Ministry recruits from outside health care to spark innovation

June 15, 2021



Aaron Martin was satisfied with the success he was enjoying, the team he was leading and the career goals he was accomplishing as director of Kindle and Print on Demand for Amazon. So, when an executive recruiter called him with an "out of left field" invitation to meet with top executives of Providence St. Joseph Health about a job opportunity, Martin said: "I'm already working at one of the best companies in the world. Why would I want to leave?"

Aaron Martin, Providence St. Joseph Health executive vice president, chief digital officer, leads a virtual team meeting.

The recruiter piqued his curiosity by telling Martin how the health system's leaders were taking chances on big new ideas, so Martin agreed to meet with Providence President and Chief Executive Dr. Rod Hochman and Providence President of Operations and Strategy Mike Butler. He says they won him over with their vision for transforming health care delivery. Martin joined Providence in January 2014 as executive vice president, chief digital officer. He heads a unit driving digital innovation across Providence, and shares responsibility for the system's digital health, mobile health, wearables and telemedicine strategy and marketing.

Martin is among a breed of ministry executive recruited from leadership in companies outside of health care to bring fresh thinking and meaningful change to an industry perceived in the past as slow to change.


Ed Fry is president and chief executive of FaithSearch Partners and co-founder of its affiliate HealthSearch Partners — both executive search firms count some of the ministry's largest systems among their clients. Fry says health care systems including those in the ministry have been open to recruiting from outside the field for a few decades, with this receptivity increasing as health care systems have gotten larger and more complex, and as they have come to corporatize their back-office work.

Health care systems' interest in outside talent is strong in such nonclinical functional areas as human resources, marketing and information technology, he says.

Candidate interest in mission-based organizations is higher than in the past, Fry notes. Says Martin: "Rod and Mike hooked me, but the mission kept me. It is rewarding to work at Providence, because I can really contribute directly to helping patients and frontline caregivers."

Martin says some of the leadership and efficiency skills he acquired at Amazon have been very valuable in his work at Providence. For example, rather than shackle teams with behemoth, multiyear projects, he promotes agility by having teams concentrate on manageably sized projects that can evolve quickly with incremental, iterative changes.

Greg Till, center, chief people officer for Providence St. Joseph Health, shares a laugh with colleagues. Mike Moreland, left, is chief human resources officer of acute care for Providence, and Keegan Fisher, right, is chief human resources officer of Swedish, a Providence affiliate. The three are at a human resources team gathering prior to the pandemic.

He recruited people with complementary "superpowers" to his leadership team — an approach championed by a mentor at Amazon. One executive he recruited from Amazon excels in understanding consumer experience, a recruit from T Mobile is a branding expert, and a recruit from Microsoft has a breadth of technology expertise, and so on.

Martin says his own leadership skills have been enhanced by the strong servant leaders who surround him at Providence.


Powered by mission
Greg Till, Providence chief people officer, says that within the last decade or so, health systems have become nimbler and more open to new ideas, and that has made them more attractive workplaces for entrepreneurial people who may not have direct experience in health care.

Till, who came to Providence from the defense industry, says most new hires do not arrive with a baseline understanding of the system's mission, vision and values. That is where formation comes in. He notes that the digital innovation group that Martin heads prioritizes formation and has its own dedicated mission leader — Sr. Susanne Hartung, SP.


Protect and defend
PeaceHealth President and Chief Executive Liz Dunne served for 10 years in the U.S. Air Force on active duty and 10 years in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. While in the reserve and prior to joining PeaceHealth in 2015, she'd been a leader in three California health care organizations — Providence Health & Services' South Bay region, City of Hope in Duarte, and Memorial Health Services in Fountain Valley.

She says both in health care and in the military, "it's about working as a team to protect and defend those who may not be able to protect and defend themselves. It's about committing to a mission — to something bigger than yourself."

As president and chief executive of PeaceHealth, Liz Dunne uses skills she honed as an Air Force officer including the ability to quickly assemble high-performing teams to address complex situations. Dunne, in the foreground, joins staff at a PeaceHealth vaccination clinic held in December for emergency medical services workers in the Vancouver, Washington, area.

Dunne says that some of the characteristics and skills she honed in the Air Force and reserve have proven to be of great value at PeaceHealth, including the discipline and rigor, the anticipation and planning of scenarios and forward-thinking strategies and the ability to quickly assemble high-performing teams to address complex situations.

The military has a very proactive culture, and "I try to bring this approach to health care — anticipating where technology will take us … how consumer beliefs about value will change over time" and how patient needs related to social determinants of health may evolve as the culture and behaviors of community members shift, Dunne says.

She notes that capabilities built during her military service also have proven essential as she has led PeaceHealth in responding to the pandemic and in confronting social injustice, including racial inequality.

PeaceHealth is among the ministry systems and facilities that have committed to fighting systemic racism through meaningful and impactful action. "What we're doing at PeaceHealth is not for the faint of heart," Dunne says. "Our Catholic heritage and values have never felt more relevant or necessary."


'People first, then technology'
Eduardo Conrado came to Ascension from Motorola Solutions, where he had stints in marketing, information technology, strategy and innovation, with much of that time in the executive suite.

Eduardo Conrado, right, executive vice president – chief strategy and innovation officer for Ascension, chats with colleagues at a gathering prior to the pandemic.

Conrado, who is executive vice president — chief strategy and innovation officer for Ascension, says his experience at the telecommunications company has translated well as he leads the development of Ascension's digital and data strategy, including the platforms for consumer engagement and care delivery operations and product innovation. He's also responsible for Ascension's corporate strategy on digital operations and for its new business development functions. He's among those leading efforts to apply technology to enable better experiences for patients and clinicians.

He says at Motorola there was an emphasis on an "empathetic design approach," which "puts people first, then technology — rather than the other way around." That ethos "matches very well with the Catholic health care approach of putting the person first."

Conrado played an essential role amid the pandemic in improving Ascension's digital operations so that it is easier for patients to connect virtually with Ascension facilities, including for appointment scheduling, mobile registration and telehealth. He also led the rapid process to transition Ascension associates who could work remotely, from office to home workspaces.


Social gratification
Having worked in data analytics for Bank of America, Citigroup, CIGNA and S&P over two decades, Don Gray says he was ready "for something more socially gratifying than financial services" when he interviewed at Mercy of Chesterfield, Missouri, late last year for the position of chief enterprise data and analytics officer. Mercy was looking for someone to lead its ambitious data analytics agenda when it brought him on in January and began his ongoing formation.

Gray explains that Mercy's care model is dependent upon the ability to deliver "proactive, predictive, personalized care." He says achieving this vision involves creating "an agile and robust enterprise data architecture and analytics infrastructure to harness the full potential" to understand patients' perspectives and needs based on "integrated, actionable, real-time insight" gleaned from patient data.

Gray is bringing his skills in enterprise risk management, information technology strategy, data warehousing, project management and data management to bear on this Mercy effort to harness the power of health care data to improve patient care and patient experience.


Fresh eyes
Julie Washington cut her marketing chops at international consumer products companies before joining Trinity Health in January 2020 as chief marketing and communications officer and chief customer experience officer. Her power resume spanned 30 years and included posts as chief marketing officer for Champion Petfoods, where she expanded global and e-commerce distribution and led the company's brand campaigns. She was chief marketing and innovation officer for Jamba Juice and a marketing leader at Procter & Gamble, Luxottica Retail and Nestle Purina.

Julie Washington, fourth from left, joins with other Jamba Juice executives and employees after the company rang the opening bell of the NASDAQ exchange in August 2011. She'd worked in consumer marketing for several international companies before joining Trinity Health last year as chief marketing and communications officer and chief customer experience officer.

She says with "fresh eyes" she can see beyond "how it has always been done" in health care. Consumerism is a driving force in health care now, she says, and providers that do not excel in understanding patient perspectives and delivering a good patient experience will become obsolete.

Washington loves researching people's wants and needs and using consumer data to build the ideal experience. She says Trinity Health is redoubling efforts to build positive relationships that earn patient loyalty for the long-term. Her consumer marketing background is proving useful in guiding Trinity Health in this area.


32,000 steps
While John "JT" Timmerman had worked at the Cleveland Clinic toward the start of his career, he'd leapfrogged across a few other fields before landing at Mercy St. Louis Hospital three years ago. He'd worked in a variety of operations and quality management roles including at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Marriott International hotels and at the Gallup polling company. He'd served as a judge for the esteemed Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. A commonality at all those employers was a focus on intimately understanding people's perceptions, wants and needs in order to perfect their experience at an organization. This expertise in consumer behavior has served Timmerman well as vice president of operations at Mercy St. Louis.

John "JT" Timmerman checks out Mercy St. Louis Hospital's "Market Express" 24-hour self-service market, which opened in early April. Timmerman is vice president of operations at the hospital. He previously was in the hospitality industry.

Timmerman says he'd learned at the Ritz to walk onto a property and quickly assess staff training in hospitality: How are people treating visitors? Do they look them in the eye? Do they smile? He says when he interviewed at Mercy St. Louis, he noted the courteous staff and attention to design elements that made patients feel welcome and reassured that this was a place of healing. The fact that culture and mission aligned convinced him to accept the position.

He takes a page from the Malcolm Baldrige award approach to achieving exceptional management by meeting individually with 100 randomly chosen employees annually to gather their perspectives of Mercy and of their respective roles in the hospital. And, he walks the entire campus at least three times each day, interacting with staff and patients to get a firsthand feel for how smoothly things are running. He regularly logs 32,000 daily steps.

Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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