CEO of SCA Health talks about holistic growth across the specialty care continuum

Caitlin Zulla is the chief executive officer at Deerfield, Ill.-based SCA Health. 

Ms. Zulla will present "Setting Your Vision for Your ASC to Succeed in 2023 & Beyond" at Becker’s ASC Annual Meeting. As part of an ongoing series, Becker’s is talking to healthcare leaders who plan to speak at the conference on Oct. 27-29 in Chicago.

To learn more and register, click here.

Becker's Healthcare aims to foster peer-to-peer conversation between healthcare's brightest leaders and thinkers. In that vein, responses to our Speaker Series are published straight from interviewees. Here is what our speaker had to say.

Question: What is the smartest thing you've done in the last year to set your organization up for success?

Caitlin Zulla: Our leadership team thinks a lot about how to work "smarter, not harder" and how we can enable our teams to do the same. In the last year, I'm particularly proud of three things that have supported our success. 

First, we clarified our SCA Health vision and brand. When I joined the organization in 2015, we were an ambulatory surgery center company singularly focused on partnering with surgeons in their ASCs. Since then, we’ve evolved to support physician specialists more holistically across the specialty care continuum. In addition to our continued ASC leadership, we’ve grown our business to support specialty practices, patient navigation, value-based care, anesthesia, ancillary services, and more. Today, the SCA Health brand reflects who we are in the industry today and where we are going.

Second, we embraced radical simplicity to ensure we remain focused on what matters most: serving our physicians and caring for our patients. With more than 320 ASCs, 11.5 thousand teammates, and 13.5 thousand aligned physicians, there are an infinite number of priorities and opportunities. We developed a management process to align ourselves around the "big rocks" — tangible, actionable items that drive performance.

Finally, coming out of the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, we placed a heavy emphasis on role clarity and prioritization. It sounds simple and obvious — but aligning on ownership and execution pathways is critical to support efficient decision-making and organizational success.

Q: What are you most excited about right now and what makes you nervous?

CZ: Like many others across the healthcare industry, I'm most nervous about the instability of the clinical workforce. The national shortage of nurses and surgical technicians is escalating burnout and driving up the cost of labor. This is a critical issue that can’t be solved overnight and requires that we take time to truly understand and address what matters most to teammates and support them in all aspects of their lives. 

What excites me most is the opportunity we have to put the pieces of the care continuum together and address the quadruple aim: high-quality care, at a lower cost, with a superior patient and provider experience. As part of Optum, we are creating a large-scale, unified health system that provides more streamlined, accessible, and affordable care for the patients we serve. This enhanced connectivity and alignment improve quality patient care, supports specialists, optimizes site-of-service, and addresses the quadruple aim. 

Q: How are you thinking about growth over the next 12 months?

CZ: We are thinking about growth more holistically across the specialty care continuum. We're focused not just on the number of ASCs, but the quality of care we provide, the proportion of spend in value-based care arrangements, our increased connectivity to practices and health systems, and additional ancillary services that support specialists' independence.

Growth shouldn't solely be defined by revenue. It’s critical to consider the cost we’re taking out of the healthcare system by treating the whole patient. In partnership with Optum, we're doing this by working with primary care and community care clinicians in fee-for-service and risk arrangements. 

Q: What will healthcare executives and leaders need to be effective leaders for the next five years?

CZ: There are three critical things for healthcare executives and leaders to succeed: vision, culture, and connectivity.  

Leaders must be able to shape a forward-looking and purpose-driven vision that guides our teams. When we lead with our vision at the forefront, we remind people why they got into medicine in the first place and that their work can improve the healthcare system for all. 

Leaders must also foster a culture aligned with shared commitments and values that support the established vision. We are passionate about creating a culture where every teammate can bring their full, authentic self to work and one where inclusion, integrity, trust, and transparency are at our core. 

Finally, effective leaders must work together to build connectivity in the ever-evolving healthcare industry. Relationships are key to success, so authentically and compassionately connecting with partners — including strategic industry leaders, vendors, physicians, customers, and employees — will improve innovation, agility and the maximization of business opportunities.

Q: What is your strategy for recruiting and retaining great teams?

CZ: Our people are the key to our success, so recruiting exceptional teammates and providing them with a best-in-class workplace is our top priority. 

Our strategy is to support our teammates — not just as employees — but as whole people. We support the whole person through career growth and training, recognizing and rewarding achievements, mental health and wellbeing services, and promoting work/life integration. We are focused on creating a workplace where teammates feel empowered to bring their whole selves to work through our diversity, inclusion and belonging programs and our six unique Teammate Resource Groups.

And finally, the needs of our teammates are always changing, so we regularly evaluate our benefits to ensure we’re offering comprehensive support for teammates’ physical, emotional, financial, and social well-being. From fertility treatment coverage and enhanced, paid parental leave to paid caregiver leave and paid volunteer time with our non-profit partner, One World Surgery, SCA is constantly enhancing our benefits to support what our teammates want to accomplish in their careers and full lives. 

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