Lisa Harris, chief of medicine at Wishard Health Services in Indianapolis, has taken on a new and potentially far more daunting challenge: She's now running the entire system and its flagship facility, 492-bed Wishard Memorial Hospital.
Harris, the latest in a growing cadre of physician-executives who have taken over the No. 1 job at hospitals across the nation, will combine the titles of medical director and CEO of Wishard, a safety net hospital that struggled through 2003 with an estimated $40 million deficit.
The 46-year-old Harris, a 1983 graduate of the Indiana University School of Medicine, is the first woman appointed to direct the medical operations at the hospital, which is owned by the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County and managed by the Indiana University medical school. She has worked at Wishard for the past two decades, serving as chief of medicine the last four years.
When more than 100 Wishard staffers gathered to listen to the appointment announcement, the popular Harris was greeted with a standing ovation.
Asked what her background as a physician brings to the job, Harris says, "I think it's an understanding of our core business-providing quality patient care. But I also recognize the need to be part of a larger administrative team. We all bring skills to the table. But a physician brings a focus, an understanding of the real core business. "And I'm very familiar with the inner workings of this hospital."
Harris has participated in leadership development courses for healthcare executives at the Harvard School of Public Health but does not have an advanced business degree, considered by many industry observers to be a vital prerequisite for the top job in such a complex organization. Yet Harris doesn't think the absence of that sheepskin will hold her back.
"I'm not working in a vacuum," she says. "I'm part of a larger team. I do expect to learn a lot from the folks who have the formal training in finance and business."
Harris expects part of the hospital's yawning deficit to be made up by a $28 million, one-time infusion of cash from the Medicare prescription drug bill passed late last year. Cuts in costs and new efficiencies in billing and collections are expected to help set a more favorable fiscal course for the future, she says.
Combining the titles of medical director and CEO has become a tradition at Wishard, which also includes a network of seven community health centers and a nursing home. Harris replaces Robert Jones, another physician-executive who held both titles. Jones will return to the Indiana University School of Medicine as dean for strategic planning and operations.
"Lisa is precisely the right person to lead Wishard Health Services during this challenging period in our history," says Matthew Gutwein, president and CEO of Health and Hospital Corporation. "Lisa loves Wishard, our patients and our mission."