The gloves are off in healthcare's alphabet soup fight.
After months of dancing around the ring, the leadership of the established American College of Healthcare Executives has taken a swing at the National Center for Healthcare Leadership, a new group led by many of healthcare's most powerful and prominent executives.
In a June 25 position paper approved by the ACHE's board of governors, and obtained by Modern Healthcare, the ACHE pummeled the NCHL, saying the new organization "will needlessly duplicate" the work of the six main healthcare professional societies.
The position paper argued that the very premise of the NCHL-that there is a shortage of contenders to take the place of today's executive champions-is "erroneous" and overlooks "the real issue," that hospitals simply won't or can't spend money to train managers.
Moreover, the ACHE paper said, the way the NCHL's organizers founded the new group "has created unprecedented contention in the healthcare management field, among healthcare practitioners and academics alike."
The NCHL has rubbed the professional organizations the wrong way from the start (April 29, p. 6). It was rebuked in January by the Healthcare Leadership Alliance, which includes the ACHE, the American College of Physician Executives, the American Organization of Nurse Executives, the Healthcare Financial Management Association, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society and the Medical Group Management Association. The AONE is an affiliate of the American Hospital Association.
Academic and professional critics of the NCHL have decried what they say is an arrogant, high-handed attitude on the part of its founders. These critics say the NCHL doesn't have strong support in the academic community but is merely a marriage of convenience to secure foundation funding. The NCHL is a partnership of the Healthcare Research and Development Institute, a private, for-profit organization whose members are executives of some of the largest healthcare systems in the country, and two academic groups, the Association of University Programs in Health Administration and its sister organization, the Accrediting Commission for Education in Health Services Administration. Modern Healthcare is one of the HRDI's 48 clients.
"We don't need a group like that to correct our efforts," Stephen Lieber, president and chief executive officer of HIMSS, said in an interview last week. "There's a little bit of an attitude, a tone that `nobody can do this but the National Center.' "
Two key figures at the top of both the HRDI and the NCHL are former chairmen of the AHA-Gail Warden, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, and Gary Mecklenburg, president and CEO of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, Chicago. Warden is chairman of the HRDI and chairman and CEO of the NCHL. Mecklenburg is a member of the HRDI and a NCHL board member.
The NCHL's goal is to ensure that future leaders are taught the skills and competencies that the industry is seeking and to work with academia to provide that training. The NCHL has drawn nearly $900,000 from two major healthcare foundations.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation granted the organization $479,600 in March, while the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has made two grants to the NCHL totaling $412,205.
Warden was not available for comment last week but said in a written statement, "We are aware of the ACHE position paper and feel it is unfortunate that the ACHE board holds this perception of (the) NCHL." At the end of his statement, Warden threw down the gauntlet. "We welcome the opportunity to work with the ACHE when they are ready to do so; meanwhile, we are moving ahead and are confident of the positive contributions these initiatives will make to the field."
Thomas Dolan, the ACHE's president and CEO, said the college won't be picking up the gauntlet. "The leadership of the college will wait and see what develops on this and take an appropriate course of action," Dolan told Modern Healthcare.
The ACHE board, which approved the position paper on June 25, tried to throw its knockout punch without attracting attention. In a July 22 cover letter to the position paper, Mark Neaman, chairman of the ACHE board, and Dolan wrote, "We in no way wish to create further contention in the field regarding the center, but we do believe it is important for our leadership to have this information. We have no plans to send our position statement to the media."
Neaman, who is president and CEO of Evanston (Ill.) Northwestern Healthcare, declined an interview request.
So did his immediate predecessor, Diane Peterson, a healthcare consultant in Houston, and other members of the board of governors contacted by Modern Healthcare. All deferred to Dolan.
Dolan said the ACHE doesn't "want to add fuel to the fire. We just felt it was important that we laid out our position on this."
The ACHE will be concentrating instead on its own programs, including a major campaign to improve the image of healthcare executives in the eyes of the general public, Dolan said.