‘If you have a great team, you can figure out just about any complicated problem’
On Oct. 17, Dr. A. Marc Harrison started his run as president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare. The Salt Lake City-based integrated delivery network—which generated $6.1 billion in revenue last year, operates 22 hospitals, employs 1,400 physicians and offers health plans through an insurance subsidiary—is widely recognized as an innovator in technology and care delivery. Harrison worked at Intermountain’s Primary Children’s Hospital while completing his residency and internship. Before returning to Intermountain to succeed longtime leader Dr. Charles Sorenson, Harrison spent more than a decade with the Cleveland Clinic, including as CEO of its hospital in Abu Dhabi. Modern Healthcare Managing Editor Gregg Blesch recently spoke with Harrison about managing population health, running a hospital in Abu Dhabi and building personal connections in a large health system. This following is an edited transcript.
Modern Healthcare: A video Intermountain posted to introduce you shows you biking through some breathtaking landscapes in Utah and offering a testimonial about living well. How do you view your public role now that health systems are increasingly called on to manage population health?
Dr. A. Marc Harrison: That was pretty high up there, and what you couldn’t see is I was going up a really steep hill. My heart rate was probably about 180 as I was trying to ride up that mountain.
I accept the fact that part of my job is to be a role model for living well and for taking good care of myself as an example of how people should take care of themselves. Now, I’m far from perfect, right? I’ve been known to have an occasional hamburger and French fries and that’s because I’m human, but I do try—particularly as a person who’s a cancer survivor—to think carefully about making sure that I make the most of every day, both physically, emotionally and spiritually. And part of that is exercise, diet and integrating my work in my life.
MH: Take us back to 2010. You were working at the Cleveland Clinic. They were about to open this huge gleaming hospital in Abu Dhabi, and you get chosen as its first CEO.
Harrison: I was chief medical operations officer at the Cleveland Clinic, so I was responsible for integrating the health system and some performance management stuff, and I was responsible for starting some new businesses and running a large part of the clinical operations. I was actually very happy in that job and loved it. And Dr. Cosgrove, who was the CEO and still is the CEO there, came and asked me if I might be interested in joining the team in Abu Dhabi.
There had actually been a fair amount of turnover at the top of the organization in Abu Dhabi, and it was a project with enormous promise, but it was having a little bit of trouble getting its feet under itself. I took the opportunity to not only grow professionally but to serve an organization that I loved dearly and had been good to my family and to me.
It wasn’t a gleaming hospital when I went over. In fact, it was a team of 35 people in an unfinished, not even topped-off steel structure on a sandy island that had not really been developed. Over a five-year period, we turned that into a 3,500-person organization with representation from 70 countries at the 3 million-square-foot building, and delivered tertiary, quaternary care in that time frame.
MH: Were most of the patients traveling from all over the Middle East and Africa, or was a local community served?
Harrison: We really had three big missions there. The first was to allow people who lived in the UAE, and Abu Dhabi specifically, to stay close to home for their healthcare. The second was to add new capability to the market, and the third was to train healthcare leaders for
“Part of my job is to be a role model for living well and for taking good care of myself as an example of how people should take care of themselves.”