The new CEO of MultiCare Health Systems has strung himself a tightrope.
Bill Robertson, who began work just six months ago, says his priority in the next five years is to make MultiCare “the place where the best people feel comfortable working.”
“I know that sounds soft, but if you do that well, a lot of other things are possible,” Robertson said in a recent interview. Robertson started work May 1, replacing Diane Cecchettini, who retired after 15 years as CEO.
Simultaneously, Robertson has started a three-year plan to cut $300 million from the nonprofit health system’s operating expenses – the largest cut the system has made in its history.
The thousands who work at MultiCare, Pierce County’s largest private employer, are nervous.
“It’s hard. No one wants to think about cost structure,” Robertson said. Changing to meet the demands of the future is “clearly in the best interest of our employees. If we’re not doing that, I can hear the story you’d write: Management didn’t do what it needed to do in the past, and now the organization is in trouble.
“It’s my responsibility to make this an organization that employees can have confidence in,” he said.
In his first six months on the job, Robertson has unveiled a new mission statement, started reorganizing the management structure, visited every MultiCare facility and taken 19,000 employees and their families to the Washington State Fair. He stood at the gate for hours and greeted employees.
The News Tribune interviewed Robertson in his office Oct. 29, as well as by phone Nov. 5 after learning more about the cost-cutting plan. Here is a Q and A, condensed and edited.
You are a good steward of resources when you create a margin. It’s very easy to lose it. It doesn’t take very much change in how we get paid, or mix of patients, or costs, for margins to evaporate. I’m into an ounce of prevention instead of a pound of cure.
Commercial insurance pays more than the cost of care, and Medicare and Medicaid pay less. Medicare is going to pay us what Medicare is going to pay us. So we’re looking to make sure that people who have health insurance don’t have to have as high a health insurance premium.
As we reduce our cost structure, we can charge insurance companies less, and they can pass that on to their members. That’s what we want to have happen. Then employers don’t have to pay so much, which helps the economy.
It’s been very public for two months. I’ve had several town halls. We are very up front.
For example, instead of building all 58 beds at once, just 24 beds will be built and the rest will be shell space, to be added in the future.
How do we have an educated workforce? In Maryland I was chair of the governor’s workforce investment board for six years. I served on the board for 12. That had health care in part of it, but also had construction and aeronautics and hotels and all of those types of things. I was chair of the Chamber in that region as well.
Twelve percent of our emergency room volumes have a behavioral health piece to it. We’re already doing it. We’re going to be enhancing what we do. We can do it in a way that’s viable, so it doesn’t have to be subsidized by other parts of the healthcare system.
I interact saying, ‘What are my options? What’s the best way to deal with those options?’ I think all of us owe it to ourselves to be in charge of our own health.