HL20: Nancy M. Schlichting—Leadership for the Organization and the Community

Jim Molpus, December 13, 2012

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Nancy M. Schlichting.

This profile was published in the December, 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

 "We have also built and doubled the size of the organization, but you make some very hard choices. It is not just what you do but how you do it."

As visionary as he was, auto pioneer Henry Ford could not have dreamed in 1915 when he financed and built the hospital bearing his name in Detroit that in another century it would be his healthcare system—not just his automaker and its brethren—at the table leading the rebirth of a region hit hard by the loss of more than a million jobs.

This year, the Detroit Regional Chamber elected Henry Ford Health System CEO Nancy M. Schlichting as its chairman for the year. While Henry Ford Health system ranks eighth in the chamber's list of largest employers in the region behind the Big Three automakers, healthcare is one of the industries that region is looking to for leadership out of its economic woes. Schlichting appreciated the symbolism of her appointment.

"They have never had a healthcare system leader do that," she says. "It has always been the big autos and banks. It's kind of symbolic of the role that healthcare is playing in the Detroit community."

Henry Ford would have been proud to have Schlichting leading his health system. After joining the health system in 1998 as chief administrative officer, she quickly assumed the top leadership role in 2003. Since then she has reinvented the culture at Henry Ford around solid fundamentals of performance and quality, all while keeping a close eye on changes in the healthcare marketplace and the Detroit area in particular. She created a culture built around careful accountability and measurable improvement, culminating in the 2011 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. During her tenure the $4 billion, five-hospital health system started an audacious "No Harm" campaign with the goal of reducing all causes of patient and employee harm by 50% in three years. In 2010, she oversaw the creation of the Henry Ford Physician Network to tie Henry Ford's 1,200-member employed physician group and another 1,700 affiliated providers into a single ACO-style regional network for clinical integration and quality.

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