How to Overcome Major Obstacles and End Up Better and Stronger

One Louisiana health system’s journey

Over the past several weeks, we have seen a number of natural disasters in the US. Could your organization survive an unprecedented natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, and eventually turn that into something positive? That’s what the Advisory Board’s “Lessons from the C-Suite” asked of Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health System, Louisiana’s largest health system.

Immediately following the storm, Thomas says that Ochsner and its board realized that to even maintain operations they had to think through how to get evacuated staff back into the city to relieve staff that was onsite during and following the storm. Beyond those immediate logistics, Thomas says their organization had another team that worked on their “go-forward” strategy, which included outreach to physicians to see if they were returning to the city and if they needed a place to practice. Ultimately, Thomas says that the devastation of the hurricane strengthened both Ochsner’s culture and resolve to restore and expand healthcare in New Orleans and the region.

He says, “We don’t think about growth for growth’s sake, or from a revenue perspective. It’s about helping more people, changing and saving more lives, and providing a better service for our patients…if revenue grows but the number of people served doesn’t grow, you’re not headed in the right direction because you’re not attracting new people to your system.” By the way, Ochsner has tripled in size since 2005.

But when your organization grows the way Ochsner has, how do you ensure success? By taking a simplified approach. “The larger you get, the more simple and straightforward you have to be,” is a lesson that Thomas learned from (then) CEO of General Electric, Jeff Immelt. And that Thomas says, is how they’ve attained growth at Ochsner. “We really think about creating more streamlined systems on how we approach things… and that simplification, that consolidation was really important in how we set out to manage the growth going forward.”

The right kind of simplification and consolidation is what leads to growth, and so does choosing the right partners. Thomas points out that Ochsner is very intentional when choosing other organizations with whom to partner. They look for “higher quality, well managed, and culturally aligned organizations.” In the end, Thomas feels that Ochsner has succeeded where other networks have failed because they always focused on creating value first.

That’s a great lesson for all of us.

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