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Cottage Hospital CEO on Her First 90 Days

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   July 29, 2021

Holly McCormack, MSN, who previously served as the rural hospital's CNO, shares her goals and upcoming initiatives as CEO.

Holly McCormack, MSN has worked at Cottage Hospital, a Level IV trauma center and 35-bed critical access hospital, based in Woodsville, New Hampshire, for more than a decade and has worked in healthcare for more than two decades.

Following the resignation of the former rural hospital CEO Maria Ryan earlier this year, McCormack was chosen to serve as interim CEO, and then permanently installed as CEO in April.

McCormack, who said she will complete her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in December, recently spoke with HealthLeaders about how the previous CEO set her up for success, how her background as a nurse helps her lead, and what she hopes to accomplish in her new leadership position.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

HealthLeaders: How did your previous role as CNO prepare you to lead the hospital?

Holly McCormack: The CNO role is just so rich with quality and operational experience, and those things are so important to leading the whole organization. You have the fiscal accountability for the areas that you're responsible for, and for me, that was a majority of the hospital already. I understood the finances in those areas, and I understood the quality indicators.

Also, having been at Cottage Hospital for 11 years, it was an advantage to already know the staff, know what's important to the community, and know strategically what makes sense for our organization.

HL: What succession planning was in place to ensure a successful transition at Cottage?

McCormack: My predecessor knew that I one day would be interested in being the CEO of an organization and she always encouraged me to prepare myself for that. She provided me a lot of experiences with various leadership groups even prior to deciding to leave the organization.

She and I met with each department leader in the organization so that we could do a handoff and know what's important to them and what they would like new the CEO coming on to know.

Before I became the permanent CEO, I was named the interim CEO, and so there was an overlap. That gave us a chance to work together, for me to have some experience, but also have her here to ask about the history behind [processes], or why a decision was made. It was a great way to set me up to be successful.

HL: What current pain points are you looking forward to addressing as CEO?

McCormack: One of the things that are difficult right now are workforce issues. It just seems that all hospitals in this area are vying for the same employees. We all have vacancies in our hospitals and we find it difficult to fill them. [However,] that is also an opportunity and so that's something that I've started a few initiatives working with the local colleges and with the local high school so that we can start preparing for our future workforce. It might not solve the problem today but hopefully, it'll pay off in dividends in the future.

We [hosted] what I'm calling a ‘healthcare careers exploration camp’ at the hospital for some local high school students. Each day they [had] a couple of presenters talk about various job opportunities within the hospital and then [had] some observational time too.

We [provided] a well-rounded view of what you can do when you work in a hospital. Even if you're somebody who doesn't want to be right at the bedside taking care of patients, we want them to know all opportunities that are out there.

This exploration camp is geared towards sophomores going into junior year or juniors going into senior year, because we know they're thinking about whether they're going to go to college or not, what type of school they'd like to go to, so we're aiming it right at that group because I think that's going to be important.

We're also working with another local college to provide an education for an LNA program and we're looking at starting our own LNA program because that's the job category that we really need here in the hospital. We're working with the colleges to make sure that we have the students here as part of their experience.

It's important for [students] to be able to spend time in a rural community hospital and see the amazing things that we do here. Our building is smaller than they're used to for a hospital and I think they might equate that with the work here not being as exciting or challenging, and what they find is that it is. Our community still needs us, and we provide all the services that they need. [Students] can get great experiences here and it's rewarding to take care of your community.

HL: How would you describe your leadership style? How does your background as a nurse help you lead?

McCormack: I have this natural, authentic leadership style. For authentic leaders, integrity and transparency are important. Authentic leaders are known to put their heart and soul into what they're doing. I am here and I lead this organization because I believe in it, I love it, and I want it to be successful. Those characteristics naturally lent themselves to my nursing career as well. I wanted to help people, I wanted to be there for them. You always hear about nurses being the most ethical profession, and so I think those things go hand in hand.

There's a natural leadership that comes with the nursing profession through the process of delegation and that function of nursing. I started my career as a nursing assistant, then a nurse, then a charge nurse, followed by a manager, and then I became a director. I followed the natural chain of progression over the years through my nursing career and that led me to this CEO position because I wanted to make a larger mark on what I was doing.

HL: What upcoming initiatives in your organization are you excited about pursuing?

McCormack: Because it's early in this new position, I'm in my first 90 days, I'm assessing the community and seeing what our needs are. I am doing some analysis and feasibility studies about what we need to bring to this community. We know that in healthcare, there's this large focus on promoting the health of our community and being aware of those social determinants of health, but also, looking at strategically what outpatient service lines make sense for us to have as a hospital.

One thing we have in place here already that's helped address some of the mental health crises in the state of New Hampshire is our Ray of Hope Geriatric Behavioral Health unit. That's a great example of something that not only the community needed, but our state needed.

Continuing with that mindset, I want to take time to see what it is our community needs and then make sure it makes sense for a hospital, and then move forward.

Related: Cottage Hospital CFO Recaps HealthLeaders Spring CFO Exchange

Related: How Rural Hospitals and Health Systems Should Approach Succession Planning

“I followed the natural chain of progression over the years through my nursing career, and that led me to this CEO position because I wanted to make a larger mark on what I was doing.”

Melanie Blackman is a contributing editor for strategy, marketing, and human resources at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Cottage Hospital located in Woodsville, New Hampshire. Photo courtesy of Cottage Hospital.

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