Ministry Leadership — Breaking through the Ceiling at CHI

November-December 2002


Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) hosted its third biannual national leadership conference September 17-19 in Covington, KY. In her address, CHI president and CEO Patricia Cahill presented an impressive list of the system's accomplishments and innovations, including the Executive Diversity Fellowship, a new program designed to move experienced women and minority health care managers into executive positions. During the conference, I caught up with Michael Fordyce, CHI's chief administrative officer, and Dave Black, vice president of leadership development, to find out more about this approach to increasing leadership bench strength.

"CHI established this program as a business priority to both develop our leadership bench-strength and ensure that our leadership increasingly represents the diverse populations we serve and employ," Black said.

Fordyce said that CHI's investigation of career growth for women and minorities in health care showed that, after earning master's degrees in health administration (or other related fields), these people did not have problems getting jobs. "But they hit a ceiling after three to five years," he said, "and they can't take that next step up to vice president.

"That led us to develop this program for that population who have earned their MHAs, been identified as true leaders already, and are doing a terrific job," Fordyce said.

To be considered as a candidate for the fellowship, an applicant must:

  • Be a woman and/or member of a racial or ethnic minority
  • Have at least three years of experience in a management role in health care
  • Have completed a master's degree in health care management or related field
  • Have demonstrated competence in achieving results, collaboration, developing people, and increasing "customer value"
  • Share the same values, mission, and vision as expressed by CHI
  • Be in a career track that fits the system's executive needs

Employment within CHI is not a requirement for consideration, Fordyce said, but it may be a tie-breaker in final selection.

Black said that the target position for the pilot of the Executive Diversity Fellowship is vice president of operations. (Because most CHI facilities are small — 100 beds or less — few have chief operating officers. The vice president of operations is a comparable position to the chief operating officer.) The target position may change from year to year based on the organization's needs.

The two fellows selected for the pilot program will gain experience at three levels of the system over the course of a year. First, each will be assigned to one of CHI's "market-based organizations" (MBOs), where he or she will work and learn under the mentorship of the MBO CEO for five months. Next comes a similar five-month mentorship with a system vice president of operations who has responsibility for eight to 10 MBOs. Finally, the candidates will be mentored for two months by CHI's chief operating officer Kevin Lofton. (Fordyce credited Lofton, who is African-American, as "instrumental" in the development of the fellowship program.)

"Our intent is to first give the fellows in-depth exposure to all aspects of hospital operations," Black said, "from leading committees and interacting with boards and physicians to strategic planning and gaining experience in leadership decision making. Second, they will learn how to drive operational success, how to build strong partnerships, and how to identify and implement best practices. In addition, they will better understand a leader's role and responsibility in developing CHI as a national health ministry."

Fordyce, Black, and Lofton, along with several other members of an oversight committee, interviewed candidates for final selection the day after the Leadership Conference. The original pool of applicants resulted from CHI's advertising the fellowship through 60 colleges and universities with MHA programs as well as 14 professional organizations of minorities and women in health care, among them the National Association of Health Service Executives (NAHSE).

CHI has a strong relationship with NAHSE, an organization for African-Americans in health care leadership. Lofton is a past president. "We learned through NAHSE that members of racial and ethnic minority groups really thrive in mentorship relationships," Black said. "That's why we built the program this way."

About 100 inquiries and 20 formal applications resulted from CHI's communications about the fellowship. "The challenge has not been in recruitment or in program development," Fordyce said. "The challenge will be insuring that at the end of the fellowship, we have good spots to place these people in." To that end, he added, CHI is taking a longer-range approach to filling vacancies in the vice president of operations role. "Six months into the program, we are going to start identifying the jobs for these fellows."

The fellowship represents a sizeable investment for CHI: approximately half a million dollars in direct costs, according to Fordyce. Included in the costs are executive salaries for the fellows. "Most programs offer a modest stipend," Black said. "We are paying the fellows a starting salary for the target position — vice president of operations — for the fellowship year. Because this program targets high-potential leaders, we feel we need to pay them accordingly."

Fordyce said that CHI's board — briefed on the fellowship program during the leadership conference — is very supportive. Cahill told me that she is "enormously excited and proud" of this effort to ensure leadership that matches the increasingly diverse populations CHI serves. With success in the fellowship, there will be some new faces and more diverse representation at CHI's next national leadership conference in 2004.


Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Ministry Leadership - Breaking through the Ceiling at CHI

Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.