When you go from a large, integrated health system in the northeast to a Florida-based organization focused on hospice, palliative care, and home health, there are going to be some glaring differences. But for Sheryl Sypek, who took on the CIO role at Chapters Health System three years ago, the biggest contrast she saw was in the EHR market, which is “far less mature” than in the acute care hospital world.
As one can imagine, it made for a much different vendor selection process. But it also resulted in both an education, and a bonding experience, for her team. Recently, we spoke with Sypek about how she learned to navigate the brave new world of palliative and hospice care, why she made the move, and how she and her team plan to continue to forge a new path in this growing sector. Sypek also talks about how her time in consulting made her “a better CIO,” why Chapters is uniquely positioned to thrive in a value-based care world, and why giving back is so important.
- Consulting experience – “It made me a better CIO.”
- The “gift” of being passed up
- “You have to ask, ‘what could I have done better?’”
- Colin Powell’s leadership philosophy
- Transition to value-based care – “We’re uniquely positioned for that.”
- Hospice’s “interdisciplinary team approach”
- Benefits of volunteering: “Sometimes you have to step back and participate.”
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I did a lot of reflection on why I was no longer with the prior organization. Once I stepped away, it was easy to see where I could improve and do better.
You have to be able to step away from that. You have to take what you can from the organization and reflect on, ‘Where could I have done better? Why didn’t the CEO know the challenges we faced in IT?’
From my perspective, it’s about preparation, hard work, and learning from failures. That’s what leads to success. All of us in IT can point to distinct challenges in our career that we learned from and were able to apply going forward, and it ensured our success.
Hospice, since its inception, has been based on an interdisciplinary team evaluating the patient’s needs and ensuring they have a quality experience, that health across our patient population is improving or that the quality of their life is what they want it to be, and ultimately, doing that for a specific reimbursement.
Gamble: Before you came to Chapters, you were doing consulting. How did that experience help prepare you for this role?
Sypek: I came to consulting the way a lot of my peers do — by virtue of my CEO determining that I was not the person he wanted as the CIO moving forward. It happens frequently to my colleagues and to other people in these roles. But it had never happened to me, so it was a bit of a life-changing experience. I came to consulting because I could. For the first time, I was at a point in my life where all of my children are adults. I could travel if I wanted to, and I felt like I could bring my experience to bear for other organizations.
To answer your question, I think the consulting experience made me a better CIO. First of all, I did a lot of reflection on why I was no longer with the prior organization. Once I stepped away, it was easy to see where I could improve and do better.
I had the opportunity to work with some great CIOs and some not so great CIOs as a consultant. But I can tell you, I learned from each and every one of those CIOs, and was able to take things with me to the next engagement. The consulting path isn’t for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think it really brought a lot of value and helped me be stronger in my role now.
Gamble: It’s really interesting. When you’re in a position — and most of us have been — where it’s decided that you’re not the best candidate for a certain role, I’m sure it’s hard not to take that personally, but instead to have the perspective that it was just this wasn’t the right fit?
Sypek: Right. For me, it was absolutely a gift. I might not have left; I might have continued to be frustrated in that role if that hadn’t happened. Of course, I was hurt by it and disappointed. I’ve always taken pride of my teams, and I had a great team at that organization.
But you have to be able to step away from that. You have to take what you can from the organization and reflect on, ‘Where could I have done better? Why didn’t the CEO know the challenges we faced in IT?’ I took it as a gift, ultimately. I think my time in consulting was a gift as well. And it let me to Chapters, which has been a great experience.
Gamble: As far as your leadership philosophy, obviously these things evolve and change over time, but how would you characterize it? What do you try to convey to your team?
Sypek: It’s interesting because in the last year or so, my team has grown. Initially I had responsibility for all of IT, including the security function and things like that. But in the last year, I’ve added our enterprise project management office, corporate communications, and facilities and real estate management. When you take this on, you start to wonder, is my leadership approach going to work for those areas the way it has for IT? At this point, I can say that it really does.
Years ago, someone I worked with or talked to introduced me to Colin Powell’s leadership philosophy, and I remember thinking, ‘I follow that same approach.’ From my perspective, it’s about preparation, hard work, and learning from failures. That’s what leads to success. All of us in IT can point to distinct challenges in our career that we learned from and were able to apply going forward, and it ensured our success as we went along. That’s what I try to apply.
The other thing is realizing your team is the most important thing. Ensuring my team’s highest priority needs are being met and ensuring that we have employee engagement across all of those teams is critical. It’s a continuous challenge to communicate with them at the level they need, and to care about them as individuals, but that’s critical to being successful in IT. It’s about meeting their needs and making sure they have the training that they need to be successful and grow. They’re always hungry to learn new things, and so I’ve tried to focus on my employees, and the rest sort of follows.
Gamble: That makes sense. When we talked earlier about the vendor selection process, you mentioned that the EHR market is still somewhat immature when it comes to home health and palliative care. When you look at where the industry is headed, do you think it’s moving in the right direction in terms of focusing on the care continuum and not just on episodic care?
Sypek: Right. I’m going to borrow from my CEO, who has said that we’re actually uniquely positioned to deal with the move toward value-based care. Hospice, since its inception, has been based on an interdisciplinary team evaluating the patient’s needs and ensuring they have a quality experience, that health across our patient population is improving or that the quality of their life is what they want it to be, and ultimately, doing that for a specific reimbursement and reducing healthcare costs. We’re uniquely positioned to do that. We’re experienced in ensuring we provide the best care at the right cost, and in the right setting. We’re there, and I think we can help inform a lot of what’s happening further upstream in the care continuum.
The other difference is that I came from the northeast, where integrated health systems tend to have everything across the entire care continuum. It’s much more siloed in Florida, but we’re starting to evolve more and partner more with other organizations. That’s where we’re going. I think that’s where all of healthcare is going, but we have a unique history in this type of care that really will help.
Gamble: It’s interesting to watch all of this develop. It seems we’re going to reach a period soon — or maybe we already have — where things start to evolve more quickly in that direction.
Gamble: The last thing I wanted to talk about is taking time to give back or do volunteer work. What have you gained from the experience, and why has it been important to you in the past?
Sypek: It’s still important to me, and I wish I had more time to give back. I truly look forward to a time when I’m not in a role like this and where I can give back a lot more. Years ago, when my kids were in elementary school and high school, there were opportunities to volunteer in settings like education and athletics. It reminded me of why I was in the type of role I was in, because I just wanted to rework everything that everyone was doing in the PTA and those types of organizations. I remember thinking, ‘You can’t run an organization like this.’
When you ask how that informed me as a leader, I would say it reminded me that I’m not always the leader. Sometimes we need to step back and participate, and collaborate, and understand that someone else is leading. That, of course, informs your leadership.
One thing I’ve always done is try to look for ways to give back. Healthcare has always been near and dear to my heart — taking care of people and organizations. All of those things are bigger than the work we do. The work we do is critical, but giving back to your community or to cancer research or whatever it is you choose to do, reminds you that the world is a little bigger than where we are and where we’re working at the time.
Gamble: That’s a really great way to put it. Well, there’s always more we could talk about, but I should let you go. Thank you so much for your time; I’ve really enjoyed our discussion.
Sypek: Thank you, Kate. I appreciated the time.
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