Like any health IT leader, Scott Vachon has quite a few burners going, whether it’s leading his team through a major transition, crafting an effective cybersecurity strategy, or the ever-evolving quest to improve user experience. And although all of these areas are exciting, what he loves most about his role is “creating future leaders.” Vachon, who has had the opportunity to learn from industry icons like Liz Johnson and Tim Stettheimer, is giving back by offering his services to others in hopes of helping them to reach their goals.
In this interview, Vachon talks the key role leadership has played as Littleton Regional has become part of North Country HealthCare, how they’re working toward the goal of providing a “holistic community support system,” why he’ll never be satisfied when it comes to cybersecurity, and what he learned during his time with the US Marines.
- Process improvement training – “Everyone is empowered”
- Focus on workflow efficiency
- Past experiences in security, consulting
- “It’s great to design projects, but my favorite thing is to create future leaders.”
- His CIO mentors
- Finding “hidden gems”
- Military background – “It was leadership 101”
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Everyone is empowered to raise their hand and say, ‘I think we can do this better. I think we can do it more efficiently, and here’s how I think we can do it.’
I lead beside the people that I’m working with. I’m part of their team, and my job is to point them in the direction and then get the obstacles out of their way.
Any tool I can give you to be successful, I’m going to give. And if you have a desire to move up in your role, I’m going to make sure that happens, because I’ve had that opportunity for myself.
Sometimes I’ll push them a little bit out of their comfort zone. Not too much; not enough to stress them out, but enough to show them that if they can face some of those fears they have — if they can get past them, they’re going to turn those fears into strengths.
The amount of data that’s available is overwhelming, and so we’re going to need to leverage that in order to make smarter decisions, and analytics is absolutely a part of that.
Gamble: Another area I want to get into is process improvement. What’s your philosophy as far as increasing efficiencies wherever possible? I’m sure that’s really important in a smaller organization.
Vachon: Absolutely. We have lean training that’s been provided and continues to be provided throughout our organization. I think the greatest part of it is that everyone is empowered to raise their hand and say, ‘I think we can do this better. I think we can do it more efficiently, and here’s how I think we can do it.’ Teams come together, take a look at it, and figure out what the investment might be, what the return is going to be, and then they move ahead and implement it.
That’s one of the reasons why I love where I work — your voice can always be heard, and people trust you enough to act on your suggestion. I can’t point to any one department in particular that does it better than the others. Everyone just goes about doing their business every day. It’s really exciting to work in that type of environment.
Gamble: Has it always been ingrained in the organization’s philosophy, or was it something that was introduced at a certain time?
Vachon: It’s a combination. Probably three or four years ago, it became an organizational initiative, but I think that’s because the right people were hired who came from environments that had implemented lean and seen the benefits. Again, our organization is really good about allowing new initiatives to come forward. People will get together and discuss an idea, and then it becomes more formalized, and it becomes an initiative at the executive level. It’s just how we operate.
I don’t think people necessarily think of it like, ‘I’m doing this as a lean initiative,’ as much as they think about, how can we make our workflow more efficient? How can we make the returns on investments better? And it even works down to patient care and patient outcomes — how do we make that experience better for a patient who’s in our organization? What’s the littlest thing we can change to make them really appreciate the care, and trust that they’re at the best place possible for that care?
Gamble: Right, it seems you have to have the right culture in place to let this philosophy really grow.
Vachon: I think so, and again, I can’t say enough about our leadership. They really place a lot of trust in the people that they hire, and they listen to us. It’s nice. It’s unique, and it’s why so many of us commute to where we work. I commute over an hour. Most of my team commutes an hour as well, and when we’re asked why, it’s because of the challenges that are put in front of us, the trust that we’re given, and the ability to lead and create new things.
Gamble: Right. So obviously you have a lot going on, as is always the case. Is there anything else that sticks out as a priority that you’ll be looking at in the next year or so?
Vachon: Our major focus right now is making sure that our affiliation is successful. We’re really focused on providing better patient care for our community. Everyone is on board with that — whatever it takes to get there, that’s what we’re going to do. So it’s really the analytics piece, the focus on the CCO and ACO, the focus on our community partners, and continuity of care overall. Any initiatives that allow us to accomplish those goals will be front and center. Along with that, we’re focused on how do we create other revenue streams? What types of services can we bring in that we don’t have right now that are going to be helpful for our community? Maybe we can pull in some people from outside of our community, because our goal is to provide topnotch care.
Gamble: Right. Now, how long have you been with Littleton?
Vachon: It’s been about six years.
Gamble: What was your previous role?
Vachon: I worked in the security field as a consultant for a company out of Massachusetts, and traveled most of New England doing that.
Gamble: I’m sure that it has been beneficial having that type of experience, not just in security but also from the consulting viewpoint.
Vachon: Absolutely. It’s an interesting perspective to be on both sides of the coin. I’ve been back and forth into healthcare over the years. I’ve worked in the financial industry in my consulting roles. I’ve worked universities, and local and federal government. I’ve been able to see the different ways that people do their work and the different needs in terms of security, and I’ve been able to see everything from the frontline support, to the build, to the business side. I’ve been very lucky along the way in terms of opportunities and in terms of mentors I’ve had. So yes, it’s nice to be able to bring a different perspective.
Gamble: What did you find to be challenging about the consulting world?
Vachon: I think sometimes when you’re a consultant, people look at you and think you’re doing it because you couldn’t be successful in a single business, which isn’t true. A lot of consultants have experience that they want to share, and that’s the best way to go about doing it. It’s enjoyable. I like it. I do some consulting on my own on the side, and when people ask how it’s going, I say, ‘It’s great, but I don’t charge for it.’ And then they kind of look at me funny. But it’s my way of creating goodwill, of giving back. I have a certain level of expertise, and if there’s a business that really can’t afford a consultant and I can help them to be successful, that’s a good thing for me. I’ve been very fortunate. I’m happy to do it, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch some of these small businesses grow and become really successful, and that’s great.
Gamble: So in a way, it’s like mentoring.
Vachon: Yes. I absolutely love it. It’s what feeds me every day. It’s great to design projects, but by and far, my favorite thing to do is to create future leaders; to give everyone an opportunity. I don’t see myself as a boss — I hate that title. People I work with know not to refer to me as the boss. I’m very much into leadership, but I lead beside the people that I’m working with. I’m part of their team, and my job is to point them in the direction and then get the obstacles out of their way.
So if that means sending you to training, I’ll do it. And it doesn’t have to be technical — sometimes it’s leadership training. Sometimes it’s as simple as time management. Any tool I can give you to be successful, I’m going to give. And if you have a desire that you express to me to move up in your role, I’m going to make sure that happens, because I’ve had that opportunity for myself over the years. I was lucky enough to attend the CHIME CIO Boot Camp. I got to meet and speak with Ed Marx, Rod Dykehouse, Liz Johnson, and Tim Stettheimer. They’re just incredible people. And at any point, I can reach out and ask them their advice. These are people who are very successful and very, busy but mentorship is so core to what they do that they’re happy to give back. Those are great role models to have.
CHIME connected me with James Noga, who’s the CIO of Partners HealthCare, so that he could mentor me, and for the past year, we’ve been working together. I’ve learned a lot from him. I’m very lucky, and I feel like it’s my duty to pass it along.
Gamble: That’s a great attitude to have. When you look at your team members and see potential, what are the qualities you value most? What qualities do you look for in people who you think could become future leaders?
Vachon: A desire to learn, and to not be static. A desire to step up and take leadership opportunities and to volunteer. People who volunteer have a natural drive to do something more — you want to feed that. When people on my team ask me questions about my career, I can sense that they’re looking to do something different, and so we sit down and we have a conversation. I help them map out their short-term goals and long-term goals, and we’ll touch base and see how they’re doing. Sometimes I’ll push them a little bit out of their comfort zone. Not too much; not enough to stress them out, but enough to show them that if they can face some of those fears they have — if they can get past them, they’re going to turn those fears into strengths, and they’re going to be really successful. It’s just so exciting to see that.
I have one example in particular of a person on my team who I was worried wasn’t going to be successful in her role. When we sat down and talked, I found out that this person had a passion for customer service and really was trying to do the right thing. I shocked everyone, because I chose this person to lead our service desk. And she’s done an amazing job. She’s turned around the whole organization’s attitude about how IT provides support, and I have metrics to show it. A little less than a year ago, our customer service ratings were probably at a 3 or 2.5 (on a scale of 1 to 5). Right now we’re at a 4.3 right now, and that’s due to her work. I feel very lucky and very blessed to have her as a member of my team, and the organization as a whole values her and values our support services. It’s great to find those hidden gems.
Gamble: Very interesting. Now, looking at your career, you have some military background, right?
Vachon: I do. I spent six years in the United States Marine Corps. I’m very proud of my service; I enjoyed it. I enlisted after college, which is probably not the traditional route. And then about halfway through, I applied for the Officer Commissioning Program, was accepted, and spent quite a bit of time as a communications officer and an operations officer in the Marine Corps.
Gamble: I can imagine there are lessons learned from that time that you still take with you.
Vachon: Absolutely. It was leadership 101 through and through — the Marine Corps is great about that. I was reflecting this morning, interestingly enough, about how I work in leadership now as opposed to how I worked in leadership then, and I actually found a few similarities. The Marine Corps is very big on making sure that everyone, from the top of the hierarchy down — from general to private — is empowered to be a leader, because that’s important in accomplishing the mission. I realized that I’m doing the same thing here. Everyone I work with on my team is entrusted as a leader. They’re allowed to make decisions. We talk about what types of decisions they can make, when they need to go up and seek more authority, and when they can do it on their own. It’s great because it makes things run much smoother, and it makes people happier when they have some feeling of responsibility and some feeling of freedom to make changes and make choices. So it definitely was a positive point in my life. If I didn’t have the responsibilities I have now, I’d love to go back and do it again, but I think I’m a little too old at this point.
Gamble: I imagine that was a great experience. The last thing I want to do is get your thoughts on where this industry is headed. It’s been such an interesting past few years and we’re seeing so much change, but as the industry shifts away from meaningful use and into the next phase, what are your thoughts as far as where we’re headed, and whether we’re headed in the right direction?
Vachon: That is the million-dollar question — or maybe the billion-dollar question. I think we’re going to see more consolidation. I think employing artificial intelligence is going to be a requirement, because things are moving and changing so fast. The amount of data that’s available is overwhelming, and so we’re going to need to leverage that in order to make smarter decisions, and analytics is absolutely a part of that. Organizations that can’t form data governance committees and incorporate analytics into what they do are going to be at a serious disadvantage.
I think we’re going to continue to be challenged with security issues, and so investments in security are not going away. I also think we’re going to see changes from the federal government and the Affordable Care Act, beyond what we’ve already seen. Hopefully, it’s going to be bipartisan and it’s going to be in the best interest of every American — and all human beings — because we really have a mandate to take care of each other. That’s how we’re going to be successful together. So that’s definitely important.
But I can say all of this today and in six months, our industry is going to change again, if it even takes that long. And so we just try to keep up the best we can, talk with each other, support each other, and always keep the patients first and foremost.
Gamble: Excellent job with a very big question I threw out there. Well, I think that covers what I wanted to talk about. I want to thank you so much. It’s been great to get your perspective. We’re very glad to be able to provide the viewpoint of critical access hospitals. So thank you.
Vachon: Great. Thank you for the opportunity. I just want to throw it out there that I’m very happy to work for this organization. I love the leadership here, and I’m excited for the future.