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Providence Leaders Send Right Signals

February 28, 2014

This is an opinion editorial from the Journal of Business in Spokane, WA, written by Editor Kim Crompton. After extensive interviews with Providence Health Care Regional Chief Executive Elaine Couture, and Alex Jackson, Chief Executive for Holy Family and Sacred Heart, Crompton shared the impressions they had left on him.  Here is that piece, reprinted with the Journal's permission.


As a pivotal year of change under the Affordable Care Act unfolds, it’s reassuring to see the two new top executives of Providence Health Care, the Inland Northwest’s largest health care system and one of Spokane County’s largest employers, taking a progressive stance.

Rather than complaining about the myriad fiscal uncertainties the federal health care mandate has created, Elaine Couture and Alex Jackson are accentuating the positives.

Couture, named CEO of Providence Health Care in late 2012, has made clear she’s a big supporter of the ACA-driven trend toward comprehensive outpatient centers—focusing on convenience and affordability—supplanting hospitals at the center of the nation’s medical system.

In a comment that might have made Providence bookkeepers queasy, she told the Journal shortly after taking over her position from retiring Michael Wilson, “If I could deliver an ideal health care system, the hospital would be empty.” Even in today’s topsy-turvy health care world, such a statement seems a shocking departure from the traditional census-focused mindset that a hospital isn’t doing well unless its beds are mostly full.

Meanwhile, Jackson, who became chief executive of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital and Providence Holy Family Hospital about eight months ago, seems energized to be at the helm of two of the Inland Northwest’s largest hospitals during a time of such huge transformation. Like Couture—and perhaps contributing to her push to lure him to Spokane from a hospital system administrative position in Portland—he’s looking forward, confidently, to the potential for being an agent of positive change.

Perhaps mostly importantly for a nonprofit Catholic-sponsored network that also includes nine other hospitals and organizations, Couture and Jackson remain unswervingly focused on the Providence mission of providing compassionate care for all who need it, especially the poor and vulnerable.

The challenges associated with adhering to that mission, regardless of patients’ ability to pay for the services rendered, increased substantially during the Great Recession. They no doubt will continue to do so for years to come, amid ongoing pressures to contain health care cost inflation, irrespective of what federal mandates are in place. Couture and Jackson, though, show no signs of acquiescing to those pressures through a diminution of health care services here.

To the contrary, Jackson says his focus will be on enhancing the overall experience of Providence patients in terms of quality of care and satisfaction, tending to their personal and spiritual needs as well as their physical needs, and doing so at the lowest possible cost. In an interview with the Journal last month, he said he wants the Providence mission at the hospitals “to be stronger the day I walk out than the day I walked in.” 

Amid the turbulent ongoing statewide and national debates over health care policy, the Inland Northwest is being well-served by the calm, undeviating message that the leadership at Providence is conveying.