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New Nemours CEO a Self-Described 'Relationship Guy'

By Steven Porter  
   June 12, 2018

R. Lawrence Moss plans to bring his relational leadership style along with him when he moves this fall to Nemours from his current role as surgeon-in-chief at Nationwide.

The newly named top executive for Nemours Children's Health System, based in Jacksonville, Florida, says he plans to step into the job this fall with an open mind.

R. Lawrence Moss, MD, who has spent the past seven years as surgeon-in-chief for Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, says his top priority when he arrives for his first day at Nemours will be to listen and learn from the all-star team already in place, rather than showing up with an overly prescriptive strategy of his own.

Moss—who will take over October 1 for current President and CEO David Bailey, MD, who is retiring after more than two decades with the system and 12 years at its helm, as Nemours announced last week—tells HealthLeaders Media that his relational approach to empowering a team has worked well in the past and that he's excited to steer Nemours into the next stage of its legacy.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

HLM: Let's face it. You've got some pretty big shoes to fill. How should we expect you to compare to your predecessor? Do you expect to continue the trajectory Nemours is on?

Moss: I couldn't agree with you more about Dr. David Bailey. He has done a spectacular job, and it's not an exaggeration to say that he's been kind of one of my heroes in pediatric healthcare. Over the years, I've watched what he's done and watched his approach to complicated issues, and it's been very impressive.

My view of what Dr. Bailey and Nemours has accomplished over the past 13 years is that they've grown into a very significant member of the upper tier of pediatric healthcare institutions. The growth has been steady. It's been impressive. It's been geographically and culturally diverse. And my impression is that what the team has done has given the organization the opportunity to really make a quantum jump into the elite institutions in children's healthcare.

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Not only would my goal be to continue this trajectory. It would be to even build on and accelerate the growth, and I think that we can do some very special things as a multi-state multi-site pediatric health system, which puts us in unique territory.

HLM: When you say "accelerate," are you speaking to merger and acquisition strategies, growing in footprint and number of facilities?

Moss: To be clear, I haven't worked one day for Nemours yet, so the first thing I need to do for many months is to listen and learn from the associates about the organization, so I'm not coming in with specific operational objectives. I'm coming in with an overwhelmingly strong commitment to excellence, to academic success, and to making a real impact on the way that America looks at children's healthcare.

HLM: Moving from surgeon-in-chief to CEO will be a pretty significant change in terms of focusing not just on the clinical side but now really specializing in organizational strategy and finance. How do you plan to go about making that transition? What preparation have you gone through so far?

Moss: That's a good question. I guess I would suggest to you that it may not be quite as big of a transition as it might seem from afar.

I've been really blessed to have a multitude of opportunities and responsibilities at Nationwide Children's which have given me solid grounding in strategy and financial management and in operations. I give a huge amount of credit to my colleagues at my current institution that have taught me a great deal.

I don't think it's a huge stretch, and I think my approach to the transition of the increasing responsibility is to listen and learn. I'm very fortunate to be coming into a role where the senior executive team at Nemours is accomplished, they're talented, and they're wonderful people. I expect that they will teach me a lot, and I will learn and adapt to the role.

HLM: Which of those experiences at Nationwide do you see as most significant, most preparatory for your coming work as CEO?

Moss: I would say what's been most meaningful and impactful to me is my personal relationship with my colleagues. I would highlight that the department chairs who report to me are an outstanding group of people, and I've learned a great deal from those relationships.

The senior management team here at Nationwide is an outstanding group of accomplished professionals, and I've learned from every one of them. I'm a relationship guy. I've derived the most benefit from this experience from my relationships here.

HLM: How do you go about translating that to a new organization with a new set of people?

Moss: I think you listen and you learn, and you find out what makes those people tick, what they care about, what I can do to help them succeed.

If everybody on that senior management team at Nemours achieves their goals, we'll be in pretty good shape. My job is fundamentally to help all of those individuals achieve their goal.

HLM: What about you personally? When you talk about what makes people tick, I would imagine that someone with the work history that you've had might miss being able to perform surgeries. I'm guessing as CEO you will not be performing any surgeries.

Moss: I won't. And that was not an easy decision but the right decision for many reasons. What has always made me tick is helping kids. Whether it was the beginning of my career operating on one patient at a time, to a research program that could impact patients I'd never meet, to an educational program that would impact other docs who would continue to take care of those patients for generations, all the way up to running health systems, the core motivation is the same.

I think I would not just speak for myself but probably for the 8,000-plus associates at Nemours: That's why we get out of bed every day. I look at this job as just an even greater opportunity to help a lot of kids.

HLM: Whenever I speak with healthcare executives today, they typically tell me that this is not a fun time to be doing healthcare in terms of finances. So what's your plan to keep Nemours on solid financial footing?

Moss: I'll strongly disagree with you. I think this is the absolute best time in history to be doing this, a job like this. The core reason why I believe that is I think the country is finally ready to start looking at a system that actually pays for health instead of pays for volume of disease treatment, and that will be just a wonderful step forward for kids and for the entire country.

To be able to be at an institution that will be on the leading edge of that kind of change is just a dream come true for me. I couldn't be happier to be doing this job at this time.

HLM: It's my understanding that with nonprofit systems, especially, most of the revenue is still coming from the fee-for-service side, so there's some pain in making that transition, even if it's beneficial. Would you agree?

Moss: I'm going to shy away from the word "pain" because it's a positive transition. It's better for patients. It's better for doctors. It's better for the country's economy, and no transition is ever easier. But the end point is very exciting, and I'm very enthusiastic about it.

Any bumps in the road we have getting there are just bumps in the road on the way to something great.

HLM: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

Moss: I guess I'll come back and emphasize one more time that I think right now is an absolutely spectacular time in American healthcare, and we have the opportunity to make the kind of changes that we've never had before in history.

What attracts me most to Nemours is that the organization is poised to truly be a leader in defining what a children's health system is in American society and what we can do for kids in the coming generations. And that is very exciting to me.

“I think this is the absolute best time in history to be doing this, a job like this.”

Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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