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Improving Care Quality, Access: This Health System CEO’s Mission

Laura S. Kaiser, FACHE, leads a large, multistate health system. She strives to never lose sight of her focus on meeting the needs of the individuals in each of her organization’s communities.

Kaiser is president/CEO of SSM Health, an integrated health system with services in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. She is responsible for operations at 24 hospitals with more than 5,300 licensed beds, as well as more than 300 medical group locations. In 2018, Modern Healthcare named her one of the “100 Most Influential People in Healthcare.” Kaiser came to SSM Health in May 2017 from Intermountain Healthcare, where she had served as executive vice president/COO. Previously, she held various senior leadership roles with Ascension Health.

Kaiser recently spoke with Eric Ford, PhD, editor of the Journal of Healthcare Management, about improving care quality and access. Their conversation, edited here for length and clarity, is published on the JHM website.

Dr. Ford: How can health systems make care more affordable while also improving quality and access to services?

Ms. Kaiser: Cost, quality and access are absolutely interconnected. It is impossible for me to separate them because all three must be in place to provide the healthcare that people need. As a Catholic healthcare organization, we believe every person deserves access to high-quality, compassionate care. However, that care will continue to be a challenge if healthcare maintains its cost-intensive trajectory. Therefore, making care affordable is central to our mission.

We are concerned about the sustainability of healthcare as it approaches 20% of our nation’s gross domestic product. Creating a more affordable and sustainable health system is requiring significant redesign of our care platforms. At SSM Health, we are leveraging innovative technology, processes and practices to increase convenience and reduce cost, and we are tirelessly advocating for payment reform to ensure providers are paid for delivering both acute and preventive care. We are also focused on reducing waste. A few years ago, a PBS documentary called Money and Medicine attributed roughly 40% of the cost in healthcare to waste. If we all could tackle that problem, our health system would be more affordable for everyone.

Dr. Ford: Does SSM Health’s participation in the accountable care organization program support your efforts to improve healthcare?

Ms. Kaiser: Yes, it is one of the ways we are trying to be creative and innovative. I know many of my colleagues across the country are doing the same, partnering with patients and with other providers to help patients be as healthy as possible.

Dr. Ford: Public health is an area of interest for many hospital leaders. Can you tell us a bit about the metrics you apply to your outreach efforts that allow you to confirm their effectiveness?

Ms. Kaiser: Although there are a lot of data on how economic and social conditions can influence the health of individuals and communities, it is very difficult to use a single metric to capture the entire picture. Our community health needs assessments provide good snapshots. ZIP codes also give a sense of the percentage of uninsured residents, along with demographic information regarding age, gender and household income. Those indicate where there are health needs and which metrics can be used to move the needle. As a specific patient example, our medical group providers track the stability of their patients’ blood sugar levels, which is a good indicator of how well their diabetes is being managed. This helps patients and their providers work together as partners to manage diabetes and minimize the development of serious complications and visits to the ED.

Dr. Ford: Considering the importance of your various endeavors, how do you guide SSM Health toward its mission?

Ms. Kaiser: It starts with our foundational mission of “providing exceptional healthcare to reveal the healing presence of God.” The mission is translated into the strategic direction that charts our course, and it infuses the entire team with purposeful urgency and accountability. With those key elements in place, SSM Health is striving to reach its potential and serve those who count on us every day.


Looking for more information on strategies to achieve enhanced patient care? Kaiser will be co-presenting “Masters Series Session 1: Masters of Care Delivery,” at  Congress for Healthcare Leadership, March 23-26, 2020. This blog post is excerpted and adapted from an interview originally published in the January/February 2019 issue of the Journal of Healthcare Management. ACHE members: Sign in to read the full articleNot a member? Join today.

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