When Tom Kurtz was interviewing for the position of CIO at Memorial Healthcare, it was made clear if he accepted the role, he’d be spearheading a major EHR transformation. But instead of balking at the idea — which would have been understandable, with this being his first foray into healthcare — Kurtz seized the opportunity to “help guide the organization.”
Five years later, Memorial has an integrated platform in place, something that has certainly come in handy in battling the myriad challenges stemming from Covid-19. Recently, Kurtz spoke with healthsystemCIO about his team’s multipronged strategy to maintain care continuity during the pandemic, the hurdles they faced implementing an EHR during a period of significant growth, and the tremendous pride in being an independent hospital.
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- Knowing that Memorial Health was about to go through an EHR system selection was a “motivator” for Kurtz, as was the organization’s “vision to become a model of excellence.”
- A key factor in making the adjustment from higher education to healthcare was in having “a team you can rely on to ask questions” — and spell out acronyms.
- One of the CIO’s most important objectives should be ensuring that “everyone on the team has the ability to continue their learning.”
- Technological knowledge is important in future leaders, but what’s even more crucial is “understanding the direction of the organization.”
Gamble: When you took on the CIO role, I imagine you knew the organization was planning an EHR migration at some point. Was that a motivator for you as far as taking on this role?
Kurtz: It was. It was a motivator for me to be able to help guide the organization through the system selection process. To lead that implementation was a motivator for me, but the biggest motivator for me to join Memorial Healthcare was the vision of our organization. And that vision is to become a model of excellence in personalized healthcare and looking at what can we do to become a world class community hospital — to take care of our patients in the best way possible with the highest level of quality, safety, and patient satisfaction? That goal, that path, and that vision for us organizationally was made very clear during the interview process. Being from the community and having worked in the community for several years and knowing the direction of the organization is what really drove me to want to pursue this position.
Gamble: So you were certainly familiar with the community, but this was your first foray into healthcare?
Kurtz: Yes. I spent 15 years in higher education before coming into healthcare; that was a pretty significant jump from one industry to another. Obviously, the technology is the technology, but the way it’s implemented — the reason it’s implemented — is very different. The industry itself is obviously quite unique; and learning everything from the terminology all the way through the payment models, the national healthcare landscape, and the initiatives to value-based reimbursement and population health and the next steps in going to that continuity of care across accountable care organizations — learning that process was a big jump coming from higher education into healthcare. But it has been an incredibly enlightening, incredibly powerful journey for me, and I have loved every minute of being in healthcare.
Gamble: It has to be a steep learning curve. How were you able to get to know the unique nuances of healthcare, but also get comfortable with this role and get to know the organization?
Kurtz: That’s a great question. I would say the single biggest way I was able to jump into that role was by being surrounded by an extremely talented and strong team. We have a tremendous executive team and leadership team across this organization that has brought experience from several different healthcare systems, large and small, across the country to our community hospital. Having the strength and the experience of this executive team has really helped that transition become seamless.
Having a team that you can rely upon to ask questions, learning from others, and immersing yourself into the environment itself and that quest for continual life-long education and that continual learning process — all of that is made easier by having a strong executive team around you.
Gamble: I can imagine it’s absolutely critical being able and willing to really learn from people and ask a lot of questions.
Kurtz: It’s the same type of experience when working with a community board, and working with those community board members that might have the same transition issues I did from going from higher education to healthcare. It’s making sure acronyms are explained appropriately and different terminology is explained appropriately to ensure that people have the ultimate understanding of what the conversation actually is.
There those times when I jumped into this role and had to ask, ‘What is that acronym? What is that term? What are we talking about here? Having a team that’s willing to absolutely sit down, educate, help learn, and make sure everyone’s at the same level of understanding — that was extremely helpful. That team has been great during the five years I’ve been here.
Gamble: In terms of your background in academics, how has that helped you in your current role?
Kurtz: I think my background in academics has helped in a number of ways, from the research we can do throughout different system selection processes and strategic planning sessions, to the varied experience I had in higher education moving from a healthcare program to a technology program to a business program to working with students from different programs and with different career goals. I think that varied experience helped me adapt to new healthcare environment.
I loved the educational aspect of it. I am a lifelong learner. I continue to teach; I continue to be an adjunct at a couple of different institutions and continue to strive to have that long-term vision of continual education.
Gamble: How do you try to instill in your team love of education in your team and ensure they’re continuously learning?
Kurtz: I think it’s extraordinarily important to make sure that everyone on the team has that ability to continue their learning, to make sure we’re doing what we need to do to be successful from strategic planning, to execution of different projects, to operations.
The biggest thing is to be continually successful in our independence. We’ve been an independent healthcare system for 99 years; we’re 6 months away from our 100th anniversary. How do we continue to be successful and make sure we take advantage of every program? How do we make sure we’re competing appropriately with our other partners and organizations and make sure we’re putting together a group of service lines that meet the needs of our community, and offering a holistic approach to ensuring we’re at the top of our game? That’s what it will take for us to remain independent for the next 100 years.
Gamble: It’s really refreshing to hear that. You see the constant movement in the industry, and I think it’s so important to have pride in being a community provider.
Kurtz: It is. And I don’t think it’s anything about being stubborn. We have many different partners. We have several healthcare systems surrounding us that help and assist in providing care to patients in our community that we can’t provide. We’re not going to be doing open hearts at Memorial Healthcare, but we do have great relationships with other healthcare systems that do that best.
For us, the path to independence is a continual path of interdependence to ensure we are working well with all of our healthcare partners around us and around our community, and to ensure we have great relationships for those advanced levels of care that we’re not able to provide at a community hospital.
Gamble: The last thing I wanted to ask is, when you look at the people who you consider to be really important on your team and those who have potential, what qualities are most important? What do you look for in future leaders?
Kurtz: I think there are many, and not all of them involve technical ability or skill. A lot of it is cultural fit. A lot of it is understanding the direction of the organization and working hard to ensure they’re doing everything in their power to work collaboratively and help the organization get there.
Across our organization, one of the things we focus on strongly is the engagement of our employees in the mission and vision of our organization. And that doesn’t mean satisfaction. That employee engagement means making sure everyone is rowing in the same direction; that we have an eye on our strategic objectives and our targets.
Our strategic objectives are very clear and very easy to understand. I’m working with my team to ensure everyone knows exactly how they can contribute to those strategic objectives, and how it ultimately results in high-quality, high-safety inpatient care is very important. Making sure every team member has an understanding of how they contribute to the ultimate goal is how we work to build a strong engaged team.
Gamble: Well said. It sounds like you have a great team and there’s a great spirit around the mission and vision there.
Kurtz: There is, and it’s something we really don’t want to lose focus of. We are going through extraordinarily challenging times — politically, socially, and through the changes in the healthcare system. And so making sure we all still understand the ultimate responsibility we have to take care of our patients and make sure everyone is aligned with our goals and objectives to continually improve that level of patient care — to not lose sight of that is important, particularly in these challenging times.
Gamble: For sure. Well, that’s about it. I want thank you for your time. I’ve really enjoyed this. I definitely would like to speak again down the road.
Kurtz: That would be fantastic.