The first week of 2011 was an eventful one for Erica Ward Gerson.
Her first day chairing the board of trustees at Detroit Medical Center's Children's Hospital of Michigan was the same day that for-profit Vanguard Health Systems' acquisition of the hospital took effect. But Gerson felt confident that her decade of experience as a hospital board member, 30 years as a lawyer at a large law firm and time spent as a senior federal official during the Carter administration would help her mediate between doctors and administrators.
“People don't like change, so the change from a nonprofit to a for-profit for many people inside the institution was very frightening,” Gerson said. “And as it's turned out, it really hasn't made that much difference except for the good. But you have to convince people to be calm until they see that for themselves.”
Gerson, 64, has been chosen as this year's recipient of the Excellence in Governance Award for midsize provider organizations—hospitals with 101 to 500 beds.
She has led the hospital through many transitions over the past four years. Ownership of the 228-bed hospital changed again in 2013 when for-profit Tenet Healthcare Corp. acquired Vanguard. Detroit Medical Center opened a pediatric outpatient center in 2012 across from the children's hospital, and plans to open a critical-care tower at the children's hospital in 2017. And another Children's Hospital of Michigan facility will open in the suburb of Troy at the end of this year.
Gerson also helped with design, quality and function of the construction. For the hospital in Troy, she asked the designer to construct life-size cardboard floor-plan models for the planned facility in a warehouse so hospital staff could walk through and ensure the layout made sense. A number of design changes followed.
“A decision like the one Erica made to invest in this model could prevent serious mistakes, serious operational errors that would have to either be corrected with additional costs or could be flaws with service function,” said John Levy, board chairman of Detroit Medical Center, who says he has known and admired Gerson for more than 20 years. Gerson also serves on the DMC board.