By Jamie Copland
John C. Lincoln Health Network is a not-for-profit organization that includes two hospitals, two dozen primary care and specialty physician practices and a spectrum of charitable community service programs serving the people of north Phoenix for more than 80 years. In that time, the organization has been honored with numerous awards in many categories. For more information, visit the company’s website at jcl.com.
Copland: Rhonda, we all know how the current economy has impacted us, but specifically to health care, how has it affected your industry?
Forsyth: I think some groups would say that health care is immune to the economy, because people always need health care …, but the reality is that we as health care institutions need to receive payment for the services that we provide. We are a safety net for society. We’re there when the worst happens, and we remain there regardless of whether patients can pay us. So, when people come to John C. Lincoln (JCL), we take care of them whether they have the funds to pay us or not. And, we do so with the same experience and high level of service for those who can pay and those who can’t. However, there is a huge cost to that. We have felt the effects of fewer people being insured and of what the state of Arizona did to reduce eligibility for those going into AHCCCS. The number of people without insurance essentially doubled in the last two months of last year, which had an impact worth millions of dollars because people could not pay for our services.
Copland: Do you feel that local or federal governments are playing a strong enough role or are even cognizant of the needs required by the American population?
Forsyth: I think both levels of government are aware that health care is a critical industry—it is an economic engine in and of itself. And I think some goods things have been going on from a governmental perspective. I have been very encouraged by the government’s emphasis on creating more transparency in terms of quality performance. Anyone can now go on the Internet and see how a particular hospital has performed in a number of areas. We can also see how well we are adhering to evidence-based medicine and what will produce better outcomes for our patients, and patients have access to this same information. The government has taken a lead position in this regard, and I applaud it for doing so.
Copland: We know that in America values count for a lot. What has had an impact on your values, and which values have you brought to the workplace in your current position?
Forsyth: Well, my family when I was young had issues, like most every family. But my brother and I had one thing that was always constant. [We] had a mom that combined absolutely unconditional love with great expectations. We never heard that a B was acceptable when bringing home a report card, and when we did, our mother would give us lots of hugs and support, but she would then tell us that we were smart and beautiful, and that was why the B was unacceptable. My mom was an English teacher, and I had to live with that, but she was also a fabulous mother. In the workplace, I do see the value of high expectations coupled with strong support—individual support to get the most out of people, to allow people to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes … the expectations to know that JCL or Rhonda Forsyth need to be way up here. These values from my mother, who also felt that we could do more, I have brought to the workplace, and they have served me well. The strong foundation of family follows me to this day, and I could not do the job I do today, were it not for my mother, my strong husband and the knowledge that regardless of what may happen today, when I go home there is always that love and support when I enter the doorway.
Copland: What is your vision for the next four to five years, for JCL and for the country?
Forsyth: If you were to ask what has JCL been for the last 80 years, for the most part we have been a hospital operating company. We have two hospitals, North Mountain on Third Street and Deer Valley Hospital, and I think we’ve done a great job. We have been recognized for our high quality of work by the American Nurses Association and are known as a great place to work. We are very committed to our community, and it shows. But in terms of a vision for the future, we are moving away from being a hospital operating organization toward being an integrated delivery system. A couple examples of that are: we employ over 80 primary care providers across central and north central Phoenix, and that is a part of developing a continuum of care. I talk about an integrated delivery network, the silo approach … looking at all the various facilities as one, versus looking at everyone as their own independent operation. We will integrate all the services into one, and with that, a patient will also have one file available to every operation. This will provide better outcomes and better quality of care at lower costs, and the only way to do this is to build this better continuum. We have also invested heavily in primary care physicians and likely have the largest network in Phoenix. In addition, we are creating an electronic medical record system that can be shared throughout our network—once again, better patient services and enhanced productivity that will also produce lower operating costs. Our commitment to this transition isn’t cheap, but it is necessary. It will cost us about $90 million over the next 10 years.
Copland: Talk to me a little about aspirations, expectations and the overall attitude of today’s generation?
Forsyth: I love the Millennial Generation. Maybe it’s because I have a 19-year-old in college, and after witnessing his roommates and friends, I see a lot of promise from his generation. I see a group that likes to work in teams and is committed to creating more than something that would simply benefit themselves. They are obviously a very technology-savvy group, are much more used to multitasking and want quicker access to information and the ability to synthesize that information. I see them as a group that likes to work together, but also their work must have meaning. It’s great to see these traits in younger people, because I think it demonstrates that we have great hope for the future. However, employers today must also realize that they must rise up to the expectations this generation demands. On a closing note, one point that concerns me tremendously is the growing number of kids who enter high school but don’t graduate. I think the number [in Arizona] is about 30 percent, and in some states it’s even higher. That translates, to me at least, as being a lost generation. That’s frightening. It’s disturbing, because there is no state, no country, no society in the world that has ever improved its standard of living by reducing the educational experience and qualifications of its people.
Copland: As we wrap up, can you tell me where you think JCL and America might be in the next five years?
Forsyth: I would like to end by saying what I would like people to know about John C. Lincoln. We are a unique organization in that we are based exclusively in Phoenix, with a board of directors comprised of community leaders who really believe in the mission of John C. Lincoln. I am very proud to have the chance to work for an organization that is so mission-oriented, and we so absolutely embrace our mission, from admitting right to the bedside, and we work very hard to create healthy communities. We are an organization that embraces innovation, change and learning, and everything we do is for the communities we serve.
Interviewer’s note: With my personal concerns about the growing number of Americans without access to health insurance who continue to struggle, I was genuinely moved by the caring attitude and compassion Rhonda Forsyth has for the local community and the role John C. Lincoln plays in the Valley.