Trish Hannon

Some of Trish Hannon’s earliest memories are of times spent in a hospital.

An orthopedic birth defect provided her with an and early — and thorough — introduction to the health care community, one that ultimately left her with the ability to walk and a desire to help others in the same way that teams of doctors and nurses had helped her.

“I was hospitalized on and off as a child, and those experiences were in many ways good experiences, as odd as that sounds,” said Hannon, senior vice president for Healthcare Operations for Baystate Health and COO of Baystate Medical Center. “It was an opportunity for me to see how people who were in health care, particularly nurses, were able to impact people’s lives.

“I felt personally as if my life had been changed by the experience,” she continued. “Early in my life I had a very hard time walking, but by age 10, I was able to walk without any issues. And I knew I was going to be able to dream a lot bigger because I would be able to walk — and it was all because of the great nurses and doctors who took care of me.”

And because of those early experiences and a similar desire to change lives, the first dream was to become a nurse.

“I knew at age 5 that this was what I wanted to do,” she said. “I grew up watching Dr. Kildare and reading Cherry Ames (the mystery-solving nurse in the series authored by Helen Wells); I would go to the library and read everything I could on nursing, and set out to be one as quickly as I possibly could.”

That route was through the Nursing program at Marymount College in Virginia. From there, she started her professional career in pediatric nursing, eventually gravitating toward the operating room and the emergency room.

After relocating from the Washington, D.C. area to San Diego, Calif., and, later, to Springfield and the Baystate system, her career transitioned into roles that were increasingly administrative in nature — titles varied from director of Surgery and Emergency Services to vice president of Clinical Affairs.

But the desire to change lives has remained the common denominator.

“I’ve moved from touching one life at a time from a clinical perspective,” she explained, “to hopefully influencing many thousands of lives with a great team of people through the work that we do; that’s very powerful as it relates to my original dream.”

Today, in her current capacities with Baystate Health, which she joined in 1994, her job description and specific duties are broad in nature; she’s involved in everything from revenue-cycle performance to pension plan redesign to development of a state-of-the-art clinical information system for the system’s three hospitals, Baystate, Franklin Medical Center, and Mary Lane Hospital. But the mission is actually rather simple — the day-to-day delivery of quality health care services.

Walking the Walk

Hannon has a large office in what is known as the Springfield Building at the Baystate complex — but she told BusinessWest she’s rarely in it.

Indeed, as she talked about her current responsibilities within the system, Hannon said her job is largely about listening, and she does it pretty much anywhere but at her desk.

“I manage by walking around,” she explained, noting that she conducts daily “rounds,” during which she talks with patients, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, receptionists — anyone who has something to say about the care administered at Baystate and how to make it better.

Walking and listening are the two main operating philosophies for Hannon in her role as COO of BMC and senior vice president for Healthcare Operations at Baystate Health. This is the latest step in a 32-year career in health care that has seen her transition from hands-on care of single patients in the pediatric ward to direct and indirect responsibility for hundreds of patients and the 4,500 or so employees at BMC.

Hannon came to Baystate after nearly 20 years of work with various health care facilities in San Diego. She spent four years as the director of Specialty Services at Sharp Health Care in Chula Vista, and prior to that worked as senior consultant and president of the Physicians Business Network in San Diego. She also served as director of the Mericos Eye Institute at Scripps Health Inc. in La Jolla, and as director of Surgery and Emergency Services at Villa View Community Hospital in San Diego.

At Baystate, she started in 1994 as service line director of Surgery and Anesthesia, before moving on to director of Clinical Affairs, vice president of Clinical Services, and, in 2000, to COO of BMC. She was named senior vice president of Healthcare Operations for the system in 2005.

Breaking down her present responsibilities, she said they come in three main areas, or sets of activities, that she addresses in partnership with Chief Medical Officer Loring Flint and in conjunction with teams of individuals;

  • Providing physicians, nurses, and other staff with the proper environment, resources, tools, and support systems, as she called them, to provide quality care;
  • Developing new leaders in both clinical and administrative capabilities throughout the system — in other words, putting the right people in positions at every level of service; and
  • Putting the necessary processes in place to measure results and continuously look for ways to improve the work being done.

Lessons in Listening

Elaborating, she stressed that the first of these assignments is perhaps the most critical, and the one that most consistently tests and refines her ability to listen.

“I listen carefully to what the staff is telling us, what the managers are telling us, what the physicians and patients are telling us,” she explained, adding that much of the feedback is garnered while doing rounds of patient wings. “I stop in the emergency department, the oncology unit, the pharmacy, the Comprehensive Breast Center, everywhere.”

Rounds come in two varieties, informal and formal, she noted, adding that during the latter, known as “safety rounds,” the questions are of a more serious nature.

“We interview staff, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals about what concerns them, and the things they are most worried about with respect to the resources they have and the responsibilities they have,” she said. “We ask what them what they need, and if they can identify opportunities to improve; it’s a process we use to create the proper environment people need to do what they do.”

As for leadership development, Hannon said this is another critical component of her work, and another that involves solid teamwork. She told BusinessWest that she is directly involved in the hiring of operating vice presidents and takes part in interviews at the director level. But, system-wide, she is responsible for setting standards and a tone in defining leadership capabilities for managers, directors, and supervisors. She also teaches a class for front-line supervisors that helps provide the skills they need to be effective leaders.

“We constantly look at the development needs of each of the leaders, and make sure that we’re appointing people with the right competencies,” she explained. “We work to make sure that those leaders are developing relationships with the staff that are open and communicative, and that they listen.”

Skills are an important factor in hiring decisions, she continued, but in a word, she’s looking more at personality, or fit with the organization. Elaborating, she said the system’s leaders must possess a “style that is fundamentally about connecting with other human beings and feeling privileged to be serving other human beings.”

Finding such individuals is an inexact science, she acknowledged, but a critical process in making sure the Baystate system is able to carry out its overall mission — today and tomorrow.

“What’s most important to us is a philosophy that we hire for a fit with our organization’s culture and operating principles, and we train for skill development,” she continued. “In my view, it’s a mistake for people to hire on the basis of technical skill, without regard or with less regard to the individual’s ability to effectively lead in an environment that’s about trust and respect and communication and collaboration.”
Many of those elements go into the third component of Hannon’s job description, the quality-measurement responsibilities, or continuous improvement efforts.

“This is a relentless pursuit of perfection,” she told BusinessWest. “And while noting is ever really perfect, the work is in that relentless pursuit.”

Borrowing lessons from the manufacturing sector, the airline industry, and other business groups, health care is becoming increasingly focused on the processes involved with quality and continuous improvement, said Hannon. She noted that the key is to embed this mindset into the culture of the system and make it “part of what you do every day.”

“It is about creating opportunities to learn from things that didn’t go so well,” she explained, “and the opportunity to replicate things that go very well; we focus very much on how to be a better organization all the time.”

Positive Prognosis

Looking at the sum of her many responsibilities, Hannon told BusinessWest that she finds her work both consistently challenging and deeply rewarding.

And it is also honors her original motivation for entering the health care field: impacting lives.

“The work is always exciting because it’s about people,” she said, “and the greatest part of my job is being able to talk with both the staff and patients about the work that we do and the opportunity to actually improve someone’s life because they’ve touched Baystate and Baystate has touched them.

“I have the benefit of both learning continually and working with colleagues who have the same passion for the relentless pursuit of perfection in the way we deliver care,” she continued. “It’s fun to get up in the morning and know that on any given day we have the opportunity to really impact someone’s life in a very meaningful way; that’s very worthwhie.”

In other words, it’s another of her bigger dreams come true.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]