In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Wright L. Lassiter III.
This profile was published in the December, 2011 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
"Organizations like ours are large and complex and if you are going to drive accountability in your organization, then everybody has to play a part in solving problems."
In September, Alameda County Medical Center was recognized as a Top Performer in Key Quality Measures by The Joint Commission, which placed the safety-net health system among the top 14% of 3,099 accredited hospitals in the United States.
That distinction marked the latest affirmation of a remarkable turnaround for the Oakland, CA–based six-facility public system, which only six years earlier had been near collapse. That turnaround trajectory started in 2005—and not coincidentally—with the arrival of Wright L. Lassiter III as CEO.
In the year before his arrival at age 41, the federal government had threatened to pull the health system's accreditation for a number of jaw-dropping infractions, the most notorious of which was the strangulation death of a physician by a patient at ACMC's John George Psychiatric Pavilion. A few months before Lassiter took the job another patient at the pavilion had hanged herself in a doorway.
"I had some reservations about pursuing the job as I began to understand what some of the issues were. I had some natural trepidation about 'Is this something that is a wise career move?'" says Lassiter, who chose ACMC over the relative security of his executive post at JPS Health Network in Dallas. "I had a combination of private hospital experience with a public hospital inclination. This specific set of skills is very important."
"When I came out here my hope was that I could engineer the type of turnaround that would create a sustainable path for the organization," he says. "It wasn't just about money and quality indicators. It was about driving a different kind of culture. That stuff doesn't take a short period of time."