22), and a current one, Laura Bush (No. 41). Although Ignagni is the third-highest-ranking lobbyist on the list, she managed to place far above the list's only doctor-Rear Adm. John Eisold, M.D. (No. 40), the attending physician for the U.S. Senate.
The recently defunct political magazine credits Ignagni, 46, with protecting an industry that has become "a favorite bad guy" for politicians. "Ignagni is the key player preventing the political rhetoric from turning into sweeping reforms," the article states.
Her magic isn't lost on a member of her leadership team. "One of the reasons that she is held in such high regard in Washington is that she has taken on one of the most difficult issues in American politics today and handled it with toughness, grace and a lot of smarts," says Mark Merritt, the AAHP's chief of strategic planning.
Revamping leadership. The Alliance for Healthcare Strategy and Marketing, a Chicago-based trade association for some 1,400 hospital marketing professionals, has a new product to position and market: itself.
In late March, the alliance's board accepted the resignation of President and CEO Michael Kulczycki and laid off two of its three remaining staff members. Board Chairwoman Candace Hulsebus-Fong says the moves were part of a new business plan developed by the five-member board.
"We're reshaping the leadership and the whole structure of the organization to line up with the wants and desires of the membership," says Hulsebus-Fong, who is vice president of strategic marketing and communications at Springfield, Mass.-based Baystate Health System.
She says the revamp was required because of competition from other marketing trade organizations and the fact that the alliance needed to attract some younger, less-established members. "We have a rather elite membership, a veritable who's who of healthcare marketing executives, but we also want to meet the needs of up-and-comers," Hulsebus-Fong says.
A search for a new president probably will be launched in the next 30 days, she says.
Walking miracle. This is a story about a real outlier. But this is the kind of outlier every sick person wants to be and every provider wants to treat.
Jan Jennings is a well-known hospital executive who did stints in Buffalo, N.Y., and Chicago before working as a consultant until recently for Pitts Management Associates, Baton Rouge, La. In March, he took a job in Pittsburgh as president and CEO of South Hills Health System, which includes 375-bed Jefferson Hospital.
Jennings, 54, considers his life blessed: He is working in his hometown for the first time in 20 years, his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates have a brand new ballpark and he is completely off a litany of heart medications.
"I've had my life handed back to me," Jennings says. "I'm the most thankful man on the planet."
In April 2000, Jennings suffered a scare: He woke up in the morning and couldn't catch his breath. He casually mentioned the incident to his internist when he went for a routine physical a few days later.
Results from a battery of heart tests showed he had a heart "as big as a basketball" and an EKG that "looked like contemporary art-just scrambled eggs," Jennings says. His ejection fraction-the measure of how much blood the heart is pumping out of the left ventricle-was 17%; 50% to 60% is considered normal.
The diagnosis: idiopathic cardiac myopathy, which is heart damage that is typically caused by a virus or bacterial infection. The condition, which is permanent and has no cure, most often afflicts the 50,000 people waiting for heart transplants, Jennings says. He was told to "put your affairs in order."
So he did, but he says he was "totally at peace with the whole situation. I just had a life filled with love."
Although doctors said he should not have been able to walk across a room on his own steam, he returned to work after six months. Then last December he was re-evaluated in preparation for a heart transplant. His cardiologist called him after the tests and said, "Your heart is healed." Jennings' ejection fraction was 54%, and his heart size was back to normal.
"When I went back to my internist, he said, `You should find every little old lady who has been praying for you and hold them close and thank them because you are a walking miracle,' " Jennings says.