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How Can Healthcare Boards Navigate Turbulent Times?

For senior leaders, navigating approvals through the board of trustees can be stressful and sometimes unpredictable. The rapid pace of change and complex industry environment necessitate decisive action, often in a short amount of time. This has been particularly true in 2020. For board members, the necessity to understand and approve highly complex proposals, often with limited time, and the large scope of the board’s oversight responsibilities can be overwhelming. On September 30th, the Maryland chapter of the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) sponsored a panel discussion to discuss these challenges and more. The panel of senior leaders and board members discussed the root causes of these challenges and offered practical advice to senior leadership and board members for smoother, more effective meetings and decision-making processes.

Panelists included Kathryn Peisert, Managing Editor at the Governance Institute, Sister Helen Amos, Executive Chair of Mercy Health, Liz Sweeney, President of Nutshell Associates and board member of University of Maryland Medical System, and Tori Bayless, CEO of Luminis Health.

Liz Sweeney shared her perspectives about the value of continuing board education in turbulent times, the importance of empowering board committees to the greatest extent possible, and how to draw the line between governance oversight and meddling in operations. "As a board, we're already responsible for oversight of a vast and complex array of topics - how do we respond to the competitive environment, the reimbursement environment, how do we manage cyber risk, professional liability, what should our M&A strategy be, how do we manage disruptive threats, what financial targets do we need to meet our capital appetite, are we serving our communities the best way possible, how should we address population health, societal inequities, organizational culture, etc. etc. It’s almost overwhelming. We don’t have time to dive into operations and go down rabbit holes. We need to stick with the bigger picture. We should ask reasonable questions about operations, we can ask for outside opinions about operations, and document those activities, but we have to stop there".

Tori Bayless shared her experiences as a healthcare system CEO and as a current and past board member of a number of other organizations. At Lumenis, the board and management jointly identified the most important things that they each need from each other - what are the behaviors and actions the board needs from management in order to do their job effectively, and conversely, what does management need from the board. This discussion resulted in a "compact" that outlines those actions and behaviors identified, and all board members and senior leaders sign the compact to demonstrate their commitment to strive for those actions and behaviors every day.

Sister Helen Amos currently serves as Executive Chair of Mercy Health in Baltimore, was formerly its CEO, and is also a current and former board member of several other organizations. She emphasized the critical nature of a strong board orientation program to ensure all board members understand both their governance responsibilities and have a good grounding in the culture, vision, and values of the organization. She also recommends that boards do regular self assessments, including identifying board skill sets and gaps for healthy succession planning.

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