The COVID-19 pandemic’s aftermath is creating more challenges for healthcare organizations as they reckon with historic workforce shortages and increasing expenses.
Executives need to be ready to confront these issues using transparency and teamwork, said speakers at Modern Healthcare’s annual Leadership Symposium in September.
Health systems are often forced to pay top dollar for contract workers to plug growing labor gaps, in addition to facing rising inflation and higher costs on supplies and services. As a result, many organizations find themselves stuck in old business models, instead of investing in ambitious new ways of care delivery.
“Most systems in the U.S. are playing to not lose. They’re kicking the can down the road. They are trying to figure out how to still stay in fee-for-service. They don’t want to [anger] their doctors,” said Dr. Marc Harrison, former president and CEO at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare.
“You’ve got to play to win, because people’s lives are depending on it,” said Harrison, who announced in August he is joining venture capital firm General Catalyst.
Community support for healthcare workers is also waning. Millions of people are refusing COVID-19 vaccination, despite patients still being hospitalized all over the country because of the virus.
“There’s not pallets of food and mineral waters being dropped off to nurses every day. There aren’t signs that are being hung all over hospitals that say, ‘Heroes work here,’ ” said Leslie Davis, president and CEO at Pittsburgh-based UPMC. “We’re just all dealing with the remainder of patients.”
The executives offered advice to fellow leaders on how to navigate such hurdles.
Harrison said it’s a best practice to keep open communication with employees and other leadership team members, even when sharing bad news. It’s also important to make clear that the board’s governance responsibilities are separate from executives’ day-to-day operational management and to stop any interpersonal drama among those in charge.
Dr. Janice Nevin, president and CEO of Wilmington, Delaware-based ChristianaCare, said being a CEO is unlike any other C-level role in healthcare. These top leaders must get results, but they must do so by working with colleagues. She recommended newer CEOs be honest with themselves about who they are and what they need, and to put together their teams accordingly.
“We need a new foundation for healthcare. This is the year that we need to create that new foundation. What are the leadership capabilities that we need at every level of the organization to build that new foundation?” Nevin said.
Nevin said she is trying to learn what can be done differently. Last year, ChristianaCare and Highmark Health, an insurance and care delivery network, entered a 10-year joint venture to construct a model of data-led services focusing on efficiency, better health outcomes and virtual capabilities. ChristianaCare also appointed several new leaders to vice president roles this summer to oversee areas such as nursing, patient care and human resources.
Being a CEO does come with its fair share of loneliness, the executives said.
“You get more credit and more blame than you deserve for everything,” Harrison said. “It really comes down to understanding who you are as a human being and recognizing that your value as a human has nothing to do with these fancy jobs. You’re here to serve, and the success of your organization has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person or a bad person.”
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