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St. Joe's Ann Arbor President Aims for Patient Accessibility to Be 'Differentiator'

By Jack O'Brien  
   January 24, 2019

Bill Manns says health systems who can resolve the access conundrum for patients do the best from a market share and community perspective.

Bill Manns, MHSA, attended graduate school at the University of Michigan and lived in an apartment complex about a half a mile from St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Livingston.

Manns then spent numerous years working in executive positions at both Trinity Health and Ascension Health.

In 2005, he left to serve as COO of Alameda Health System in Oakland, California, where he led a $23.1 million financial turnaround for the organization.

Manns returned to the Wolverine State in 2013 to work as president of Mercy Health St. Mary's in Grand Rapids. While in charge, Manns led a cultural transformation, implemented an evidence-based selection process for patients, and hired more employees from communities of color.

In October 2018, Manns became president of St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Livingston, owned by Trinity Health. He spoke to HealthLeaders about the challenges and opportunities he sees at the organization and offers advice for aspiring healthcare executives.

The following transcript has been lightly edited.

HealthLeaders: What are some of the strengths that your system exudes and some of the obstacles in your new role?

Manns: In terms of strengths, we recently achieved a top 50 cardiac hospital award. We also recently opened a new cancer center, the $24 million expansion. [What's] fascinating from our perspective is that you can see the intentionality that went into the design of the cancer center. All the services are oriented around the patient.

I've been in a number of different systems and hospitals, and to see the intentional nature of the design was pretty impressive. I like the culture here; you quickly get a sense of the culture as you go into organizations and this is definitely a strong and collaborative culture.

Personally and professionally, I'm kind of a Lean nerd. I think there are plenty of opportunities to drive out waste in healthcare. We're no different than many healthcare organizations in that regard, but I can tell you that's going to be my main focus over the next several years.

HL: What are some trends that you and other CEOs you've been in conversation with are focusing on in 2019?

Manns: The first one is the notion of access. I think we need to do a better job of meeting the patients where they are and ensuring that they can access our health systems on their terms. In some cases, it's telemedicine. In other cases, it's ensuring that we have appropriate hours to allow patients to get into our services when they want as opposed to when it's convenient for us.

HL: When you look at your market in western Michigan compared to the Bay Area, what are some of the biggest differences in terms of opportunities or challenges that it affords you as an organization?

Manns: Without giving away too many trade secrets, the health systems that were able to resolve the access conundrum were the systems that did the best from a market share perspective, a community perspective, and from an overall cultural feel [regarding] the accessibility of that health system to the community. For me, coming to other markets you see a myriad of area systems that are struggling with access and that's going to be a differentiator for us in Ann Arbor.

HL: What has it been like meeting with your other executives in the C-suite, and how important is culture to the success of an organization?

Manns: I'm a huge proponent of the need for a strong and cohesive leadership team. What I have found here is that we've got a lot of talented executives, and part of my responsibility is to ensure that we're firing on all cylinders.

I don't foresee any challenge. We seem to get along well and they welcomed me to the team. I've known many of them for years. The reality is healthcare is such a small market that many of us executives [get] to know each other.

I went to graduate school with a couple of the executives here and I've known another for over 20 years, so it's been almost like a homecoming.

HL: Do you have advice for the millennial CEOs who are taking over their first hospital or health system?

Manns: I do think you have to play to your strengths. So many people focus on their weaknesses and try to shore up those areas. I say play to your strengths. You need to be your authentic self and no one else: you are who you are. People recognize and appreciate the authenticity and transparency of executives who are real.

[Embrace] the notion of being a continuous learner. There have been times in my career where I feel like I'm learning every day and studying after work and picking up trade magazines and trying to learn more.

Related: Millennial CFO Brittany Lavis Leads at DMC, Talks Population Health

HL: What gives you hope about the healthcare industry's ability to transform itself?

Manns: First, we take care of people, and I'm just amazed by the resilience of the human spirit. I see patients time and time again overcome some of the most challenging diseases or trauma. It's kind of a microcosm of the industry itself, which continues to adapt, rebound, and be resilient.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, some of the young leaders that I interface with have a skill set, energy, and passion that is so much further ahead at their age than I was back then. That is both humbling and reassuring to know that many of these young leaders who are pushing me to be better will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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