Last year, Gerard van Grinsven was named president and CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a privately owned five-hospital healthcare company founded in 1988. Van Grinsven previously worked for Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, serving as president and CEO of the new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, for which he led the design and construction. He previously served as an executive with Ritz-Carlton Hotels and hotel groups in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Henry Ford CEO Nancy Schlichting said last year that while some people thought she was “crazy” to hire a hotel executive to run a hospital, “He has made me look good.” CTCA's five hospitals and 1,300 medical professionals treat 3,800 new patients a year. CTCA works with other organizations in developing and evaluating new cancer treatments. CTCA, which does not release financial information, was founded by Richard Stephenson, who serves as its chairman. Modern Healthcare reporter Andis Robeznieks recently interviewed van Grinsven. The following is an edited excerpt.
CEO brings luxury hotel lessons to cancer care
Modern Healthcare: Cancer Treatment Centers of America recently announced it is moving its corporate headquarters from the Chicago suburbs to Boca Raton, Fla. Why are you making the move and what kind of growth or changes will this move facilitate?
Gerard van Grinsven: Our decision to relocate our headquarters followed an examination of alternatives available to us to position CTCA for continued growth and to accelerate investment in our talent, technology and related resources needed to provide services to our cancer patients. Florida's favorable business climate and quality of life factored heavily in the decision. But most importantly, Florida represents one of the fastest-growing
states. The move will help us strategically to cultivate and serve the rapidly growing Hispanic population and also get into the dynamic new markets emerging from Latin America.
MH: Can you describe this growth? Will there be more hospitals? More research projects?
Van Grinsven: When we open up markets that provide more access for patients to be treated through our clinical excellence, that will give us opportunities for continuous growth in the future.
MH: What kind of year was 2013 for CTCA?
Van Grinsven: It was a positive year of growth, of outstanding patient outcomes and very satisfied and delighted patients and family members. And it was a great year for me personally, to be named president of Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
MH: Can you briefly describe your experience with Ritz-Carlton and how that position prepared you for what you're doing now?
Van Grinsven: My experience in the luxury hotel industry goes back 25 years. I lived in 10 different countries and was exposed to different cultures. I believe it has given me a unique perspective on what it means to provide exceptional experiences for customers and to surprise and delight those customers. And I believe it's now time for all of us in healthcare to view exceptional experience through the healthcare patient lens and bring that learning from how you really deliver on the unexpressed wishes and needs of your customers to how we care for our patients. Because, ultimately, that will impact their healing.
My healthcare experience really started through listening to my mom and her stories because she was a nurse. I think her perspective as a nurse shaped the way that I looked at healthcare. As we all know, nurses have always been front and center in understanding and shaping a patient's experience. I was drawn to Cancer Treatment Centers of America because of its status as a national network of fully accredited specialty hospitals delivering exceptional care to patients fighting complex and advanced-stage cancer. For me to bring my expertise from the luxury hotel industry to this platform will ultimately help to set the tone for how the patient experience should be delivered in the future, in any healthcare organization in the country.
MH: Do you recall anything specifically that your mother told you about working at a hospital or working with patients or working with physicians that affects how you go about doing your job?
Van Grinsven: What was really compelling for me was that my mother always came home talking about the extraordinary relationships she had with her patients. She was emotionally connected with the patient. She was not just a nurse, she had a personal bond with her patients and their loved ones. And through that, the patient actually was healing faster. Those patients reached out to her after they got discharged. I still remember that she worked from a clipboard. She didn't have to go and sit behind a computer, going through software programs and being distracted. She gave true nursing care to the patient. Her stories stay with me and have helped me in putting a laser focus on the patients and understanding what they value most.
MH: Two of the biggest criticisms one hears about Cancer Treatment Centers of America are that the commercials you broadcast promote false hope, and that you cherry-pick patients to achieve the favorable outcomes that you post on your website. Can you address these criticisms?
Van Grinsven: First, we as an organization are committed to the patient experience. We are committed to transparency. The future of healthcare is transparency, and we know that outcomes information plays an incredibly important role in helping patients under- stand their treatment options. If you look at the data appearing on the CTCA website, which has been validated by a third party, the data actually reflect treatment results of patients we have served so far. We understand that the patient population we serve may not mirror the general population of cancer patients for various reasons, both clinical and otherwise. But we also understand that empowering advanced-stage cancer patients with information to assist them in choosing the right treatment plan is extremely important. We are committed to providing clarity in how to communicate our treatment results and also to welcome a broader dialogue about how we, as part of the cancer community, can provide greater clarity for communicating treatment results to the public.
MH: With early treatment, some people say cancer can be changed from a critical illness to a manageable chronic condition. Do you agree? And how will that change the way Cancer Treatment Centers of America operates?
Van Grinsven: In general, we need to understand that we have to move back to healthcare. In my humble opinion, healthcare has moved too much to sick care. By going back to healthcare, in addition to providing great clinical care and patient safety, it gives us an opportunity to position ourselves as health coaches and mentors to the communities in which we operate. We can start addressing the whole healthcare discussion in this country, in terms of being proactive and being a resource so that people will have information and data on how they can handle their diseases earlier, whether it's cancer, diabetes or a heart condition. That's how we as healthcare leaders need to position ourselves.
MH: As healthcare reform evolves, is there anything out there in the near future that you are particularly excited or concerned about?
Van Grinsven: If you look from the cancer arena, from a clinical standpoint, genomic testing and how it will guide therapies is the most promising new frontier for cancer patients, and not just for cancer. Genomic testing also will help in other diseases in the future. So I'm very excited about it because, ultimately, we are all in this field to help find cures for those who have to fight those diseases.
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