By David Blanchette
Joseph J. Mullany was appointed the new Illinois president and CEO for Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) on April 25. He holds an MBA and master of health sciences from University of Florida. He became a hospital CEO at the age of 30 and since then has held management roles at Detroit Medical Center, Bayfront Health System, and most recently, Vassar Brother Medical Center before accepting his current position.
Where did you grow up, and what did you learn as a young person that you retain and use today?
I grew up in a small town of about 8,000 people in western Massachusetts called Great Barrington, it’s the home of Norman Rockwell, that’s its claim to fame.
I learned how important family is, that no matter where I go, whether it be all of the athletics I played as a kid, whether it be the work I do here with HSHS, it’s really the importance of family and taking care of each other. It’s what I learned from my mom and dad and it’s what I have carried in my life going forward.
How did you decide to enter the health care management profession as a career?
My family is all in health care to some degree: doctors, dentists, nurses, etc. But I was driven more by the ability to lead people – starting with athletics, being president of my high school class, things like that. Just trying to take what skills I have as a leader and combine both my passion for health care and taking care of people with the ability to lead. That kind of drifted me out of the clinical side and into the leadership side.
When I graduated from the University of Florida, I became a resident at a hospital in Tampa. Then I quickly moved up to be CEO when I was 30. I was actually pretty young when I ran my first hospital. It was a great learning experience, very enjoyable. So I’ve been doing it my whole career, it’s the only career I’ve had.
How has your prior experience with other hospital systems prepared you for your new role at HSHS?
The other hospital systems where I have worked were in different forms during their evolution of becoming a system. For instance, one hospital system was putting a system together, but in Detroit it was a pretty well-oiled machine that I inherited, and I got to see the benefits of being one system.
My experience helped me by knowing where the opportunities are to maximize the benefit of being in a system. So you have nine hospitals that have been very much in their own silos. We are bringing them together in many ways, whether it be consolidating physician services, working with our laboratory to make that more efficient, or meeting with doctors to understand best practices at each hospital. We are all really learning to partner with what we do as a system.
Damond Boatwright, the CEO of the HSHS system in Illinois and Wisconsin, calls it “One Illinois.” So all operational things within the nine hospitals in the medical group in Illinois and all of the ambulatory care falls under this division. That’s a new announcement that just came out in May.
Why did you choose HSHS?
I’m passionate about it for two reasons. One, it’s a very mission-driven organization, and that became clear in all of my interactions with the leaders. Every hospital has a mission, but not all of them truly live it the way this place does. It believes in Christ, it believes in taking care of the under-served. It’s just something that really resonated with me.
The other reason, Damond Boatwright is just one of the most charismatic leaders I have ever met. So the opportunity to come and work for him was very exciting to me. I started April 25, and I am loving it so far.
In your short time as president and CEO, what have you observed to be the strengths of the HSHS system, and what needs improvement?
The strength of the system is the passion that the medical providers have, both on the nursing side and on the medical staff. We have so many very strong physicians in many specialties, such as Prairie Cardiovascular and our neurosurgery group. That is what I have noticed as a strength, the quality of the medical staff. Our quality scores are excellent, so people get a good product here.
The opportunity I am facing is, we have management holes that I have to fill. That will be my priority, to get people as excited to come work for this system as I am.
Will the way you deliver health care services today at HSHS continue to evolve, and if so, in what ways?
We are really trying to get our points of care out to where the patient is. We are a really heavily inpatient-driven organization. What I have seen in my other lives, as Damond does, the world generally is transitioning to a more ambulatory side of care, because it’s more convenient for the patient and it’s at a lower cost. Over the next several years that will be one of our big strategic initiatives, to expand our ambulatory platform.
The inpatient side is a labor and capital-intensive place that is very expensive. I have found that to be able to have alternative points of care, tele-health, etc., does lower the cost and it keeps people healthier. That’s the bottom line.
What are your impressions of Springfield and central Illinois?
People have been very warm to me, that’s been my favorite part. Everyone I have met here has been very welcoming, very friendly, and I look forward to making some life-long friends and being active in the community. That is one thing that I have done most of my life, whether it be the Salvation Army or things for kids, schools or the homeless. There’s a world of opportunity for me to be involved, whether it’s on the business side like the Chamber of Commerce, or some of the organizations that I have a passion for.
What may people be surprised to learn about you?
That I have three beautiful daughters. I think when people see me, they probably would not expect that! But fortunately, they take after my wife quite a bit, full heads of hair, very beautiful. Also, I’m an avid golfer, so I’m always looking for a game.
What advice would you give to young people today who are trying to decide on a career path?
Follow your heart and make sure you really have a passion for it. In this line of work, my day typically starts at 7 a.m. and has a dinner meeting at night, so I’m going until eight or nine at night.
If I didn’t have passion for what I do, and seeing the improvements that are made, it would be a real grind. When I mentor our fellows I tell them, just make sure you are committed to this career, because it’s going to take a lot of effort.