This article appears in the December 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
They are nurses and physicians. They are researchers and executives. They are providers and payers. They are watchdogs and innovators. And they are patients. They are this year's HealthLeaders 20 honorees, selected for their efforts to make healthcare better. Their stories are sometimes tinged with struggles or challenges, but always, ultimately, with success.
>>See extended versions of these profiles.<<
Leadership for the Organization and the Community
Nancy M. Schlichting
This year, the Detroit Regional Chamber elected Henry Ford Health System CEO Nancy M. Schlichting as its chairman for the year. Schlichting appreciates the symbolism.
"They have never had a healthcare system leader do that," she says. "It has always been the big autos and banks. It's kind of symbolic of the role that healthcare is playing in the Detroit community."
Since she assumed the top leadership role in 2003, Schlichting has reinvented the culture at Henry Ford, arranging it around solid fundamentals of performance and quality, all while keeping a close eye on changes in the healthcare marketplace. These efforts culminated in the organization winning the 2011 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. During her tenure the $4 billion health system started an audacious "No Harm" campaign with the goal of reducing all causes of patient and employee harm by 50% in three years. In 2010, she oversaw the creation of the Henry Ford Physician Network to tie Henry Ford's 1,200-member employed physician group and another 1,700 affiliated providers into a single ACO-style regional network for clinical integration and quality.
In October, the organization announced plans to merge with the Beaumont Health System.
Schlichting does not get too caught up in fads or leadership tricks. She attributes her success to openness.
"I didn't start my career thinking I was going to hire a chief wellness officer," she says. "I didn't start my career knowing I would hire someone from the Ritz-Carlton to run a new hospital and redefine the way we deliver healthcare. But I did start my career knowing that I was going to be open all the time to new ideas and new thinking and people who could bring their gifts to the organization. That is the thing that doesn't change. It's really your own inward makeup of who you are."
Bringing Tender Care to the Mean Streets
Jim Withers, MD
The value of the house call and taking the care to the patient's environment was a lesson learned early in life for Operation Safety Net founder and medical director Jim Withers, MD, an internist who teaches medicine at UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh.
As a youth, Withers accompanied his father, a physician, and his mother, a nurse, when they traveled to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and St. Lucia on healthcare missions. "The idea of going to where people were always stuck with me: joining patients in their reality and respecting their reality."
In May 1992, Withers teamed up with outreach worker Mike Sallows, a one-time denizen of the streets, to take healthcare delivery to the curbsides, back alleys, and bridge bottoms where many homeless people live. In the 20 years since, Operation Safety Net has grown to include 20 employees and more than 100 volunteers, including physicians and nurses, all of whom have served thousands of homeless patients on the streets and in clinics.
The mission has expanded, too, Withers says; it has housed more than 800 individuals in apartments over the past eight years and created a severe-weather center.
There is even talk about building a curriculum around street medicine for medical students. "They are beginning to understand how popular it is and all the incredible intrinsic lessons it teaches for patient-centered care and meeting people where they are," Withers says. "An organization like ours creates a fabric within the street communities that lets people attach themselves and say, 'When I am ready, there is an option. There is someone who is not going to judge and dismiss me because I was having a bad day. They actually are accepting my reality, and who I am is okay.' ''
Patient Experience From the Patient's Experience
In 2003, celebrated architect and designer Michael Graves was suffering from what he and his doctor thought was a common sinus infection. Within 24 hours, Graves was paralyzed from the waist down. Though Graves still had the use of his hands, the life-altering change profoundly impacted him and his work.
Moving around the numerous hospital and rehab rooms in a wheelchair revealed how simple tasks were disrupted because so much was out of reach, especially in and around the bathroom.
"The mirror was above your head—clearly meant for someone standing. You couldn't comb your hair or brush your teeth or shave because the faucets were out of reach," he says. "So, I determined that we would clear a place on our business plate and make room for healthcare along with our other endeavors."
Graves first ventured into medical product design with the Michael Graves Active Living Collection for a durable medical equipment manufacturer based in New York. Now, just like with his work for Target, Graves' recognizable signature is on the company's heating pads, tub rails, shower seats, and a nifty bag cane—a height-adjustable cane that folds up into a bag with a shoulder strap.
From those small, personal health products, Graves has since moved on to bigger projects, including hospital room furniture. Stryker Medical is now selling a Michael Graves–designed suite.
"Everything that we do is centered around the individual. ... We imagine that person; many of them are going to be just fine, but there's going to be an occasional one who's arthritic or who is very elderly and can't do certain things, and we want to make those things active for them, not difficult, but gratifying. It is about design, but there's always a human being who is the client."
Learning From a Nightmare
Bob Malizzo expected that executives at University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago would blame anyone but themselves for the death of his daughter Michelle, a 39-year-old mother of two, during what was supposed to be routine bile duct surgery at the hospital.
Malizzo, a businessman and a former mayor of Hobart, Ind., and his wife, Barbara, were angry, confused, saddened, and looking for answers when they met with Tim McDonald, MD, UIC Medical Center's chief safety and risk officer, to find out what had gone so horribly wrong during the April 2008 surgery. Instead of excuses McDonald accepted the blame and offered an apology.
Rather than hiring a lawyer, filing a lawsuit, and looking for a massive payout after years of costly litigation, the Malizzos sought another way to honor their daughter's memory. "Our immediate response to them was, 'We don't want what happened to our daughter to happen to someone else. We don't want this tragedy to go in vain. Something has to happen to prevent this from happening again,' " Malizzo says.
About 11 months after Michelle's death and with McDonald's encouragement, the Malizzosaccepted an invitation to serve on the UIC Medical Center's patient safety committee.
"We meet once a month, an hour to 90 minutes. We talk about hospital errors not only at UIC but also errors at other hospitals or harm that was done to people at other hospitals," Malizzo says. "We check our policies and procedures at UIC and if we see they are deficient, we make the changes to prevent some kind of error from occurring."