November 7: Today on TownHall Karla Arzola, Chief Information Officer at Rocky Mountain Human Services speaks with Susan Ibanez, Chief Information Officer at Southeast Georgia Health System. They discuss Susan’s method to building a successful leadership path by knowing yourself, your team, and your organization. Susan discusses adapting to change, understanding the inherent strengths and weaknesses within oneself, and lifelong learning opportunities. What other paths for continual educational growth are there outside of the time commitment of formal education? What key questions does she ask as part of her listening tours? How does she approach conversations with leaders in her organization that work outside of IT staff?
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So I set up monthly meetings. And I meet with them in their office, not in IT. I heard something the other day at a conference that was really, that really resonated with me. They said, don't ever meet in IT. You need to be in their space. and understand what's going on in that operational leader's environment. They don't need to come to your space and live in an IT world. Meet the customers where they are.
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All right. Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining us in one more town hall for Dysweek Health. And today I have the pleasure to introduce great leader, great friend. She and I had the opportunity to meet a year ago or so when she was nominated for the Orby Awards.
It's in Colorado, Susan Ibanez is our guest for today. And Susan, she was the CIO at Vail Health for three and a half years. So that's how we got to know each other because, you know, she was in Colorado and she got nominated. she told me about all great things that she was doing or she was able to do for the organization she was in Vail.
And one of the things that, or a couple of the things that she was extremely successful. at establishing was change management and project management practices. But obviously that has a process. So she's going to talk about that. And then, sadly, but you know, happy for her. She had the opportunity, another CI opportunity at Southwest Georgia Health System.
And so she's there right now. And she's going to talk a bit about her new role. And so, hi, Susan. Thank you for joining us today and sharing this space with us. Hey Carla, thanks for having me.
I'm really excited. I am actually at Southeast Georgia Health in Brunswick, Georgia. So we're right on the coast of Georgia and about 45 minutes from Jacksonville and about 45 minutes from Savannah.
So we're in a great location on the southeast coastline.
That's amazing. So why don't you start with telling us about yourself, your new role and your background.
Sure, I'd love to. So, I'm the CIO at Southeast Georgia Health. It's an independent community hospital, about 400 beds on the coast of Southeast Georgia.
Prior to joining this organization a little over two and a half months ago, I was Vail Health in Vail, Colorado, which was another independent community hospital. I have found that's where my passion is, is working in community, independent, not for profit hospitals. I feel really connected with those organizations and with the communities and the patients that they support.
Prior to that... I was with Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas, which is a large not for profit independent hospital in Houston, Texas. that, spent many years with HCA. So, I've moved around in different types of organizations, for profit, not for profit. Spent a lot of years in HCA. Prior to that, I was a CIO at Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.
So, I've had the unique pleasure of working in A variety of different health systems and different models. So, I've had a great opportunity to evaluate and find what works the best for me. My educational background, I hold a doctorate in healthcare administration 📍 from Walden University.
A master's in healthcare 📍 administration and a master's in IT and business from Texas A& M Kingsville. So, I had some great opportunities along my educational journey. I teach, currently, adjunct at Abilene Christian online in their online healthcare Administration Master's program. So, one thing that I find very rewarding is to be able to give back and help to develop new leaders and new healthcare administrators.
So that's been a great blessing in my life to be able to participate in a teaching function in the field that I love.
Yeah, thank you for sharing that. a big portion of you, going back to school and your has to do with your success path, right? And we're going to talk about that.
So you recently presented at a healthcare conference and your topic was about leadership and the approach you took to build a path for success for you, for your team, for your organization, just In general, right? And the theme was know yourself, know your team, know your business. I know everybody kind of hears that and talks about it, but it's easier said than done.
Because there's a ton of work they have to put those three components together. And then just to, to stay up to speed and to make sure that you're doing the right thing. So let's start with know yourself. What does that mean? How does that align with your philosophy?
As I mentioned, there are many, many, many other systems in our country, and they can be anywhere 📍 from government, for profit systems, specialty hospitals , the list just goes on and on.. If you have the opportunity to work in a variety of systems, take that opportunity so that you can really understand what speaks to you and where your passion is.
Again, I mentioned, I connect very closely with the community, not for profit, independent health system. I just feel like supporting the patients. and seeing the same people in your community at the grocery store that you take care of in the hospital is just a really wonderful connection. I also feel like in the small community hospitals you have the opportunity to see the results of your efforts as a health system.
Not for profit organizations give back on large portion of their time and money to the community projects. And so we just feel really connected with the community. And that just resonates with me. I just love that. So find the type of health system that you want to work in then pursue opportunities in that.
And there's no right or wrong. They're all great systems. You just have the opportunity to choose what really connects with you. One of the things that I recommend people do is write a personal mission statement. It will help you connect back to your why, your mission, what's important to you. And so, if you don't have one, write one.
You can Google to get some ideas, but just write down the things that are important to you and what your passion is. And that will help you as you're going on your career search through the healthcare system. I think, Carla, that I will just say is, in knowing yourself, know your strengths and weaknesses.
Right, so there's a lot of assessment tools like a DISC survey, MBI, AXION 360s. Those are all great ways to understand, your leadership style, how you operate, maybe areas that you can improve on your leadership skills. And so take feedback as a gift. I think it's really important to think about that.
And ensure that you're open to that kind of feedback. And then finally, in healthcare leadership, and really in leadership in general and technology specifically, you're going to have to commit to being a lifelong learner, which kind of played along with my educational journey. The technology industry changes constantly.
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📍 So two things that I 100 percent relate with you is one, it could take a while for us to really understand our mission, right?
It's not something that you want, you know, or maybe there would be a day that you wake up and you exactly know what that means to you and your call. It kind of happens, right? It's like those series of things that happen in your life. And at some point you realize this is what I want to do.
But for those that haven't, Just want to make sure that we let them know it might not be now, but you will find that mission, right? 100 percent agree with you. And the sense, again, that I, you know, work for a for profit organization and at some point I was like, you know, I really want to give back to my community.
And Colorado is a great place to be and give back. And as you know, our network is very tight and very collaborative. And so, it's, there's opportunities there for us to do that. And so talking about your long term commitments or your education, right? And so, You did obviously your PhD and you have many certifications and you have master's and all those things.
But what are some of the things that would you also recommend for people to do for those that they're like, you know what, I really don't want to do a PhD because there's a lot of time, right? There's a lot of time to put into it. I mean, it's not for everybody. So what do you say to those that don't want to go that route, Susan?
Yep. That's a great question. One of the things that I suggest get connected to your professional organizations like CHIME and HIMSS and ACHE, and each one of those organizations has local chapters. And those local chapters and national chapters Carla and I are both a member of CHIME, and so, those are opportunities for you to plug in and get educational opportunities.
They present a lot of seminars and training, regulatory industry specific healthcare. So those are great ways to get connected. And continue your educational journey without signing up for college courses. In the IT field, there's many industry certifications from a technical perspective that you can also embark on and go that route and go more the technical certification route.
So there's just a variety of different ways that you can, and should, commit to your continuing educational journey without signing up for a PhD.
Absolutely. Many, Many ways. And you can always reach out to people and say, Hey, by the way, how do I join this organization? And so being comfortable asking those questions, especially, you know, you're a leader they can always point you into the right direction. Yes, tons of opportunities. So let's talk about getting to know your team, right?
Because that's actually a good question for you right now. What does that process look like? You're right now , in a new position and you're learning your team and because you have to learn how to leverage your team, what moves them, how do you inspire them and all those things.
So what does that process look like or will look like for users?
Yep. So what I, the way I approach it when I join a new organization is to do a listening tour, right, with your customers and with your team and really understanding from your team what their personal goals are, what their professional goals are what their aspirations are.
And I really think that's a great opportunity if you're new to the organization to have one on one meetings with your team members to get to know what is important. Have goals, within their career, or they may have personal goals that they're interested in pursuing. And as a leader, you can help support those goals.
Really what you want is for the person to be successful, you would like them to be successful on your team, that would keep those good employees. But really we're building leaders. So our overall goal is for them to be successful, whether it's within our organization or outside our organization. And so I think kind of getting your head around that is really important.
One of the things that I recommend for that is succession planning. So as you're getting to know your team, really helping build your succession plan for roles for managers and up within your team. In many instances in the smaller community health systems, you may be one person a week. So understanding who has a desire to learn certain roles and what training can you use to upskill those employees to build that bench strength.
And I think that really makes a difference, but I think the bottom line is, get to know your employees from a personal perspective, what their motivation and goals are, and a professional perspective.
I love that you say it's a listening tour, right?
Because you're, it's about really learning about your team and others. What are some of the key questions when you're having those conversations that you have to focus on, right? Because. Any ideas, suggestions?
So, I'd like to ask that I meet you with my team members.
What do you love about your job? What do you wish was not part of your job? And what would a perfect job look like to you? If you could plan your, write your job description, what would it look like? And then what would you like to do in your future with this organization? And that really starts that conversation of this is what I love about what I currently do.
This is what I wish I never had to do again. And this is what I could do five years down the road. I have had some interesting conversations. With people who say, I want your job, or I want to be a teammate, or I never want to meet. Without knowing it, you can overlook someone who has a lot of great potential.
And that has an interest in advancing or moving into a different role. And you will never know that if you don't talk to them. And then they may say, I have young children, and so I'm interested in learning this, but I can't really make a commitment to this job change for another five years. Or they may say, I want to step back from responsibility.
So it's really just a great opportunity to open that dialogue, ask them what they like, ask them what they don't like. People are very eager to share. When it comes to that.
And Suzanne, I'm sure that the same conversations happens with your colleagues, right? Because your team is not just your team reporting you or, I mean, directly work with you, but also your stakeholders, the people that are, around the hospital, what are those conversations look like for them?
Because it's very different, You know, It's not, and that, from that perspective, you're not helping on their, or maybe you are, who knows, because there's some people that want to continue, right? And that's how you find out. But what do those conversations look like for those that don't report directly to you?
So those were great conversations that most recently I had here, did the same thing at Bill, did the same thing at Memorial Hermann. And really, what you're looking for is, what are your pain points? What works well about technology in our organization? What themes, you're listening for themes in those conversations.
What would you change about technology? What is your barrier from a technological perspective or an IT leadership perspective? And you can make notes through your conversations, and you'll start to see those themes woven through every one of those conversations. What's been your biggest struggle?
What's been your biggest win from an IT perspective? And then marrying up what you hear from your team. With what you hear from your customers really helps you build that plan that is going to be your 3069, your 120 roadmap. And so after you complete those conversations, and it should be a variety of senior leadership down to director levels, and then within your IT team, and then building the results of your listening tour and
letting that you right now.
Thank you for sharing that. So what about, so lastly, right, we talk about the organization and why is it so important to get to know the place that you work. And so, in your experience, tell us how did that look like again? What was that important in some of the steps that you took to get there?
Because obviously it's overwhelming, right? I remember when I started working in IT, I'm like, oh, my God. Where do I start? Cause it's, it's a lot, it's a different, a little different when you work for an organization, which is a community hospital, like something smaller, cause it's just, like you mentioned a standalone, a little easier to get to know your business, but regardless, I believe that the steps are the same what are those
And from a leadership perspective, I think you're looking at a variety of things like leadership competencies. What does your organization do to onboard and develop leaders? That's going to be really important. So instead of walking around like someone just trying to find their way in the dark, you'll understand, how to create your budget.
What tools do they use? How do you submit an expense report? How do you approve time? All that kind of stuff. So understanding. What the leadership development and onboarding program is for your organization will help you microwave that. Then establishing your professional partnerships. So I think that's really important, like make friends with your chief human resource officer, make friends with your recruiters, make friends with your chief legal officer, ethics and compliance.
Those are the key positions that you're going to reach out to all the time. Then in determining what type of organization you go to work for, I tie it back to know yourself, right? Check out the different types of health systems. And then what I like to do is establish what I call segment meetings with my operational leaders across the organization.
So I set up monthly meetings. And I meet with them in their office, not in IT. I heard something the other day at a conference that was really, that really resonated with me. And I had been doing it, but didn't really have a reason why I was doing it. It just felt innately like the right thing to do.
But they said, don't ever meet in IT. You need to be in their space. and understand what's going on in that operational leader's environment. They don't need to come to your space and live in an IT world. Although some leaders do like to escape their operational space and come up to IT where no one knows where they're at.
But, in all practical purposes, go to their space. Meet the customers where they are. So I establish monthly segment meetings. It gives me an opportunity to connect with the leaders, get to know them, understand what projects they have coming up, what their barriers are, what escalation they need, and really just establish that relationship.
So when they have a problem, they can pick up the phone and feel comfortable calling me, and we've already got that relationship. It also helps from an IT perspective. For us to get ahead of the projects. We're not playing catch up when a project is coming to fruition. We're actually partnering with the operational teams.
A planning and proactive manner. So I think those are some great ways, you know, round, get out in the departments and round introduce yourself get to know them, attend the MEC meetings, get to know your physicians. Those kind of connection points are really important. And it just puts a face with a name for them, instead of the emails that a CIO sends out, or IT security or whatever, it gives them a person and a face with a name.
Yeah I agree with you. I feel like it is very important for us as IT um, leaders to understand the challenges of of our customers, right? But not, not come to the office and talk to me about it. It's like, we need to really see what they're going through. One of the things that I do want to ask you is and I don't know if you were in this situation or not, but a lot of people, I mean, a lot of Teams during COVID that were hybrid, and they kind of say hybrid, and that could create a bit of a challenge, right?
Going in or interfacing with your customers, and it could be that the relationship changes. And we, I agree, we have to adapt to it, but what are some of the things that we could do to, potentially continue that again that communication and make sure that we meet people at other space? Like how can we address some of those challenges in your eyes?
And in the bail environment, we had a large percentage of our team that was remote, fully remote. There's a lot of challenges, as you know, Carla, cost of living, housing, limited housing inventory, daycare challenges, et cetera, et cetera. So as you get to know your organization, one of the important things is to know the challenges that you'll face from a recruiting perspective and, on site employees versus remote or hybrid employees.
So understand that as a leader. Then what I always recommended, and not everyone loves it, is video up, right. I mean, pick your meetings that you want your team to have video up so that they're connecting with those operational leaders. If they can't be in person with them, and in our current environment, and I think for all the foreseeable future, we'll have a mix of on site, hybrid, fully remote employees.
I had remote employees at Vail that had never stepped foot on the campus, but then I had some that Periodically for project go lives and things like that, we could bring on site. And I think that's an important opportunity to take advantage of. So, connecting with your customers, not just over the phone, but with video.
I think just. Some people are exhausted by video conferences, but I think if choose the ones that I need to make sure that they're connecting with. I think that's the best way to do it. Yeah, you're absolutely right.
Coming back from the organization that was before to now, a lot of the work that we do is remote and everybody is in video and it's just, it's just a matter of just getting used to it.
And you start really understanding people, but I still believe that if there's an opportunity, Create those spaces in which we can meet face to face to really talk about it and connect. And I feel like the dynamic is a little different when you're in person, right? And Yeah, I know that it's not an easy task, but you know, again, I would say that maybe creating those spaces, like you mentioned, is important.
Anything else you want to share with us today? Anything? How do you summarize the conversation? What are some of the things that we can start doing right now if we're not doing these things right now? sO I think
focusing on knowing your leadership style, write a personal mission statement.
Commit to lifelong learning. I also recommend that people find a mentor or a coach so that they can, from a long term perspective, they can develop, mentoring and coaching are two different things, but people use them kind of interchangeably, but they're both important. And, develop a relationship with a professional mentor and then a coach.
I think. That if people have the opportunity to, as we go along in our careers, IT leaders and healthcare leaders, be a mentor or a coach, it's really a great way to give back to the community. And then I think the final thing that I would say, and this was something that, I share all the time and shared in the presentation that I did recently is healthcare IT is different. There is technology and IT in every single industry, every single part, it touches everything. But healthcare IT is different. When we think about what we're doing and how we're impacting lives, a bad day in any other industry from a technological perspective is a bad day, right? It could be financially impacting, it could be, user, customer service impacting, but a bad day in healthcare can be the difference between someone's life or death.
And so it's different here. And so if you have a passion, and you want to be a part of patient care and impact the quality of people's lives, healthcare IT is a way that you can do it without being a clinician. And so I just think that. For people that have that passion, it's an amazing career, and you really can see the impact that you make on patients and people's lives.
You're there for the happiest times of people's lives and the saddest times of people's lives, but you're making a difference. So that's what I would say. If you have a passion to be in healthcare, healthcare IT is an amazing career.
And we have plenty of opportunities, we shall say, right? So, Just find a way to get in.
I mean, I feel like right now, we as leaders, you don't necessarily have to have that technology background or that healthcare background. I feel like now, as long as you are willing to learn and understand the purpose of your work, right, and connect the dots, that's what we as leaders are looking for, right?
Those people that really can connect. Because with technologies, you can learn, I believe.
And I agree. And I shared just recently in a conversation I was having, people were asking, how do you get into healthcare technology? And I said, well, you don't have to be a programmer. You don't have to be a data architect.
You don't have to be, there's a trillion ways to get into healthcare IT. And so if what you love is project management, or what you love is finance, or what you love is software implementation or customer support, there's no end to healthcare IT careers. So you're right. If you have a passion for service leadership, there's a place for you in IT.
Just figure out what you love to do, and I guarantee you there's a career for you in healthcare IT. Absolutely.
Well, thank you so much. I'm so excited that we finally got to talk, and you were able to share some of your experiences. it's invaluable because I know that you're a very strong leader, and we're going to miss you in Colorado, but you know what?
Georgia has you right now, and they're very lucky to have you. Thank you. And cannot wait to see you at some event at some point. promise I'll go to see you as well.
That sounds great. Thanks, Carla. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Absolutely.
Thank you. Have a great day. See you later. See ya. Bye.
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