The mastery of knowledge required to serve successfully as a hospital trustee has increased dramatically over the past decade. Contrast the complex and rigorous process of educating potential trustees with recent New Jersey legislation requiring one-day training for new hospital trustees. Clearly such a law is not the answer to educating board members about the intricacies of hospital governance. Nor is it a model for any hospital in any state as it is being touted by a bill co-sponsor.
After 15 years of educating trustees from such diverse industries as electrical engineering and education on the terminology, trends and very serious and often complicated issues of the healthcare industry, it is clear to me that we in healthcare should not be relying on laws to ensure that our hospital leaders are well-informed on the very issues upon which they must make decisions (See related story, The latest board games). Hospitals in New Jersey and, indeed, across the nation canand should bedoing better than a one-day orientation for new board members.
New Jerseys health commissioner and three hospital associations are still working on developing the curriculum, but no matter how stringent they make the standards, this is not a comprehensive, continuing-education program. And it does nothing to address the selection of board members or the ongoing evaluation of trustee knowledge. These are all components that allow hospitals to develop an effective board, one made up of leaders who work collaboratively with the hospitals medical and administrative staffs.
Even with the most stringent curriculum and standards for this new quick fix to hospital board education, the bottom line is that there is no quick fixlegislated or otherwiseto developing competent, knowledgeable decisionmakers in the hospital governance setting.
Many hospitals have responded to the need for better boards by implementing significant, long-term training programs for all trustees. This type of approach has all the components necessary to ensure a comprehensive, continuing-education experience for trustees, in addition to addressing the selection of board members and the ongoing evaluation of trustee knowledge.
In my system, Middlesex Health System in Middletown, Conn., the hospital board meets six times each year to make policy decisions. In the intervening months, a clinician and I meet one-on-one with each trustee, not only to update them on healthcare issues but also to gauge their current level of knowledge, answer specific questions and build relationships between the board and the medical staff. Board members will make decisions that affect how our medical professionals do their jobs, so they need to be comfortable going to the clinicians when they have questions or concerns.