Healthier Together: Q&A With Paula Widerlite, Anne Arundel Medical Center



AAMC logoAnne Arundel Medical Center’s Chief Strategy Officer, Paula Widerlite, is taking the stage at the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development conference in Chicago today.Founded in 1902, Anne Arundel Medical Center serves more than one million people in Maryland and its surrounding area and has been recognized as a leader in cancer treatment, emergency heart attack response and joint care.

Paula came to AAMC in 2014 after a lengthy career at Adventist HealthCare where her roles included serving as VP of System Strategy and Chief Development Officer. Now, she’s dedicated to driving the AAMC brand forward through community outreach, marketing and communications activities, and also through her own commitment to leadership development.

InterbrandHealth’s Nicole Diamant caught up with Paula between sessions at the SHSMD conference to dive deeper into the AAMC mission and her leadership strategy for the future.

Nicole Diamant: I want to start by asking you about your session here at SHSMD entitled “Integrating Strategic Planning and Continuous Improvement.” For those unable to attend the conference, can you share a key takeaway from your talk?

Paula WiderlitePaula Widerlite (right): For those of us with responsibility for strategy and strategic planning, we are often challenged with demonstrating results. This session gives five steps to [ensure] results by integrating the tools available from a continuous improvement approach. Many of these tools are well-known to health care managers and executives as Lean (Management). At our organization, continuous improvement is well-integrated into our daily work, and strategic planning is no exception. This session also offers a case study of a key service line that has demonstrable results from the integration of planning and continuous improvement.

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ND: The mission of Anne Arundel Medical Center is “to enhance the health of the people we serve.” As Chief Strategy Officer, how does the mission drive your leadership and plan for AAMC’s future?

PW: As the CSO for a not-for-profit health care system, I am guided by our mission, vision, and values. The greatest roadmap that I use is our community health needs assessment. This assessment conducted every three years in collaboration with the other health system in our region [and] community agencies, both public and private, sets the priorities for our organization.

We’re committed to addressing, as best we can, the needs identified in the assessment. This means if the most critical need is transportation, or community-based services for seniors, care coordination, mental health, obesity, diabetes (most of which happens outside of our facilities), we are committed to dedicated resources and improving outcomes. Sounds a lot like population health, would you agree? Also, we are continuously scanning our environment for emerging trends and forecasts. For example, FutureScan is one of our go-to resources for peering into the next five-year horizon. I engage our executive leadership, physician chairs, and trustees in regular scans, scenario-based planning, and assessments of our environment.

ND: Tell us more about your major initiative, Vision 2020: Living Healthier Together. What inspired it, and where do you hope it takes the AAMC brand?

PW: Vision 2020 is our 10-year, i.e., long-range strategic plan. This plan was well underway before I joined the organization in 2014. As a matter of fact, it was approved by our Trustees in February 2010 (one month prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010). It is our GPS for the next decade. Albeit, the term “Vision 2020” is not unique to our organization by any means (I would guess many health systems have a similar strategic plan theme), it is the context by which we make resource allocation decisions on a regular basis.

We update the plan periodically. For example, it was updated in March 2014 for the fiscal years 15, 16, and 17, and we will update it next month for FYs 18, 19, and 20. This continual refresh keeps us current and on-track for achieving the strategic vision that was set in 2010.

Anne Arundel Medical Center

Our brand, Living Healthier Together, which serves as our vision, really was a hallmark of the plan. We are very clear that our brand is not a logo, slogan or tagline, but rather how our patients experience Anne Arundel Medical Center. We are launching a paid and social media advertising campaign (evidenced-based, by the way) that will create awareness of our goal to help our community live healthier lives. Our brand is focused on letting our community know that our network of providers are dedicated to helping them take control of their health.

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ND: In your previous role, Adventist HealthCare became Maryland’s fourth largest health system under your tenure. To what do you attribute that growth? How would you advise other health system strategists spur growth for their respective brands?

PW: When I joined Adventist Health Care in 1992 in some ways, the world of health care was different and in some ways it is the same. We organized ourselves from a fragmented, hospital-focused enterprise to an integrated delivery system offering the full continuum of care. The heritage of the organization was one of health and wellness. In 1992, there were not a lot of health care organizations focusing on health and wellness. And certainly, there were little to no financial incentives or payment models that reimbursed for health and wellness. The world of fee for service medicine was alive and well. Managed care, gatekeepers, health maintenance organizations restricting choice were making their appearance. But we know how that story ends.

I was fortunate to work for some very visionary leaders who were committed to improving the health of the community we served and who recognized that would require providing health care and not sick care. We invested in post-acute, home health, ambulatory, rehabilitation services in the same way we invested in inpatient care. We were one of the early adopters of health equity initiatives with our Center on Health Disparities, and this was in the early 1990s. We worked hard to be an integral part of the communities we served. We worked hard to earn their trust and their loyalty. Again, based on evidence, the brand for Adventist HealthCare is care, compassion and community.

ND: We’ve talked a little about leadership already. You have a distinguished history with Leadership Montgomery. Why has it been important to you to serve on its board? What are the qualities a brand strategist working at a health system should cultivate to position him or herself for a leadership role?

PW: I have had the privilege to work for mission-driven, non-profit health care organizations for many decades. These organizations are not only the economic engines of their communities, but they are the social structure that along with public safety and education, really play a vital role in the quality of life for its residents. Being engaged in the community is an imperative for a health care executive. Organizations like Leadership Montgomery have so much to offer in the way of professional development, networking, community service, resources and advocacy. These are all important facets of being a strong community member.

I’ve served on many other boards for the same reasons and my strong advice to any marketer/brander/strategist is to carefully select a board that is in alignment with your values. In my case, being able to offer visioning, strategy and business development, strategic planning, marketing, communications skills and perspectives was helpful to the boards I served on. Our organization was stronger because of my ability to be of service to the board and the board benefited by the strong connection to a major community partner such as a health system.

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