Ascension COO Patricia Maryland talks with Dr.Mejebi Mayor at the system's Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Patricia Maryland: A COO ascends system's ranks
Patricia Maryland's role as a care coordinator started at a young age.
As the eldest daughter in her family, she would take her mother, who suffered from diabetes, to and from frequent doctor's appointments and hospital stays.
When her mother lost her yearslong battle with Type 2 diabetes, she set out to change the system.
“Helping my family cope with my mother's diabetes provided me a unique perspective into how difficult it can be to navigate the healthcare system when multiple chronic health problems are involved,” Maryland said. “My passion to create solutions through leadership and healthcare analytics has only grown from there.”
Maryland's personal mission has evolved into an inspired career. After four years as Ascension Health's chief operating officer overseeing the St. Louis-based system's 141 hospitals and 2,500 sites of care, Maryland is poised to take on a new challenge. She will replace Bob Henkel, who is retiring in June, as the CEO of Ascension Healthcare, reporting to Anthony Tersigni, president and CEO of parent company Ascension. Ascension Health is the largest not-for-profit health system in the country, reporting $21.9 billion in revenue last year. Maryland is following what has become a nocturnal trajectory.
The role of a COO has shifted drastically over the past several decades. Once operating in a silo confined to the four walls of a hospital, a COO's purview now encompasses how care is delivered across the entire spectrum, including operations of ambulatory networks and physician partnerships. It has become a much more vital role, said Mark Madden of B.E. Smith Inc., which helps healthcare organizations find executives.
“We see the COO as a linchpin that brings everything together—understanding both the clinical side and financial side and how they impact operations.”
While the COO role remains a viable route to first-in-command, it is not as exclusive a path as it has been in the past, said Tom Giella, vice chairman of healthcare services for Korn Ferry. Many CFOs, CMOs and strategy executives are being considered for CEO positions as expertise beyond inpatient operations are now in vogue, he said.
“It was absolutely required pre-2000 to have inpatient experience to become the CEO,” Giella said. “Now, having inpatient experience is great, but the job is opening up to others with backgrounds in finance, clinical, marketing and strategy development because of the shift to other vehicles of care.”
Healthcare organizations are now moving from the volume-driven fee-for-service framework to a value-based model that emphasizes convenience, affordability and efficiency.
“Years ago, a good COO was really 100% operations,” Giella said. “Now COOs have to be more nimble and strategic in regard to physician recruitment, technology, marketing and the like. They have to look at care across the whole continuum.”
Maryland has been at the forefront of the changes taking place in healthcare. During her tenure as COO, Ascension acquired Crittenton Hospital Medical Center in Rochester, Mich., and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in Glendale, Wis. Before becoming COO of Ascension Healthcare in 2013, she was the president and CEO of Ascension's hospital operations in Michigan under the St. John Providence brand. Maryland was the president of St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital prior. She also worked for Cleveland Clinic for 15 years.
“The issue you have to grapple with is how someone grows in a role as the firm and role changes,” said Dr. Kevin Schulman, a professor of medicine at Duke University. “In a turbulent market like healthcare, that is type of skill set you want.”
Maryland will continue to lead Ascension's transition from a volume-based model to one that delivers value to patients and providers, she said. The system will hone in on the social determinants of health to implement more patient-centric care and better control population health, Maryland said.
To this day I reflect on my mother's experience as we strive to deliver care centered on the person within the communities we serve,” she said.
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