Hennepin Healthcare announced a new chief executive Wednesday in Jennifer DeCubellis, a veteran county administrator who will take charge of an urban health system with strengths in trauma care and surgery, but also looming financial pressures and the stain of an emergency medicine research ethics scandal.
DeCubellis replaces interim CEO Dr. John Cumming, who succeeded Dr. Jon Pryor when he resigned last February. While the health system conducted a national search, it landed on a respected local leader in DeCubellis, who has been deputy county administrator since 2015 and previously served as an assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Human Services and an innovation adviser to the federal Medicare program.
Leaders of the search committee called DeCubellis a great listener who asks the right questions and offers bold ideas. She helped create Hennepin Health, a separate organization that coordinates medical, mental health and social service needs for people in the county with Medicaid benefits. She also led efforts to increase equity and cultural sensitivity in county child support and child protection programs.
“She has passion for the Hennepin Healthcare mission and a proven record of collaborating to create health care delivery models that improve patient outcomes, reduce disparities, and improve the health of the community,” said Diana Vance-Bryan, chairwoman of the health care system’s board and leader of the CEO search committee.
Known largely for its flagship HCMC hospital and trauma center in downtown Minneapolis, Hennepin Healthcare has been expanding clinical services and locations to offset recent declines in hospital admissions and the costs of serving a majority of patients who are uninsured or covered by low-paying Medicare and Medicaid government programs.
HCMC gained $10 million in 2018 on $915 million in hospital revenue, after losing nearly $18 million in 2017 and $47 million in 2016, according to Minnesota Department of Health data.
A key growth strategy has been the recent opening of an outpatient center across from the hospital, in part to entice downtown workers and the privately insured.
In an interview Wednesday night, DeCubellis said Hennepin Healthcare needs to use its strengths, including the passion and commitment of its providers, and assets such as the outpatient center to improve the health of patients so they don’t suffer as many costly medical problems. She also said Hennepin Healthcare must “lean into” its responsibilities to provide equitable care, and to provide mental health and chemical dependency services even though they are poorly reimbursed.
“I think we have enough money in health care,” she said. “How we leverage our money to make the right investments in the health of people is the game-changer.”
A fresh start
Hennepin Healthcare leaders had been accused of ignoring community concerns a year ago over the conduct of one of its clinical trials, which allowed paramedics to provide the sedative ketamine to agitated patients without their consent. While such emergency medical studies are permissible in limited circumstances, the medical center was criticized for the lack of advance notice. Reviews by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also raised concerns about safety oversight, and some patients complained that ketamine was forced on them.
DeCubellis said Hennepin Healthcare now has an opportunity to listen to the community, and use its investments in research and medical education to improve their care.
“That has to be a really intentional focus, to listen to the voices in our community,” she said. “What do they want and what do they need for optimal health?”
County Board Chairwoman Marion Greene said that DeCubellis’ move will be a loss for a county government but a gain for the health care system. Board member Mike Opat called her a “superstar” for the county “who will make great things happen at HHS.”