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Hospital execs must take charge, responsibility

April 10th, 2014

by Lynn McVey

Chuck Lauer is a former healthcare news publisher turned author and public speaker. I don't know his age, but he talks like my dad; a man from the "greatest generation." Men who pledge humanity, integrity, honesty and service. Men who make an effort to locate the owner of a lost $5 bill--like my dad.

Lauer's response to healthcare reform challenges, printed last month in Becker's Hospital Review, is huge. When he read the American College of Healthcare Executive's (ACHE) report that hospital CEO turnover grew to 20 percent in 2013, the highest rate since 1981, his reaction was like a slap in the face.

He said, "The CEO post is a pressure cooker. All that's true, but I and a number of other observers think the data reflect a lack of will and commitment. Faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to overcome silos, inefficiencies and quality problems plaguing American hospitals, more and more CEOs are making a beeline for the exit, hefty retirement packages in arm." Ouch.

[More:]

Deborah Bowen, head of the ACHE, admits that "there is a lot going on in the industry right now," and "some executives might not have the enthusiasm to contend with all this change."

Lauer's cites a friend of his who runs one of our nation's leading health systems, who put it much more bluntly: "A lot of CEOs have been living off the fat of the land for many years, and now that they have run into some flak they are opting to take their substantial retirement packages and run for the hills." Shame shame.

In the early 90s, a very young and very wise CEO said to me, "Calculate your daily income, Lynn. Every day ask yourself, 'Did I bring that amount of value to this hospital.'" Whenever I overhear an employee bashing their employer, I ask, "Is someone else handing you money every two weeks?" Maybe it's not just our 20-somethings who are the entitled generation.

In 2010, a Harvard Business Review article listed the following seven traits as requirements for C-level executives.

  1. Leadership
  2. Strategic thinking and execution
  3. Technical and technology skills
  4. Team- and relationship-building
  5. Communication and presentation
  6. Change management
  7. Integrity.

In the midst of this healthcare humiliation, I would like to add three more traits: reading, writing and arithmetic. How about using those traits to create an intervention right now? We read about "disruption." We hear about "innovation," but what does that actually look like? Isn't today's goal to increase the bottom line without impacting direct patient care?

During this turbulent time, it's reasonable to reduce your senior leadership team to no more than a CEO, CNO and CFO. Your C-suite claims to have "technical and technology skills" so why not eliminate the executive support as well? Outlook is our true secretary. Email is our main communicator. Cell phones are used for direct calls. I highly doubt any sophisticated executive is handwriting on paper for a secretary to transcribe.

It's 2014. The internet is our researcher. Excel and pivot tables are our decision-support. Do we still have highly educated, critical-thinking, expensive C-level executives asking an IT techie to "write a report" for them? Data analytics is the key to survival. We claim that nothing is more valuable than analyzing data to make evidence-based decisions. Health Leaders Media recently reported 25 percent of CEOs say their analytics team is weak or very weak. Sniffle.

Lynn McVey serves as CEO and president of Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, an acute care, 230-bed hospital in New Jersey.

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