“The Opportunity of a Lifetime”—Steve Davis, MD, Reflects on His First Year as President & CEO
“The Opportunity of a Lifetime”—Steve Davis Reflects on His First Year as President & CEO
Steve Davis is listening. In fact, it’s one of the most important things he does as president and CEO of Cincinnati Children’s. This past November marked his first year at the helm, and what a year it’s been!
Last winter, like every other hospital in the region, the medical center was hit in nearly every area of care delivery with a huge patient surge due to COVID and other respiratory illnesses, while also dealing with severe staffing challenges.
Says Steve, “I heard from a lot of clinicians about how stressed they were, so I asked them what help would look like. At the same time, I was hearing from nonclinical team members who said they wished there was a way they could offer support, but they didn’t know how or where to begin. So, we pulled together a group of leaders, explained the situation and asked them to figure it out. They came back with Operation One Cincinnati Children’s, and the response from our people was incredible. About 1,200 nonclinical staff volunteered to help in areas totally unfamiliar to them so that our clinical teams wouldn’t feel alone in handling the challenges. When I tell colleagues around the country about what we accomplished, they are blown away because they tried similar things and didn’t have nearly the success we had.”
“Proud” is a word that comes up frequently when Steve talks about our staff. He points to Perioperative Services going three years without a Serious Safety Event (SSE) and the entire organization making it to nearly 365 days without an SSE—all under intensely challenging conditions.
“It takes everyone working together to accomplish such a feat. All areas contribute,” he says. “I think we have weathered the storms extremely well, and we’re in good shape to continue handling challenges ahead.”
A Unique Perspective
Steve has a true understanding of what many employees are facing, given his 30-plus years as a frontline intensive care physician.
“I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed with more patients than expected and how challenging that is,” he says. “But the stress level for patients, families, and our employees is higher now than I’ve ever seen. So, people come in with expectations that can be hard for us to meet, and they sometimes express their displeasure in ways that I never personally experienced.”
For this reason, Steve makes it a point to walk around at the various locations, both in organized leadership rounds and on his own, and he also recognizes employees’ efforts through personal handwritten notes, eCards and shout-outs on CenterLink.
“People like to be acknowledged and appreciated for their work,” he says. “With over 17,000 employees, I’m only reaching a small percentage, but I hope others will see it and think, ‘Hey, if the CEO can find time to say thank you, so can I.’”
Highlights and Accomplishments from 2022
- Implemented new, innovative ways for patients and families to reach us, including:
- CincyKids Health Connect, a virtual platform for urgent care needs and one of the first specifically designed for children.
- HealthVine, which provides preventive, coordinated care and support services for 137,000 youth and young adults – and growing.
- Providing access to Cincinnati Children’s experts close to home, e.g., the joint heart program with the University of Kentucky Healthcare and ENT expertise in Akron.
- Ranked #3 in "U.S. News & World Report."
- Ranked #3 in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding.
- Certified as a Great Place to Work.
- Established a 26-member Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, joining the 10 Diversity Steering Committees that exist throughout the organization.
- Launched the Michael Fisher Child Health Equity Center as part of our commitment to the community and population health.
A Learning Experience
Steve has always been aware of Cincinnati Children’s reputation for excellence in clinical care, research and education, but as president and CEO, he’s been pleasantly surprised at how extensively we’re known on the national and international fronts.
“I had an opportunity to go to the ‘Future of Health’ meeting in Tel Aviv in October,” he says. “There were CEOs from 40 of the biggest health systems around the world. They all knew about the safety work that Cincinnati Children’s has done and about the innovative approaches we’ve taken to improve the health of kids. It reminded me of the responsibility we have as one of the premier children’s hospitals in the world to continue to get better, because others really do learn from us and rely on us to help set the standard for how children are cared for.”
In talking with international colleagues, he sees the impact of our research programs.
“There was an international meeting of scientists working on organoids this past year,” he says, “and it was clear that we are one of the world leaders in this work. Scientists from other well-known, prestigious organizations look up to what our scientists are doing here.”
Cincinnati Children’s is also a highly sought training destination for residents and fellows, many of whom go on to distinguished careers here or at other organizations. Our Department of Pediatrics has been recognized as the number-2 pediatrics program in the country by "U.S. News & World Report."
“We work to attract a diverse pool of trainees, and we’re constantly updating the curriculum content because healthcare is always evolving and we want to make sure that our trainees are on the leading edge of medicine,” says Steve.
Steve Davis on the Most Important Thing You Can Do:
The most important thing anyone can do for a CEO is tell them the truth. I try to create an environment where people feel safe in doing that. I tend to stay fairly calm when hearing about mistakes or bad news because I know I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in the past and will likely make more. It’s important to focus on how we mitigate potential damage and improve our processes, so the same thing doesn’t happen again.
I encourage everyone to be open and transparent. If people can’t express disagreement with my ideas, it’s often hard to get them on board. It’s also hard for me to change my opinion because I haven’t heard their version of things.
When someone expresses a different viewpoint, I ask, “Why do you think that?” Asking why gives us both an opportunity to learn. And when someone has a clear rationale, it often includes something I’ve missed or didn’t know or understand.
When everyone understands the importance of speaking up, it reduces misperceptions and other challenges and helps us all get to consensus more easily. It also helps us more genuinely fulfill our expectation that when we leave the room, we act as One Cincinnati Children’s.
Steve and his leadership team have done a lot of thinking this past year about what Cincinnati Children’s should look like as an organization to advance the aims outlined in Pursuing Our Potential Together.
“We’re re-imagining and updating our organizational structure, particularly around Operational Excellence, that will enhance our ability to achieve our goals and continue to grow,” he explains. “We’re also focusing on our Wildly Important Goal of Access. And in the coming year, we will build on our work around health equity. We know there are gaps, but we are actively working to close them and are making good progress.”
The medical center will continue to grow thoughtfully in terms of where we can have the biggest impact for children while acknowledging current system stresses. We have almost 17,500 employees at 40 locations in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
“We will be opening our Centerville facility in March,” says Steve. “This is an important opportunity for us, as we know that patients in that area have had to drive a great distance to get here. This is part of our effort to see more patients closer to where they live. I’m also excited about the opening of our new mental health building at College Hill in October. It will be a big advancement for our providers, patients and families. More importantly, it’s helped energize our thinking around how we provide mental healthcare.”
Growth won’t just encompass bricks and mortar. It will include traditional and nontraditional partnerships.
“We’re living in an era where we essentially have two choices—change or be changed,” says Steve. “We must be open to collaborations with for-profit companies that produce advanced technologies that can benefit our patients.”
Despite the ongoing census crunch and staffing issues, Steve is optimistic that we will work through any challenges and emerge stronger and wiser.
“Our teams have shown incredible resilience, and we remain an employer of choice,” he says. “I am thankful for everyone’s hard work and for those who reach out to me with advice or suggestions. We have an exceptionally talented executive team and lots of talented people in the organization. So, the more I listen, the better off we are. I firmly believe we are better together and that the best is yet to come for Cincinnati Children’s.”