If the Trump transition team Thursday thought that Nancy Schlichting had come to New York to audition for the open Veterans Affairs secretary post, they soon learned she was there to promote reforms detailed in a VA commission report she oversaw.
In a phone interview Friday, Schlichting said she couldn't have taken the VA secretary job even if it was offered to her.
Schlichting, who just retired as CEO of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, said she is the sole caregiver for her 94-year-old father in Detroit, and that her top priority is to spend as much time as possible with him. “I told them I was not interested,” Schlichting said — of the post that three other candidates have already turned down.
Schlichting said she talked to a respectful audience of executives who were informed about the VA's issues and heard how the bipartisan VA Commission on Care's report could help move the department forward.
That was her real purpose for going, she said, and to offer her assistance on veterans affairs to the incoming administration.
Schlichting said the commission report offers a comprehensive road map for transitioning the VA to a truly integrated health system over the next 20 years.
It has garnered bipartisan support, she said, because its 18 major recommendations call for a closer working relationship between the Veterans Affairs Department and private-sector health systems rather than push for privatization — something some veterans groups believe will lead to the dismantling of the Veterans Health Administration.
For example, the commission recommends that the VA spend the bulk of its future capital expenditures on outpatient facilities rather than try to replace its hospitals, which on average are 50 years old, Schlichting said.
Moreover, many of the problems plaguing the VA in seeing veterans on a timely basis have cropped up the Southeast and Southwest, where the nation's 22 million veterans have flocked as they have aged.
Instead of chasing the veterans with new hospitals, some of that inpatient load can be handled by not-for-profit and for-profit hospitals, while the VA makes use of its capital by opening clinics and other outpatient access points, she said.
As chair of the commission, Schlichting said she spent more than 100 hours leading meetings and another 30 hours personally editing the 292-page report. Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, who withdrew from consideration for VA secretary earlier this week, was vice chair of the commission.
Schlichting spent 18 years at the six-hospital Henry Ford Health System and said she will continue to stay active in healthcare.
After her trip to New York Thursday, she traveled to Chicago to attend a board meeting of drugstore chain Walgreens Boots Alliance.
She also was just nominated for a board seat at Chicago-based hospital bedmaker Hill-Rom Holdings.
“I just can't do a full-time job,” she said.