The Complementary and Alternative Medicine Survey of Hospitals I conducted in 2010 revealed some encouraging data about the role of hospital leaders in championing and supporting these initiatives. A high number of respondents (39 percent) said that hospital administrators were responsible for launching the complementary and alternative medicine program, and 33 percent stated that the administrators continued to be champions for the program.


"Hospitals are recognizing that many of their patients see CAM as an integral part of managing their health, illness and recovery. Smart hospital leaders will figure out how to integrate these services to broaden their appeal to a growing segment of patients who truly value these services (and are often prepared to pay out of pocket to secure them)," says Ian Morrison, author, consultant and futurist.

This brings up an important question. What are the skills required by hospital CEOs to lead the organization of the future — one that is patient-centered, delivers value rather than volume and operates in an era of accountable care organizations? I posed this question to a few leaders, consultants and leadership experts, and some key themes emerged.

Vision. Leaders, particularly CEOs, need to adhere to a vision of their organization as one that is truly committed to compassionate care and healing. "We are seeing a trend now where CEOs are required to have a clinical background so they can evaluate and understand the operational impact of these initiatives," says Laurie Eberst, senior vice president of Dignity Health, who has led the cultural turnaround of two Dignity Health hospitals in Oxnard, Calif., and has been tapped to do the same in Northridge, Calif. Eberst was responsible for building Mercy Gilbert (Ariz.) Medical Center from the ground up and creating an award-winning "healing hospital."

Building a senior team with the right skills. With patient satisfaction and theHospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systemssurvey becoming a key determinant of reimbursement, organizations are creating a culture of compassion, healing and patient-centered care. To make that happen, says Eberst, CEOs must surround themselves with people with the right skill set who will support, consistently "enforce" and monitor this cultural change. The courage to lead these efforts in the face of conflicting demands is crucial.

Modeling behaviors. Organizational culture begins with healthy leadership. It is expressed through vision, modeled by leaders, and defined by clear behaviors and rewards for healing interactions that extend from the bedside to the boardroom. It requires compassion, trust, communication, teamwork and an ongoing framework for honest evaluation and learning, says Mary Hassett, president and principal at Integrations Inc., a strategic consultancy in Greenville, S.C. Many CEOs — in spite of their understanding and good intentions — fail. They fail because they tend to neglect their own self-care and health. The result of their imbalance takes its toll in many ways. It is evident to all when the leader is not modeling what the organization espouses to be and commits to deliver, she says.

Leader as educator. "Hospital CEOs will lead in educating their teams in what CAM is all about — what is evidence-based, what works, what the community wants," says Kathryn Johnson, retired CEO of Health Forum. They need to convince their team (and their physician leaders) that CAM not only is the right thing to do, but it also shows that the hospital is responding to the needs of its community.

Engaging the community and CAM providers. Engaging the community and bringing its members into the conversation is also key, says Johnson. Understanding community needs demonstrates a commitment to community benefit and can help the hospital ensure that its services are responsive to those needs. Using the CAM providers in the community as extenders is another way not only to build a referral network, but also to improve the hospital’s reputation in the community.

"We are educating the next generation of change agents," says Meg Jordan, Ph.D., R.N., C.W.P., chair of the integrative health studies department at the California Institute of Integral Studies, "and to do that these leaders need to transform themselves, celebrating diversity not merely in thought, and be advocates of true sustainability, not merely ecological but of cultural well-being."

It’s a tall order, but one it appears they are ready to take on.

Sita Ananth, M.H.A., is a writer and content expert on complementary and alternative medicine based in Napa, Calif. She is also a regular contributor to H&HN Daily.