Having spent 16 years at Spectrum Health, Tina Freese Decker had a detailed knowledge of the organization before being named president and CEO in 2018. That insight—most recently as executive vice president and chief operating officer—allowed her to see areas where the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based health system had opportunities to pivot. Freese Decker spoke with Modern Healthcare Managing Editor Matthew Weinstock. The following is an edited transcript.
MH: You’ve been in the CEO role for a full year. What’s been the biggest aha moment for you?
Freese Decker: Healthcare is the conversation. Everyone is talking about it, whether you’re young or old, whether you are healthy or you’re sick. As a result of that, the definition of healthcare is morphing and it’s expanding from a sickness model to a wellness and a health model.
I’ve been with Spectrum Health for over 17 years and it was clear to me that we needed a refresh. We needed a mission and vision and values that would help us quickly evolve to deliver on this new definition of health and healthcare and truly resonate with what is on the minds of our consumers.
So the aha moment was recognizing that we needed a rallying cry that was lofty and ambitious and that every one of our 30,000 team members would be able to carry that rallying cry forward.
I’ve drawn on my prior experiences, whether it was in operational or strategic roles and added new skills in my current role as a vision setter and constant communicator to ensure that everyone has a role in accomplishing our vision and making an impact.
This past year, we launched a new mission. We created a bold vision, one that focuses on what I believe are the most important and the most challenging aspects of health and healthcare today—which are personalization, affordability, simplicity, and of course, excellence.
MH: What is the new vision?
Freese Decker: Personalized health made simple, affordable and exceptional.
What I love about our new vision is that it’s clear. Our teams understand the direction we’re going in and what we want to accomplish. I’ve seen an energy throughout our organization and excitement about the possibilities and the opportunities that are ahead of us to really make an impact by achieving this new vision.
MH: As you said, you’ve been there 17 years, including roles in the C-suite. Why do you think some of what you expressed in the vision statement was lacking?
Freese Decker: The opportunity that I had when I became the CEO was that our then-vision (statement) had a 2020 date to it. I took that opportunity to really reevaluate and determine what this organization and what our community needed.
We did a very different process than we’ve ever done before, and it’s likely because I have a strategic planning background. I took an extremely inclusive and a lengthy process—about six months—to create this new mission, vision, values and strategic plan.
We had over 6,000 pieces of input from consumers, employees, physicians, board members about … where we should go and who we should be, and then received more input about the elements of our strategic plan and how well it might work so we would know that this plan isn’t one that you just put together, approve, and then put on the shelf. It’s a breathing plan that many people throughout the organization can reference now, and we are talking about it everywhere.
MH: Were there areas that you saw in your market that were being underserved or underutilized?
Freese Decker: We’ve always invested in our community. We have an area called Healthier Communities that does a significant amount of investment in social determinants of health and partnering with other community organizations to propel the community’s health forward. I’m extremely proud of our Strong Beginnings program, which impacts infant mortality. The latest information I saw on that shows that we’ve actually eliminated the disparity between African Americans enrolled in the program and Caucasians in the county. We need to enroll more people, because I want to make sure that it reaches more of the community. That requires coming up with new ways to connect with them.
We’ve also really focused on our new values. We came out with four crisp values. They all start with the letter C and it’s been amazing how this has been embedded in our culture, and hearing it resonate throughout the community. One of those Cs is collaboration. We need to partner innovatively to really work on addressing the issues of our community, of our employers, and try to solve the current problems collectively.
MH: What are the other three Cs?
Freese Decker: Compassion, curiosity and courage.
And our new mission is, “Improve health, inspire hope, and save lives.” I think it really helps describe why we exist, our purpose, and differentiates us in what we’re here to do.
MH: You referenced affordability and that seems a part of what you are talking about with the mission, vision and values. Are there certain things you are doing to actually make healthcare more affordable?
Freese Decker: Our goal is to make it more affordable. One of the advantages that Spectrum Health has is that we have both a care delivery entity and a health insurance entity. We can put strategies in place that help us improve the value that people are receiving and become more affordable. It’s concerning that people are more afraid of the bill that they may receive than the care for their illness that they have. If we’re going to live true to our mission and be a compassionate and healing organization, we definitely need to address affordability and drive toward value.
MH: Are there any pilot projects you’re working on specific to that?
Freese Decker: There are many projects. One that we’ve been doing for many years is our cost estimator tool. This was through Priority Health (a health plan that Spectrum owns). It pre-adjudicates your claim when you go and shop for procedures. We’ve been really accurate. In fact, there was one person who complained because we were a dollar off.