President’s message: Thank you for 20 years of growth and friendship
It’s a cliché to say much has changed in the past 20 years but listening to Alan Jackson singing, “Where Were You” Sept. 11, 2021, in Wells Fargo Arena, it was impossible not to think about where I was on Sept. 11, 2001, and all the waters that we have navigated since then.
Over the past 20 years, Iowa’s health care system, led by Iowa’s hospitals, has witnessed an extraordinary renewal of infrastructure and successful redesign efforts. To name a few, IHA bringing greater equity to Medicare, rewriting the certificate-of-need statute, expanding Medicaid, establishing a new rural hospital payment option and providing an unparalleled data resource that brings even greater sustainability to our health system.
Our health care system and hospitals also have witnessed the destabilizing effects of natural disasters, the pandemic, government misuse of appropriations like Medicaid managed care and workforce shortages. Although these shortages are cyclical, today we also face a crisis of resilience. The relentlessness of the pandemic, the failure of many to follow public health requests and politicians’ desires to create wedge issues from the same public health measures that save lives all converge to test the spirit and commitment of the entire health care workforce.
In Des Moines, the neighborhood near the river that used to be referred to as the “southeast bottoms” could be the face of the health care professional workforce of tomorrow. First and second-generation Americans are the students that now predominate the school bus stops. They wait for their bus equipped with smartphones, digital notebooks and tablets. Nothing like 40 years ago, when political canvassers went to that same neighborhood to round up voters because no one had phones.
Traditional recruitment and retention strategies will need redesigning to attract these younger Iowans into professions like health care. Hospitals will need programs fostering employee “ownership” and commitment to the success of the entire organization as well as providing individual satisfaction with professional growth. These programs must invite and seek substantive input from employees about workflow, care protocols and scheduling, all of which have historically been the province of management.
Although currents have often been challenging since 9/11, hospitals remain a constant. The quality of life and economic vitality of communities is directly influenced by the presence of hospitals. The need for politicians to internalize the importance of vibrant community hospitals is another constant. This will only happen when an engaged, mobilized and unified health care community makes it a priority. Unification of the message only happens when the IHA board endorses a position, and a strategy is coordinated and supported through IHA.
Leading provides many privileges, and it’s been my great privilege to lead the representation of Iowa’s community hospitals for nearly 20 years as I was appointed to the interim CEO position just a couple of months after 9/11. It’s been an even greater privilege to build relationships within and outside of IHA that have benefited Iowa’s hospitals and allowed me to sustain invaluable personal and professional relationships that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. My greatest evaluations perhaps have come from the thank you notes from children of IHA members after board retreats. My favorite was the thank you note for the allotted “spending money.” It said it was just what they needed to buy a slingshot!
Nonetheless, Annette’s and my greatest contribution to health care over the past 20 years is through our two daughters. We’ve watched and supported them as they pursued health care professions and achieved their doctorates in nursing practice. Now they are compassionately serving our fellow Iowans, and we couldn’t be prouder.
Yes, a lot of water has flowed, and it will continue.