Af­ter 25 years, Ryan ends reign at SSM

Modern Healthcare - - Front Page - Paul Barr

Sis­ter Mary Jean Ryan steps down from top job at SSM

As Sis­ter Mary Jean Ryan of­fi­cially steps away from an op­er­a­tional role at SSM Health Care, she and her col­leagues say the St. Louis-based sys­tem is ready to thrive with­out her. Ryan, the leader of SSM since its for­ma­tion in 1986 and now 73, has be­come one of the few re­main­ing nuns in a CEO role at a health­care sys­tem and is known as a na­tional ad­vo­cate for im­prov­ing health­care qual­ity. She was sched­uled to give up her role as CEO on Aug. 1 and re­main as chair of the 14-hos­pi­tal sys­tem, a move that was first made pub­lic in July 2009.

“She’s re­ally been a great, great as­set to not only her own sys­tem but to all of Catholic health­care and (to) health­care in gen­eral,” said Sis­ter Carol Kee­han, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Catholic Health As­so­ci­a­tion. “She will be missed per­son­ally a great deal,’’ Kee­han said, adding, though, that “the or­ga­ni­za­tion will do very, very well.’’

Mov­ing into the role of CEO is Bill Thompson, cur­rently pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, and also a long­time em­ployee, hav­ing worked there since 1980. Thompson said he is look­ing for­ward to hav­ing Ryan work as board chair while he is CEO. “We’re very com­mit­ted to the same things,” he said. “Mary Jean will be a very valu­able ad­viser to me per­son­ally” and to the sys­tem as a whole.

Ryan, de­scribed by SSM’s own in-house news pub­li­ca­tion as “sub­ject to be­ing, at times gruff and de­mand­ing and stub­born,” was warm and pos­i­tive about the prospects for SSM go­ing for­ward if less so re­gard­ing Congress’ ac­tions in health­care. “I am al­ways enor­mously proud of our em­ploy­ees,” Ryan said. “I have had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with the best team in health­care as far as I m con­cerned. I’ve had it good and great in so many ways, most of which I had noth­ing to do with,” she said.

In ad­di­tion to acting as chair of SSM, Ryan will chair SSM’s six re­gional and divi­sional boards, and will con­tinue to travel the globe dis­cussing SSM’s ef­forts to im­prove qual­ity.

Be­cause she has taken a vow of poverty as a nun, Ryan’s salary has been paid to her re­li­gious or­der, the Fran­cis­can Sis­ters of Mary. SSM de­clined to re­lease how much the sis­ter’s or­der re­ceived for her em­ploy­ment but said it is in­cluded in a ser­vice con­tract paid to the or­der for the work of all its mem­bers work­ing at SSM. In 2009, the con­tract was worth $1.9 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to SSM’s tax fil­ing with the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice.

Her re­tire­ment from an op­er­a­tional role fur- ther re­duces the ranks of Catholic nuns in CEO roles. Among those re­main­ing is Sis­ter Ju­dith Ann Karam, a mem­ber of the Sis­ters of Char­ity of St. Au­gus­tine who is pres­i­dent and CEO of the Sis­ters of Char­ity Health Sys­tem, Cleve­land. Karam, who was un­avail­able for com­ment be­cause she was trav­el­ing, has headed the fourhos­pi­tal sys­tem since 1998 and has no plans to re­tire, ac­cord­ing to a spokes­woman. She de­clined to pro­vide Karam’s age.

Kee­han said the Catholic health­care com­mu­nity has been pre­par­ing for the loss of nuns as top lead­ers since the 1980s. “They’ve had a 30-year head start” in pre­par­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions and lead­ers to con­tinue the ap­proaches of re­li­gious lead­ers in health­care, she said.

Ryan, though, noted one dif­fer­ence be­tween a nun such as her­self and lay health­care CEOs: Re­li­gious lead­ers do not have a fam­ily to re­turn to at the end of the day. “This was our life,” she said. Nonethe­less, Ryan said she an­tic­i­pates no prob­lems for health­care as a re­sult of los­ing nuns in up­per man­age­ment.

Qual­ity has be­come what SSM and Ryan are known for, and she was at the helm in 2002 when SSM was the first health­care win­ner of the Mal­colm Baldrige Na­tional Qual­ity Award. Ryan said the Baldrige award it­self is less im­por­tant than the process of ap­ply­ing, and as such, SSM is giv­ing it an­other go.

Among its ben­e­fits is that it is a great process for in­tegrity. “If you want to say some­thing (as part of the ap­pli­ca­tion), you’re go­ing to want to be able to back that up,” Ryan said.

SSM also was an early adopter of elec­tronic health records, be­gin­ning the process of in­stalling a $400 mil­lion, cor­po­rate-wide EHR sys­tem in March 2008 (Dec. 15, 2008, p. 10).

The sys­tem is un­der­go­ing other changes in lead­er­ship. Jim Sanger, pres­i­dent and CEO of the seven-hos­pi­tal St. Louis re­gion of SSM and a sys­tem vice pres­i­dent for SSM over­all, an­nounced last month that he would re­tire af­ter more than 14 years with the sys­tem. Chris Howard, re­gional pres­i­dent and sys­tem vice pres­i­dent of SSM Health Care of Ok­la­homa, was named last week as Sanger’s re­place­ment.

SSM is in strong fi­nan­cial shape, ac­cord­ing to fi­nan­cial doc­u­ments. SSM fin­ished 2010 with a to­tal profit of $248 mil­lion on to­tal op­er­at­ing rev­enue of $3 bil­lion, pro­duc­ing a mar­gin of 8.2%. That’s down from 2009 when it posted a to­tal profit of $356 mil­lion on to­tal op­er­at­ing rev­enue of $2.9 bil­lion, pro­duc­ing a mar­gin of 12.3%. Amid a ro­bust en­vi­ron­ment for merg­ers and ac­qui­si­tions, Thompson said the sys­tem is will­ing to look at buy­ing hos­pi­tals as op­por­tu­ni­ties arise. Ryan said a large part of SSM’s fi­nan­cial suc­cess can be at­trib­uted to its pro­ces­sim­prove­ment ef­forts. Now, she said, the or­ga­ni­za­tion must look for ways to boost rev­enue, rather than cut costs. “We can’t keep cut­ting, cut­ting, cut­ting de­spite what Congress seems to think,” she said.

Congress’ ap­proach to health­care re­form re­ceived less than a ring­ing en­dorse­ment from Ryan. “Their first goal was re­ally to re­duce cost,” she said. “They’ve in­sti­tuted the stick, not the car­rot, (though) I guess there’s a lit­tle bit of both,” she said.

Ryan sug­gested that a sin­gle-payer ap­proach would have done a bet­ter job of pro­vid­ing broader cov­er­age than the ver­sion of re­form that passed. “That’s a na­tional disgrace, re­ally, that we have all these peo­ple with­out in­surance,” she said.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF SSM HEALTH CARE Ryan, set to re­tire Aug. 1, fin­ishes a speech at the 2011 SSM Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence.

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