A Q&A with Dr. Brian Erling, CEO & President of Renown Health
On behalf of Renown’s more than 7,000 employees, we are thrilled to introduce our healthcare system’s next CEO and President, Brian Erling, MD, MBA. Dr. Erling joins Renown after working for more than 20 years in Colorado, most recently as the CEO and President of Penrose-St. Francis Health System in Colorado Springs for Centura Health. “I am so excited to join Renown Health at this important time. Healthcare and our economy are amid a major transformation, and Renown Health is very well positioned for the future,” Dr. Erling said. “Our ongoing success will hinge on our ability to establish positive and productive relationships, maintain high-quality patient clinical outcomes and experiences, reduce healthcare costs, encourage innovation and improve access and affordability for patients and members.” Q: Let’s start at the beginning. When did your interest in healthcare first begin? A: Believe it or not, I started my healthcare career during high school in Minnesota when I worked as a nursing assistant. I then worked as a monitor tech while pursuing my undergraduate degree in biology from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Q: Where did you go to medical school, and what was your first job after training? A: After graduating from The John Hopkins University School of Medicine and spending three years at the University of Virginia for my residency, I spent more than a decade in the emergency department at a level 1 trauma center. Q: Does your experience as a physician impact your approach to healthcare leadership? A: Yes, absolutely. I have worked my fair share of nights, weekends and holidays, and I know the sacrifices healthcare workers – and their families – make to care for our communities. I will never take it for granted. I also understand how complex healthcare organizations are, and I have experienced these complexities from both the clinical and non-clinical sides. I have provided clinical leadership for a large, regional health system and understand that quality, safety and innovation come from the people doing the work, not from a corporate office. But you also need strong managers and leaders to facilitate and prioritize the work while providing support and coaching. Q: What is the key to a successful healthcare system? A: Teamwork. In fact, being part of a high-performing, mission-driven team is my number one motivation. It’s what gets me up in the morning and why I work in healthcare. I view our greatest resource to be our people, meaning Renown’s more than 7,000 employees. Modern technologies – such as fancy robots and imaging equipment – are essential and pretty cool, but they are not why our patients choose us. They come for trusted care in their hometown. Q: Renown Health is going through a lot of exciting changes right now. What is one thing that excites you about joining this healthcare system in a rapidly expanding area of the country? A: I am very excited about the new partnership with Renown and the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. While still in its infancy, it provides the platform for us to be the center for training, research and tertiary care for the region and beyond. Q: What is something you have learned from working with CEOs at other healthcare systems? A: Healthcare leaders often have a short half-life, but that is not me. I believe it is difficult to create and move an organization toward a unified vision when your leader changes every few years. As my track record will support, this is not my style. I have been in Colorado for over twenty years and now look forward to making Reno and Renown my home for years to come. Q: As you know, Hometown Health is Renown’s health insurance arm. How does equitable access to insurance fit into a person’s and a community’s overall well-being? A: Most health systems would love to have their own health plan. The reality is that you cannot meaningfully improve the health of the population without managing value and risk. We are fortunate to have Hometown Health as part of Renown Health, and in our community, and I am excited to work with Bethany and the team to fulfill the mission of the organization. Q: What does working at a not-for-profit healthcare system mean to you? How does it differ from the for-profit sector? A: I have worked in for-profit and not-for-profit healthcare. Renown is unique as the only not-for-profit health system in the market. What that means is that we invest every penny earned back into caring for our community. We don’t send money to shareholders in California or Pennsylvania, we invest it right here in Nevada. Not only is a not-for-profit healthcare organization where I want to work for, but it is where my family and I want to go for care. Q: What do you like to do for fun? A: I love spending time with my wife and three adult children. I met my wife, Jessica, while attending medical school in Baltimore. She was working as a nurse in the surgical ICU, and I was smitten. I offered to help her with a 3 a.m. bed linen change and bath for our trauma patient, and the rest was history. I also love exploring the outdoors, especially snowboarding!
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Kindly Care for Those Who Care for You
Over the past year, the safety of healthcare providers has received more public attention than ever before. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – and particularly in the early days – the public learned about the vital role of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other important processes that keep healthcare workers safe and healthy. However, people may be surprised to learn that germs and viruses are just one of the many risks that healthcare professionals face every day. Many people are fortunate enough not to have to worry for their physical and mental well-being when they go to work. Unfortunately, this is not the case for countless healthcare workers across the nation, for whom workplace violence is a daily concern. According to the American Hospital Association, healthcare workers are four times more likely to experience serious workplace violence than people in other industries. This is particularly troubling knowing that healthcare workers have dedicated their careers to serving others, putting their communities first- day in and day out. What is Considered Workplace Violence? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines workplace violence as, “Incidents where staff are abused, threatened, or assaulted in circumstances related to their work, including commuting to and from work, involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being, or health.” WHO considers both physical and psychological harm, including attacks, verbal abuse, bullying, and both sexual and racial harassment, to be workplace violence. Responding to the Challenge of Workplace Violence At Renown Health, we have no tolerance for abuse against our employees. As an organization, we have several systems in place to support and protect our staff. During staff orientation, we provide classes to prepare employees to prevent and de-escalate verbal or physical abuse. We also offer ongoing education to train our staff to respond to violent situations. If an incident does occur, our Violence Prevention Task Force reviews incidents and ensures the impacted employees receive resources and counseling to help them process what has occurred. We are among the first in the nation to have instituted a Zero Tolerance policy on workplace violence. This policy is in place to let our employees know that we have their backs in preventing workforce violence and we will address it assertively if the environment becomes unsafe. As a leader, I am continually impressed by our team’s desire and ability to support one another. However, I know that it is my responsibility to protect our team. No one should have to face harassment or abuse – in any form – in his or her workplace. I believe so much in this cause that I volunteer as Chair of the American Hospital Association’s Hospitals Against Violence steering committee, which works to understand the causes behind violence against healthcare workers and develops tools and processes to prevent these incidents from occurring. Violence was already a concern facing health care organization leaders prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the ongoing health crisis has elevated tensions. Health care is an industry like no other, with our most precious resource being our employees. As a community, as patients and family members, we have an obligation to ensure that all healthcare workers are safe while they go about their work. This starts with understanding, communication and unequivocal support for the profession. This month we launched the Be Kind campaign across Renown, a reminder to all of the importance of values like patience, kindness and gratitude. If you would like to join us in recognizing a healthcare hero, please submit your thoughts here. Thank you for working with us, and all healthcare providers, to create and maintain places of health and healing for all – and for kindly caring for those who care for you.
How Philanthropy Helps Address Gaps in Care
In Nevada, we are so fortunate to have a number of not-for-profits and philanthropists who are supporting our mission at Renown Health; we couldn’t do it without them. In the world of healthcare, we are doing well in driving community benefit programming through operations. However, the things our communities need investments in are so much broader than we might be able to afford on our own. That is why it is essential for us to be supported by the people who are so in love with this community and want to assure we get the kinds of services and care for those who can’t afford it or add new services that are contemporary and leading edge that have not been offered here before. Establishing Behavioral Health & Addiction Institute We are so excited to receive a very generous donation from Chuck and Stacie Mathewson for the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health & Addiction Institute. This institute is so sorely needed in northern Nevada. Renown Health has a very important role in being able to bring attention to this important problem of mental health and addiction challenges in northern Nevada. Keeping Pediatric Care Close to Home One of the most important areas where philanthropy comes in handy for us at Renown Health is by assuring that we have the foundational programs that we would not be able to afford with operations alone. For example, the William N. Pennington Foundation’s generous gift has allowed us to create 15 pediatric specialty areas here in northern Nevada so children who have an illness or injury no longer need to leave town. The William N. Pennington Foundation supported Renown Children’s Hospital in a way that we never would have been able to support on our own. We are eternally grateful, and their gift — that 100,000 children are assured access to contemporary health and healthcare services — is beyond comprehension.
Workplace Violence: Protecting Healthcare Workers
Over the past year, the safety of healthcare providers has received more public attention than ever before. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – and particularly in the early days – the public learned about the vital role of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other important processes that keep healthcare workers safe and healthy. However, people may be surprised to learn that germs and viruses are just one of the many risks that healthcare professionals face every day. Many people are fortunate enough not to have to worry for their physical and mental wellbeing when they go to work. Unfortunately, this is not the case for countless healthcare workers across the nation, for whom workplace violence is a daily concern. According to the American Hospital Association, healthcare workers are four times more likely to experience serious workplace violence as people in other industries. This is particularly troubling knowing that healthcare workers have dedicated their careers to serving others, putting their communities first day in and day out. Responding to the Challenge of Workplace Violence At Renown, we have no tolerance for abuse against our employees. As an organization, we have several systems in place to support and protect our staff. During staff orientation, we provide classes to prepare employees to prevent and de-escalate verbal or physical abuse. We also offer ongoing education to train our staff to respond to violent situations. If an incident does occur, our violence prevention task force reviews incidents and ensures the impacted employees receive resources and counseling to help them process what has occurred. As a leader, I am continually impressed by our team’s desire and ability to support one another. However, I know that it is my responsibility to protect our team. No one should have to face harassment or abuse – in any form – in their workplace, and I think about the risks our employees face every day. I believe so much in this cause that I volunteer on the American Hospital Association’s Hospitals Against Violence steering committee, which works to understand the causes behind violence against healthcare workers and develops tools and processes to prevent these incidents from occurring.
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Addressing the Threat of Workplace Violence in Hospitals
In recent years, workplace violence against healthcare workers has been on the rise. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 75 percent of nearly 25,000 reported annual workplace assaults occur in healthcare and social service settings. Those who don’t work in healthcare may be surprised to learn that violent altercations are so common in our field. Hospital settings can create fear and stress for patients and their families. Pain, mind-altering medications and drugs, and difficult prognoses can amplify these feelings. While inappropriate responses may be understandable, violence cannot be tolerated. As the leader of a health system, protecting our employees is an issue that I take seriously. Reporting Workplace Violence Unfortunately, sometimes employees don’t report dangerous incidents fearing they might be blamed, or not realizing it’s a reportable offense. At Renown Health, we take these events seriously. We have clear, mandatory policies and protocols for reporting and investigating violent incidents. Each incident is investigated to ensure follow through and accountability. We also teach de-escalation skills to our hospital security teams, clinicians, and other frontline employees. As an added layer of protection, Renown Health has a first-rate security team that closely monitors activity on our campuses, addressing potential issues before they escalate. Our organization values our partnerships with community organizations including local law enforcement agencies like the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and the Reno Police Department. Renown Health maintains a close relationship with these partners, and we alert them when our care teams experience an increase in violent incidents. I also recognize that workplace violence is a national problem that demands collaborative solutions. That’s why I am also proud to serve as a member of the American Hospital Association’s Hospitals Against Violence Advisory Committee. Nurses, doctors, paramedics, and frontline health workers care for us every day. It’s our responsibility to support them by ensuring they feel safe at work.
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Food as Medicine The Joy of Home Cooking
One of my family’s most cherished traditions is coming together around a home-cooked meal. From the time I was young, my family has always gathered in the kitchen, whether to prepare a meal or to catch up and share stories over a cup of coffee. Years later, I still enjoy making home cooked meals for my family. Sitting down together to share a meal is an opportunity to be present, without television or other distractions, and share what is happening in our lives. This holiday season, many of us will stay home instead of traveling in an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Although we will miss seeing extended family in person, we can still choose to enjoy our favorite dishes. Since we will not have the pressure of cooking for large groups, I encourage families to consider using this year as an opportunity to teach kids (or even some adults) to prepare favorite dishes. You might even consider inviting relatives to participate in a cooking lesson via Facetime or Zoom. The Joy of Home Cooking Starts at a Young Age I feel fortunate that my grandmother taught me to cook when I was young. Nutrition plays a major role in our health, and studies show that developing home cooking skills as a young adult leads to long-term health benefits. Learning to cook teaches us how to select ingredients, prepare different types of foods, and assemble a balanced meal. Conversely, not knowing how to cook limits our food choices, causing us to rely more on ready-made foods that can contain high levels of salt or fat. Feeling kitchen confident also makes us more likely to make dinner at home instead of eating at restaurants, where people tend to over indulge. Today’s busy lifestyle can make eating together a challenge, but it’s worth the effort it takes. I encourage you to take advantage of the extra time spent at home this year by carving out time to connect over meals. Whether you make a favorite family recipe or learn a new dish together, it will be time well spent. Health Improvement Programs | 775-982-5073 Renown Health offers a number of educational and support programs to help people overcome the challenges of their health conditions and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Our team of registered dietitians and nurses also work to provide patients and their loved ones the tools to manage disease and live a healthy and happy life. We Offer: Diabetes Programs Medical Weight Management Nutrition Programs Learn More
Improving the Way we Deliver Quality Rural Healthcare
One of the most pressing issues in modern medicine is the need to improve rural healthcare. This challenge hits particularly close to home, as Renown Health is the only provider covering 100,000 square miles in northern Nevada, an area that’s mostly rural. People in rural areas suffer from chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease, at higher rates than the general population. One of the largest contributors to these health disparities is a lack of access to health services. Many rural communities have fewer providers and care facilities. This forces residents to travel farther to receive preventive care and medical treatment. We must identify ways to better support the health needs of the millions of Americans who live in rural communities. Ideas for improving rural healthcare Health systems must identify innovative ways to leverage existing resources and new technologies to care for patients in these communities. For example, telehealth can help diminish a person’s need to travel long distances to receive specialty care. Similarly, online classes can help educate patients about preventive behaviors. Remote monitoring technology also allows patients to track their health conditions from home. Additionally, we can address physician shortages by empowering health professionals such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and technologists to care for patients. These providers receive excellent training and have demonstrated success in improving health outcomes. Renown Health cares for people from diverse backgrounds and we are dedicated to caring for patients in every community we serve. Renown Telehealth We’re leading the region in using video conferencing technology to provide the best care possible – no matter where you are. Renown Telehealth is telemedicine that gives you access to top-level care and better outcomes with less stress and fewer travel costs. Learn More
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My Inspiration to Keep Fighting Becoming a Grandparent
As a clinician and a cancer survivor, I know that hope is an essential force that drives people to work through difficult situations. I also believe there’s a strong correlation between hope and wellness. Hope inspires us to make healthy choices today with the understanding that these behaviors will benefit us in the future. In addition, an optimistic outlook helps patients face illness and injury with strength and confidence. While it’s easy for some people to maintain a positive outlook, it’s common to feel hopeless on a bad day. An important part of our job as healthcare providers is to help patients cultivate hope and build a strong foundation that carries them through their medical journey. The Importance of Family A common source of hope, for me and many others, is family. My family has recently welcomed our newest member, my first granddaughter, Emory. Becoming a grandparent has inspired me to reflect on the many blessings in my life. It’s not only been a opportunity to reflect, but also look ahead to the future. I often dream about the things Emory will accomplish one day, the kind of person she will become, and the world I want her to live in. These aspirations have renewed my determination to work hard and lead by example. At Renown Health, we know that hope and resilience are just as important in the recovery process as excellent medical care. That’s why we work with our patients to find sources of strength and inspiration in their own lives. We’re committed to helping our patients keep fighting the good fight for a healthier tomorrow.
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Making Patient Safety the Priority It Deserves to Be
I am regularly amazed by medical advancements and innovation in the United States. However, even as we make significant progress in many areas of medicine, there is still much more work to be done in others. One such area is patient safety. What is Patient Safety? When we talk about patient safety, we are discussing how hospitals and healthcare organizations protect patients from errors, injuries and infections. Anyone can make a mistake at work, but in healthcare these mistakes can result in serious outcomes. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a report that estimated 98,000 deaths per year result from medical examination or treatment. The most recent study in 2013 suggested these numbers could range from 210,000 to 440,000 deaths per year. Many of these deaths result from preventable medical errors. This is inexcusable and shows how much more work our industry still needs to do to improve patient safety. Making Patient Safety a Priority Patient Safety is our number one priority at Renown Health. We dedicate a lot of time to establishing, reviewing, and revising our processes to prevent errors. Despite the obvious importance of patient safety, this issue is largely left to individual hospitals and health systems to manage. There is a surprising lack of national attention around this truly important issue. However, a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it is igniting interest in hygiene and infection prevention. Patients want to learn more about the processes that are in place to prevent the spread of infections. In addition to the many protocols that guide our treatment of injuries and illness, Renown Health has implemented the following measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases: Requiring everyone entering Renown sites to wear a mask or face covering. Establishing new processes to help patients and visitors practice social distancing. Limiting the number of visitors in our facilities. Screening all employees and patients for symptoms. Enhancing our already-thorough cleaning and disinfection processes. I hope patient safety and infection prevention remain in the national spotlight long after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. The healthcare industry must come together to develop stronger systems and regulations to minimize preventable medical errors. We have a responsibility to our patients to do better.
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Bringing a Public Health Perspective to Healthcare
There are many lenses through which to view health. As you would expect, medical providers typically focus on the health of individual patients. For example, doctors consider a person’s symptoms, their current lifestyle, their past medical history, and their family’s history to diagnose medical conditions and recommend treatments. The Public Health Perspective Public health professionals look beyond the health of an individual and instead focus on the health of an entire community or population of people. They strive to achieve “the greatest good for the greatest number.” As the CEO of a health system, I feel fortunate to have education and training in both medicine and public health. As Renown Health’s leader, it is my responsibility to care for the people and communities we serve. That involves bringing world-class staff and innovative medical care to northern Nevada. We also focus on prevention by looking for ways to improve health outside of our facilities. That means partnering with local organizations to address the social, economic, and environmental factors that shape our health. Or working with local government to create policies that help to prevent disease and injury. In order to make a genuine and long-lasting impact on health, we must foster a community that helps our neighbors live well. Public health is especially important during times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that we’re experiencing now. During these times, health systems must be able to swiftly shift focus from prioritizing the needs of individual patients to considering what is best for our local population. For example, we may need to temporarily limit hospital visitors or educate the public about how to socially distance in order to stop the spread of disease. Being prepared to make this shift and having strong relationships with our local health department and community organizations help us better serve the public. In both good times and bad, I am thankful that my public health background provides me with the perspective to look beyond our health system and embrace the health our community.
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Combating Burnout for a Healthier Work Environment
At Renown Health, we often discuss the importance of both healthcare – how we treat people when they are sick or injured – and health – how we keep people well in their mind, body and spirit. This conversation is as important for the patients we serve as it is for our healthcare providers. It’s well known that the medical field can impose challenging and even unhealthy expectations for healthcare workers. Long hours and physically and emotionally demanding work can lead to burnout. Yet, until recently, these issues were rarely discussed openly. Because the role of healthcare providers is to care for other people, they may feel uncomfortable asking for help themselves. The good news is that more and more physicians and professional associations are talking about burnout. Hospitals are also taking action to address concerns like mental and emotional fatigue. We need our workforce to be healthy in mind, body and spirit. That’s why we support our team by educating them on the warning signs of burnout. Renown Health also trains management-level employees to care for those who need help. We encourage employees to talk openly about these challenges and encourage them to access the many services available to our employees that can help them live well. Caring for people is central to Renown Health’s mission. We believe this applies to both our patients and our teammates.
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Beyond Jello A Healthier Approach to Hospital Food
Hospital food gets a bad rap and maybe it’s deserved. However, at Renown Health we strive to serve patients, visitors and staff meals that are both nutritious and delicious. In this video and blog post, Renown Health President and CEO, Tony Slonim, M.D., Dr.PH., FACHE, shares his thoughts on hospital food and modeling healthy lifestyles. Everyone knows that what we eat matters for almost every aspect of our health. Eating well can prevent chronic disease, control weight, improve our mood and even strengthen our bonds with loved ones as we come together to enjoy a family meal. Yet despite this knowledge, balancing work or school responsibilities, family life and everything in between can make eating healthy feel like an uphill battle. Recognizing this challenge, Renown Health invests in programming to help our community embrace healthy lifestyle habits – starting with our own employees. Knowing that people often look to their healthcare providers to model healthy behavior, we are deliberate in our efforts to help our employees and their families live well. We also provide healthy dining options in our on-campus restaurants and through our food and nutrition services team. We believe that providing nutritious, appetizing meals helps patients to recuperate from illness or injury, helps their families recharge, and helps our staff fulfill their promise of providing outstanding care. We hope that by serving as models of healthy behaviors, our employees will inspire others to join us in this journey. Dr. Slonim on Twitter | @RenownCEOTonyMD Interested in learning more of Dr. Slomin’s thoughts on health and healthcare? Engage with him on Twitter. Follow Tony
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