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St. Luke's Board Members: 'the reason that our communities will be healthier ...'

By Dr. David C. Pate, News and Community
January 13, 2015

I have not written enough about the importance of our boards to our success as an organization that is transforming health care. 

Today’s guest blogger, Christy Neuhoff, is our chief legal officer, but Christy is more than just our general counsel. She is responsible for our corporate governance, and we just completed a governance restructuring in April of 2014 to advance our strategic objectives around population health. 

Because the populations we serve generally receive their care in two geographic areas, we reorganized our governance to reflect these two regions of health care. Christy played a critical role in this restructuring, and here she writes about how dramatically our boards have impacted our strategy and our successes.

St. Luke’s mission, “to improve the health of people in our region,” was adopted many years ago and is not unlike the mission of many health care organizations. As Dr. Pate has stated many times, while we have had a mission to improve health, we have traditionally focused on improving the health of people who are sick or injured.

A few years ago, St. Luke’s committed to expand that focus to more purposefully work to improve the health of people in our communities who are not yet sick. Seeking to reduce the incidence of illness may seem counter to the purpose of an organization in which the revenue comes from treating illness, but St. Luke’s is a community asset, governed by volunteer boards made up of dedicated community members who have chosen to spend significant time and energy ensuring that this community asset provides the most value possible to our communities.

With that purpose in mind, we set about evaluating our governance structure two years ago. I was privileged to be a part of the team that facilitated the process of engaging with each of our local boards, which collectively determined the structure that would best serve our communities’ health needs into the future.

This process reinforced our understanding that governance by local volunteers sets apart a local not-for-profit from an organization that is run by an out-of-state headquarters. All the value created by St. Luke’s remains in our local communities.

Any success achieved by St. Luke’s is achieved because committed community volunteers, who oversee those of us who have been hired to lead the organization on a daily basis, have made decisions about the future direction of the organization, including major projects (for example, a new state-of-the-art hospital in Twin Falls and new emergency departments in Nampa and Fruitland), and hold our leadership accountable for providing the access and services needed in our communities.

When I say that the value remains in the community, I mean not only that high-quality services are offered locally, but that any increase in the value of the facilities and any good financial results accrue to local benefit because they are not paid out to an out-of-state parent entity, (nor is any part paid in “bonuses” to local executives, as we have no such bonuses), but are retained in a charitable asset that will always stay with the community.

The high-level decisions in the organization are made by people whose only true compensation is the knowledge that their decisions will make our communities healthier for their neighbors and families.

These volunteers on St. Luke’s community boards are responsible for overseeing the connection between the healthcare needs of our communities and St. Luke’s strategies and operations – identifying and evaluating communities’ healthcare needs and evaluating the organization’s effectiveness in addressing those needs.

They are directing their energy toward connecting our healthcare services to local community groups, charities, public health agencies, businesses, neighbors, and other partners to develop new ideas and relationships that can improve the overall health of our communities. They also evaluate the effectiveness of our local and regional executives.

They will be the reason that our communities will be healthier and will have better access to medical care. Idaho is fortunate to have so many people willing to commit their personal time and talent to improving the lives of their neighbors.

About The Author

David C. Pate, M.D., J.D., is president and CEO of St. Luke's Health System, based in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Pate joined the System in 2009. He received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.