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Insights from the Top 25 Women in Healthcare

By | August 28th, 2015 | Blog | Add A Comment



A roundup of a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.


Over the past few months, we’ve brought you reflections on leadership and their careers from Modern Healthcaree’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare, a program we have been proud to sponsor for the past seven years. We still have a few to offer you in the months to come. In the meantime, it seemed like an appropriate time to give you an overview of what these successful executives have had to say. Please click on any of the snippets or photos below to read the full interview.




Elizabeth Nabel: 2015 Top 25 Women in Healthcare

Elizabeth Nabel strives to make an impact in healthcare









Deborah Bowen: 2015 Top 25 Women in Healthcare

Deborah Bowen: Leadership still about people trying to make a difference









Marna Borgstrom: 2015 Top 25 Women in Healthcare

Marna Borgstrom: A new era calls for a new kind of leadership









Leah Binder: 2015 Top 25 Women in Healthcare

Leah Binder and Leapfrog Group put pressure on healthcare providers to deliver on quality









Penny Wheeler: 2015 Top 25 Women in Healthcare

Penny Wheeler: Even in value-based care, leaders of varying backgrounds can thrive









Mary Brainerd: 2015 Top 25 Women in


At HealthPartners, Mary Brainerd’s leadership approaches solutions from a nuanced angle









Donna Lynne: 2015 Top 25 Women in Healthcare

Donna Lynne: Healthcare leaders need to be able to manage crisis, volatility









Tejal Gandhi: 2015 Top 25 Women in Healthcare

Tejal Gandhi: Push for quality, safety needs to come from boards









Sister Carol Keehan: 2015 Top 25 Women in


Sister Carol Keehan: Gender diversity is a must-have for healthcare leadership — and so is

solidarity with the poor









Pam Cipriano: 2015 Top 25 Women in Healthcare

Pam Cipriano: In value-based care, nurses are ready to lead









Nancy Schlichting: 2015 Top 25 Women in


Nancy Schlichting’s willingness to take risks is still paying off for Henry Ford Health









From Brigham and Women’s to the NFL, Elizabeth Nabel looks to make an impact

By | August 26th, 2015 | Blog | Add A Comment


Elizabeth Nabel: “It’s important … to stand up for what you believe in, and not be afraid to be different or unpopular to get something done.”


One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.


Elizabeth Nabel already was one of the nation’s premier cardiologists and researchers before she began leading the respected Brigham and Women’s Health Care system in Boston as president in 2010.


Yet even with such an impeccable pedigree, she has never been shy about taking risks. She took on a very visible role earlier this year as the first-ever chief health and medical advisor to the NFL. And when she was director of the government’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, she worked with commercial industries – even Diet Coke – to spread the message that women were just as susceptible to heart issues as men.


“For me, these positions aren’t about visibility, but about the impact I can make,” Nabel says. “I feel it’s important to be a positive deviant, to have the courage to take risks and stand up for what you believe in, and not be afraid to be different or unpopular to get something done.”


While the NFL recently has had its share of controversy, she sees her role as an opportunity to make sports safer for people far beyond the professional level.


“The NFL has the opportunity to innovate in a way that will impact the health and safety of all athletes of all kinds, at all levels. I see this partnership as a great way to apply the knowledge acquired through the efforts of the NFL to the greater population of professional, amateur and recreational athletes.”


Before taking on her current position at Brigham and Women’s, Nabel served as director of the NHLBI from 2005 to 2009. It was there that she sought to drive change by launching the Red Dress Heart Truth campaign that still is going strong today.


The Red Dress, she says, “is a symbol of women and heart disease. Our goal was to raise awareness about heart disease in women to encourage them to take action and improve their heart health.”


Nabel lined up 150 partners, including 50 companies, to spread awareness. That included Diet Coke, which stamped the campaign on its cans and delivered a visibility that the government agency couldn’t have touched on its own.


“The strategy wasn’t without risk, and it earned me some harsh public criticism from detractors who felt it wasn’t the place of government to ally so closely with industry,” she says. “But I firmly believed it was the right thing to do, and looking back I consider these partnerships instrumental to The Heart Truth’s tremendous success.” Read more…



The Top 25 Women in Healthcare, 2015

By | August 21st, 2015 | Blog | Add A Comment


The Furst Group team at the Top 25 Women in Healthcare gala: from left, Tim Frischmon, Deanna Banks, Pete Eisenbarth, Dave Appino, Jessica Homann and Bob Clarke.



Modern Healthcare presented the Top 25 Women in Healthcare awards Thursday night, sponsored by Furst Group. Below are a few tweets and photos highlighting the day.






ACHE’s Deborah Bowen: Healthcare leadership is still about people trying to make a difference

By | August 18th, 2015 | Blog | Add A Comment


Deborah Bowen: “My legacy, I hope, is going to be all about building the culture of ‘and.’ ”


One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.



Deborah Bowen guides one of the most influential associations in healthcare, but her complex work with C-suite leaders is rooted in a simple desire: to change people’s lives for the better.


As the president and CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Bowen heads an enterprise that assists administrators in developing their abilities to lead their organizations. Its Fellow certification (FACHE) is one of the most respected designations in the halls of a health system and its annual Congress is one of the industry’s biggest draws. But Bowen says she herself is drawn to the servant leaders she sees all around her.


“I think one of the great things about this profession and this field,” she says, “is that I’ve always found the people in it are very dedicated to giving back. I think we all come to it from a place of trying to make a difference in whatever way we can.”


Bowen began her career as a social worker dealing with some of the toughest issues out there – drug addiction and alcoholism.


“I started out working with heroin addicts,” she says. “That is a difficult line of business because people often don’t get better because they don’t have the right support networks. Some of them get detoxified, but then they’re going right back into the same environment that probably drove them to addiction in the beginning. That was the catalyst for me to say, ‘Maybe there is another way to do this work that might have more impact.’ ”


She moved on to Wisconsin’s Department of Health and Social Services, where she gave grant money to programs battling drug abuse and alcoholism.


“That’s where I started to learn a little but more about what it means to influence decision-makers,” Bowen says, “and if you influence decision-makers, you can potentially have a bigger imprint in changing policy.”


Read more…



Marna Borgstrom: A new era calls for a new kind of leadership

By | August 14th, 2015 | Blog | Add A Comment


Marna Borgstrom: “The future is going to require that we pursue partnerships rather than try to control everything in healthcare.”


One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.


For healthcare leaders today, it is clear that the big challenge, and the big opportunity, is to invest in the evolution of what has been a cottage industry into a true system of care. One in which efficient, integrated healthcare services are aligned with the ways in which care is paid for; where both provider and patient accountability matter.


While Marna Borgstrom, CEO of Yale New Haven Health System, believes we are moving in this direction, she notes that few systems, if any, are “there” yet. Many providers are not organized to take risk for populations of patients. Many payers can’t accurately and effectively take and manage capitated payment or significant risk arrangements. And the state and federal governments aren’t aligned on what or how they pay for care.


As Yale New Haven Health System is on its journey to provide unparalleled value to those it serves, Borgstrom stresses that at the same time health systems must continue to provide life-saving care and invest in the research and technical advances that have turned many terminal diseases into manageable chronic conditions. Borgstrom says, “We don’t want to lose that which has made us great in our quest for a more sustainable, comprehensive system of care.”


This need to thrive in both worlds – improving the health of the population while also healing the sick – demands effective, committed and innovative leadership in healthcare that can navigate these changing dynamics. This is a topic Borgstrom has been returning to often lately as she works with her own leadership team and her board and begins to build a template for the type of leadership that Yale New Haven will need in the years to come.


To that end, she has begun collecting her thoughts to share with the organization on developing executives who can guide a large, complex enterprise like Yale-New Haven. Some qualities, she says, are must-have standards that make sense in any business climate:


General leadership abilities. “You have to be able to get people to follow your vision and prepare for the future before change is upon us, while weighing the risks. You also have to be able to hold people accountable – sometimes we tolerate cultures of optionality that haven’t delivered well.” Read more…



Leah Binder and Leapfrog Group put pressure on healthcare providers to deliver on quality

By | August 12th, 2015 | Blog | 1 Comment


Leah Binder: “We want to start to tie payment to performance on key safety and quality metrics. Employers want to see results.”


One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.



Patient-safety organizations have proliferated in the last decade, from the respected National Patient Safety Foundation to numerous groups founded by patients or their relatives who have experienced pain and loss from medical errors. Yet few have the muscle that the Leapfrog Group does, using its research and clout on behalf of businesses that pay for their employees’ healthcare coverage.


That marriage of safety and statistics, with a streak of blunt boldness, is personified by Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder, who has led the organization since 2008. She is a friend to many in the industry, but notes that Leapfrog fiercely guards its watchdog status.


“I think a lot of people who are involved in the healthcare industry also have tentacles into a lot of different interest groups that they need to maintain strong ties to,” she says. “And while we also like to maintain strong ties to and collaborate with our colleagues in healthcare, we maintain a strong independence from the industry. And that has enabled us to talk about reality in a way that is different from what others who are within the system feel able to do.”


While she is a champion of the quality care that many systems and physicians provide, she’s not afraid to take them to task when she feels U.S. consumers and their employers aren’t getting stellar treatment. Leapfrog’s voice has been getting louder and more urgent lately, Binder notes, because it hasn’t always seemed that the healthcare industry has been paying attention.


“When I am speaking from the perspective of a purchaser who is spending more money on healthcare than they earned in profits last year, they expect tough talk,” she says. “They want to make sure their employees are safe and healthy and they get the right value for their money. It’s just been very difficult to get that message out to the healthcare community that employers want change and expect it. “I’ve certainly had to begin to communicate in ways that make clear that the business community considers this to be serious business.”


Binder got to know the Leapfrog Group when she was vice president of Franklin Community Health Network, a healthcare system in Maine that participated in Leapfrog’s surveys on quality and safety. Prior to that, she was a senior policy advisor to then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. She began her career as public policy director for the National League of Nursing.


Her life-changing encounter with the importance of safety came when her infant son was sick, and she and her husband couldn’t get their pediatrician to listen to them.


“When he was 3 weeks old, he was misdiagnosed with acid reflux. The actual diagnosis was that he had pyloric stenosis which, if it goes untreated for too long of a period, can be dangerous if not deadly,” Binder remembers. “And it was only because of my husband’s aggressiveness in insisting on a re-evaluation of him that we were able to get him in for emergency surgery. And that probably saved his life.” Read more…



Penny Wheeler: Even in value-based care, leaders of varying backgrounds can thrive

By | August 6th, 2015 | Blog | Add A Comment


Penny Wheeler: “It’s just a sheer privilege that we get to be in a role where, by our actions, we can improve the lives of thousands.”


One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.


In the era of value-based care, many health systems are looking for ways in which they can develop their physicians into administrative leaders who can guide the organization, not just a physicians’ group.


While Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler, MD, can certainly relate to such endeavors, she’s not ready to brand the clinician-to-chief-executive transformation as the sole formula for all organizations.


“Some doctors are scrambling to get their MBAs, but I wonder if there is going to be a time when people who have been in the administrative ranks will get certifications in clinical care process and care model design,” says Wheeler, an obstetrician/gynecologist who has led Allina Health to a Truven Analytics ranking as one of the top large health systems in the country.


Both types of knowledge are needed in the C-suite, Wheeler says, and can come from an administrator who has an empathetic mindset and has spent time learning how to reduce clinical-care variations, or from a physician who has accumulated experience in finance and operations.


“There is a convergence these days,” she notes, “of needing to understand clinical-care models and clinical-care processes, and having the operational and financial acumen to know what kind of team you have to assemble to lead.”


The learning curve can be steep regardless of which side you begin on. Wheeler was named chief clinical officer of Allina in 2006 and freely admits it took her time to adjust.


“You can go from feeling pretty adept at doing a complex hysterectomy with a lymph-node dissection in the operating room to feeling like you don’t know how to run your email account,” she says with a laugh. “When you’re relatively good at something you trained your whole life for, and then all of a sudden you feel like you’re on a separate orbital plane, that’s hard.”


What kept her going, she says – and what led to her growth as an executive that ultimately put her in charge at Allina – was the purpose and mission she had, which did not change in the move from the exam room to the administrative offices.


“It’s just a sheer privilege that we get to be in a role where, by our actions, we can improve the lives of thousands,” Wheeler says. “That’s an incredibly fortunate position to be in.” Read more…



At HealthPartners, Mary Brainerd’s leadership approaches solutions from a nuanced angle

By | August 5th, 2015 | Blog | Add A Comment


Mary Brainerd: “I think anyone I know who has worked in healthcare and then has encountered the healthcare system as a patient … is changed by that experience.”


One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.


While HealthPartners CEO Mary Brainerd is pleased that more people now have insurance through the Affordable Care Act, you’ll have to excuse her if she’s a little frustrated with how the law has had a rocky start in Minnesota, where innovations that already existed were scuttled by Obamacare.


For example, Minnesota residents who had pre-existing conditions already had insurance coverage through a special high-risk pool that included businesses as well as individuals. It had been functioning just fine for 30 years. The ACA shut the program down. Those individuals were forced to buy insurance products on the clunky exchange and now, in Year 2, are facing rate hikes of more than 50 percent because the risk pool is too small.


“That’s a federal issue, and we wish it would change,” Brainerd says. “But it appears no one has the political will at the federal level to ask, ‘What’s not working, and how can we help make it better?’ The more you segment the market when people have serious health conditions, the higher the costs are both for these individuals and for these smaller funding pools that are responsible for covering their costs.”


It’s an intriguing patient-centric perspective on Brainerd’s part, and comes from an angle that’s a little different than the typical healthcare-industry party line. But perhaps that’s to be expected from a respected executive with a degree in philosophy (as well as an MBA).


“I think there are actually a lot of areas in which both philosophy specifically and liberal arts in general add value, and that is that you spend time studying many different perspectives on the same topic,” she says. “So when you’re faced with challenges and decisions, you’re less likely to think there’s a formulaic right answer. Instead, you’re more likely to think there are many perspectives on this issue to explore and understand before moving to quick decisions.”


A 2013 merger with the ParkNicollet system was significant for HealthPartners because it doubled the organization’s patient base to more than 1 million and expanded the payer-and-provider capabilities that the company had been executing for 50 years. Other healthcare organizations are now jumping into the payer-provider mix, and Brainerd has some advice for them.


“I think the challenge for organizations that are just creating those capabilities is not to think of them as two separate businesses but instead to look at them as very integrated, synergistic businesses that have the same strategy. We have the same strategic plan for our delivery system as we do for our health plan, and it’s focused on people as our chief resource and asset.”


Yet the enormity of merging two large organizations was a challenge. Read more…