As president and CEO, Laura Kaiser leads the Catholic not-for-profit health system serving communities across the Midwest through a robust and fully integrated health care delivery system. Since joining SSM Health in May 2017, Kaiser has been focused on ensuring patients and health plan members experience consistent exceptional care and service.
“When I was at Intermountain Healthcare, I wasn’t looking for a new opportunity,” Kaiser said. “A recruiter from SSM Health located me. Obviously, I was aware of SSM Health having grown up in St. Louis, and the mission and values-based model resonated with me. My personal values and those of SSM Health tie together – that was enormously appealing.”
Looking back on your first year, have you begun to settle in?
I don’t think I’ll ever feel settled because of the continued change in the industry, but I’m in a good place. I’ve been on a listening tour and learning curve with SSM Health over the past several months and we have a good trajectory.
Our team continues today with purposeful urgency. Our patients demand and deserve our very best every day, which means we need to move with purpose and do so with urgency.
How would you describe your organization?
We are a mission-based culture. If you were to ask any SSM Health employee, they would mention the mission that stems from our founders, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. These were remarkable women, nuns that came from Germany to St. Louis and tackled significant health care problems head on. For example, in the 1800s, there was a small pox epidemic that put them at risk, but they served patients nonetheless, even though a number of them actually died. To this day, we are very grounded in our mission and where we’ve come from.
As it relates to quality, Sister Mary Jean Ryan, FSM, was SSM Health’s first president and CEO for 25 years. She felt very strongly about quality, diversity and the preservation of the earth. Those are things I also care greatly about.
Ultimately, our product, if you will, is patient care. We take care of people. When you do that in the context of our mission, it makes for a pretty powerful, positive environment where people are rowing together because it’s making a difference, which is something that’s bigger than all of us.
What is the purpose of the nonprofit drug venture?
We want to ensure there is a stable, safe and affordable supply of generic drugs for those we serve. The drugs that are generic should be affordable and accessible.
The idea behind this drug venture began while I was still at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah. Dan Liljenquist, Intermountain’s vice president of the enterprise initiative office, is behind the idea.
The generic drug company initiative includes: Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, Michigan-based Trinity Health, Ascension and SSM Health. The Department of Veterans Affairs also is involved, serving as an advisor and in a collaborative capacity for the four core partners.
As you might expect, we’ve had overwhelming interest from all over the world. More than 70 health care systems have talked with us about their interest in participating in someway—so we are sorting through all of that.
I’ve spoken to a number of different physicians who have told me their very real stories illustrating the problem we are trying to fix. One physician teared up as she recalled her dilemma of having to decide whether to prescribe an antibiotic that may work and the parents can afford or prescribe an antibiotic that will work, but the parents can’t afford. No one should have to make such a choice!
Are there plans for SSM Health to grow in the St. Louis region?
One of our key priorities is growth and partnerships. Although this is a relatively stable community in terms of population size, we still want to be sure we are providing the services that our patients need.
One of those examples is the investment we are making in Midtown in the new Prospect Yards neighborhood – also known as the SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital campus. If you were to drive by the current hospital campus, you would see a giant hole in the ground because we are under construction with the replacement facility that will open in 2020.
The current Saint Louis University Hospital has served the community beautifully for many, many decades. I worked there while in graduate school back in the mid-80s. With this new campus, we are making a major investment in St. Louis, and we will continue to be mindful of other ways we can best serve in the community as health care continues to evolve.
How is SSM Health making an impact in the community?
I was raised to be of service. When it’s all said and done, it’s about having made a difference.
SSM Health serves its communities in many ways. In St. Louis, you may have heard of the WISH Center. It is the Women and Infant Substance Help Center, which provides comprehensive, high risk maternity care for women who are dependent on opioids and other drugs. The remarkable center is based at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital with our wonderful maternal fetal medicine physicians from SLUCare. It is the only facility of its kind in the St. Louis region, and it ensures that babies are born with the best chances for good health.
In addition, SSM Health is trying to do our part with the very real nationwide opioid crisis. If you haven’t read the book “Dreamland,” I strongly recommend it. It’s a real eye-opener in terms of understanding some of the roots of this crisis. At SSM Health, we are refining our opioid protocols to help people manage their very real pain without opioids and minimize the opportunity for addiction.
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