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Mission focus key to meeting health care challenges: Balser

Mar. 6, 2014, 9:17 AM

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., speaks at Wednesday’s Clinical Enterprise Leadership Development Assembly in Langford Auditorium. (photo by John Russell)

“There has never been a time when we need leaders more than today.”

With these words, Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, began his quarterly conversation with colleagues at Wednesday’s Clinical Enterprise Leadership Assembly in Langford Auditorium.

While last year’s workforce downsizing is behind us, Balser said, financial challenges remain. In particular, the Medical Center has seen even more operating revenue declines than anticipated a year ago, from myriad health care insurance changes and demographic shifts, even though the clinical enterprise is bustling with full operating rooms, hospital beds and clinic demand that is “very strong,” he said.

“We’re not alone,” he added. “It’s happening everywhere … The world has changed. Health care has changed.” What hasn’t changed is Vanderbilt’s mission — to provide patient care recognized locally and nationally as extraordinary, to educate the next generation of health care leaders, and to perform research that changes reality for patients here and everywhere.

“Those missions are constant,” Balser said. “We will not back away. We will not waver.”

To that end, Balser offered the example of the December announcement to expand the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. With Children’s Hospital serving as the region’s only comprehensive pediatric health care provider, the need to expand is mission driven.

“We’re not building this to get bigger,” he said. “We’re building this because we must.

“We play an extraordinarily important role in this region, providing services that only Vanderbilt can provide,” Balser continued. “We must continue to meet those service demands because people are depending on us … I think it’s a moral obligation.”

The Medical Center also is “working smarter,” he said. From automating the routine acquisition of data at the bedside, to installing a new communications template, “this organization is working really hard to make it easier to get the work done.

“Employees want to succeed, but it’s understandable they’re anxious. They need our leadership. They need informed honesty and credible optimism and they’re going to need it constantly as health care continues to go through change.”

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., gives the operational update at Wednesday’s Clinical Enterprise Leadership Development Assembly. (photo by John Russell)

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs, followed Balser’s presentation and said that communication is key. “We just cannot communicate enough. Keep recognizing the great work. It is all around us every day. We need to build on our strengths,” he said.

Pinson said quality measures are improving.

During the past two years, for example, the colorectal surgical site infection rate has dropped well below the national average. The flu vaccination rate among staff is now at 95 percent — the highest ever.

Margaret (Meg) Rush, M.D., professor of Clinical Pediatrics and chief of staff for Children’s Hospital, introduced a video of retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal discussing leadership at a 2011 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in California.

Quoting from the Army Ranger’s Creed, McChrystal said, “A leader isn’t good because they’re right,” he said. “They’re good because they’re willing to learn and to trust. This isn’t easy stuff … And it isn’t always fair. You can get knocked down and it hurts and it leaves scars. But if you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on will help you up. And if you’re a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet.”

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