Chuck Mooty of Fairview Health Services slid his card across the table at a recent meeting, revealing the title printed below his name.
Usually either CEO tenures are so short-term they don’t bother with cards or they have the title until further notice and their card says so. But Mooty has been in the job a year, and he’ll willingly step aside as soon as a new CEO is named in a month or so.
Mooty’s card reads the way it does because he wanted it to, and it’s that way on his Fairview ID badge, too. He doesn’t own the job.
His story is that he is a steward of a community asset. It’s a good story — and there’s also enough of a record here, in areas such as the new structure to Fairview’s relationship with the University of Minnesota, to say he’s done far more than keep a chair warm.
As is the case with most interim leadership jobs, Mooty stepped in after a crisis, starting after Fairview’s relationship with the Chicago consulting firm called Accretive Health burst into the news. In the spring of 2012, a scathing report from state Attorney General Lori Swanson described patients as being badgered for money while waiting for care in Fairview emergency rooms and being referred to as “lowlifes” and “deadbeats” by Accretive staffers.
The crisis was far deeper than bad publicity, because it became clear that the aggressive collection tactics had upset many long-term Fairview employees.
A month after Swanson’s report came the announcement that CEO Mark Eustis would be retiring.
Minneapolis-based Fairview Health is one of the state’s biggest health care delivery systems, with hospitals, clinics and other facilities that generate more than $3 billion a year in annual revenue. It could have gotten a leader from the industry, but turned to its board chair instead.
Mooty had no health care management experience, having worked at International Dairy Queen and more recently as a principal owner of the Faribault Woolen Mill Co.
What he did have is volunteer experience with Fairview going back to the late 1990s with service on the community board of Fairview Southdale Hospital. And, he said, he had a love of Fairview.
Mooty’s style is one that would wear well with employees. He speaks deliberately and is the kind of executive who has “challenges,” never problems. He peppers his comments with words like “neat,” as in Fairview “is a neat opportunity” for the next CEO.
“I came in at a time when our financials were challenged,” Mooty said. “I came in at a time when our patient experience was not very glowing. A time when our morale was hurt, and people felt damaged. It never is good when your company is being criticized in the way that it was.
“That’s when I was able to learn what a great root structure this organization has.”
It’s a year later, and employee morale has improved. Operating income for the six months ended June 30 was $68.4 million compared with $39.3 million for the same period in 2012. And Mooty claims very little credit for any of it.
Mooty said he’s certain there are plenty of people eager for him to leave, but to have had a leader with little experience in health care management “maybe actually is good for our organization.”
He will talk about the patient as customer. He knows the bill may be covered by insurance, but to him the patient experience is the customer experience. It’s what he knows from his days running International Dairy Queen.
Fairview’s patient experience scores were “not that great.” It was his job to say, “You know, that’s not acceptable.”
He also talked about working personally on communication and cooperation between Fairview units, departments and facilities. It’s something he was willing to actually call a weakness. “The university is a prime example,” he said. “You can tell how disconnected we have been at times.”
Fairview took over the university’s big teaching hospital in the late 1990s and Mooty said there was “such a buildup of challenge and friction, maybe having a different player come into that was meaningful.”
In May, Fairview and the university, along with University of Minnesota Physicians, announced an agreement to create one organization without actually merging them.
University President Eric Kaler thinks Mooty was instrumental in repairing the relationship.
“He was very active in continuing that conversation and in pushing toward this result,” Kaler said. “There’s still some space to go for perfect alignment, but by agreeing to the integrated structure, we have made big steps.”
The deal with the U followed the collapse of talks for a different kind of merger, that of Fairview with Dakota-based Sanford Health.
Mooty said no organization in health care can sit still, and he knew it was his job to take that overture seriously. He added that he was “proud of our board” for plunging into the process of figuring out whether such a move would make sense.
“The hard part with Sanford is that we never got a chance to get very far,” he said. “Justice didn’t prevail,” he said, referring to the involvement of Attorney General Swanson, which effectively killed further talks.
Mooty said no one should conclude that the Sanford talks came out of a sense of vulnerability.
Long-term winners will be those providers that cost-effectively deliver in a seamless, integrated system, he said. His successor will take over Fairview with its community health assets as well as senior care, mental health and a university medical center.
It’s a job that’s attracting good candidates, he said. The table will be set.
Mooty would like to stay with the Fairview board to help Fairview as it evolves, but also understands that the new CEO may not want to see a predecessor, even an interim, still on the board.
If so, he said, he will go. Quietly.