By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor
Hollywood, Wall Street and Washington, D.C., all have their operators, and so it is also in the world of healthcare.
One of healthcare's policy power players, who seems to have been born to play in the nexus between the bureaucrats and the caregivers, is Elizabeth Summy. An Iowa native, she has in the past few months been transitioning out of her position as the executive director of the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management and into her new role as vice president for the Division of Personal Membership Groups for the American Hospital Association, the 37,000 member-plus hospital advocacy group based in Chicago.
As vice president with the AHA, Summy will be walking away from a specific focus on healthcare risk management and will be taking a supervisory role over ASHRM and its eight sister organizations within the AHA.
Each one of those groups is dedicated to a specific function--marketing, engineering, facilities or consumer advocacy, for example--that provides not only professional development within the discipline but serves as a mouthpiece for industry issues in the cacophonic machinations of government.
Summy said she will miss ASHRM but also feels charged by her new challenge.
"What was amazing and what I loved and will miss about ASHRM is that I got to be very deep in ASHRM," said Summy.
"I got to be involved with really everything about the issue, from the operations to the innovations to the board and governance issues--all of that it was very deep. Moving into this role I'll be much broader because there will so much more content, and it will allow me to be more strategic," she said.
"And really my goal is to define the strategic contributions that all of these groups will be making to the hospital association as well as to hospitals. So I feel like I have a mission in this role as well."
There are some people who, at their launch into adulthood, either know themselves well enough or are lucky enough to work in a series of positions, each one of which, in retrospect, seems like an indispensible steel girder in building the professional platform on which that person now stands. And so it is with Summy.
One risk manager at a prominent university healthcare system said Summy has worked in enough positions in enough places and displayed enough humanity to have made key connections.
"She knows more people in more places connected to our work than I will ever know, and she never forgets a name," said Douglas Borg, the current president of the board of directors of ASHRM.
"Success in our field is dependent upon having a solid network--there's so many facets to what we do, and it makes sense for us to collaborate with the many other groups out there that share our vision.Her intelligence, intuition and personality made her very good at that," Borg said in an e-mail to Risk and Insurance®. Apart from his duties with ASHRM, Borg is the director of insurance for the Duke University Health System
OUT OF A HAT
How Summy became so connected, how she came to be where she is today, will require a transition into a biographical study.
Coming out of the University of Iowa and majoring in political science and history, Summy had the opportunity to work on the campaign of David Nagle, who succeeded, for a time anyway, in representing Iowa's Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
For her role in Nagle's victory, Summy found herself ensconced inside the Beltway and was asked to pick out of a hat the policy areas she would like to play a role in as a Nagle staff member.
"I pulled out healthcare, housing and seniors," Summy recalled.
Summy was only in her first D.C. incarnation for two years, but during that time she met Dr. Steve Gleason, one of President Clinton's healthcare advisors and a man whom to this day she describes as an inspiration and a mentor.
Sadly, Gleason passed away three years ago, but while he was in Summy's life, he convinced her to come back to her home state, where he was a healthcare leader at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa.
He brought her on board at Mercy as director of education and policy, and it was during that time that Summy picked up her Master in Hospital Administration from Des Moines University.
"It allowed me to go to school and learn what hospitals and healthcare systems are all about, so it was great to go to school and kind of work in it and then study it at night," said Summy.
After eight years in Iowa, Summy was recruited back to Washington, D.C., this time working in the Clinton administration in the Healthcare Finance Administration, (now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).
"That gave me another phenomenal look at the Medicare and Medicaid population, and I was most interested in hospitals at the time," said Summy.
After that, she did a three-and-a-half-year stint as the deputy chief of staff for Donna Shalala, Clinton's secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services.
There was plenty going on in that sector at the time--among others, the welfare reform and childhood healthcare initiatives that President Clinton and Secretary Shalala championed.
But as anyone who has ever been in those places will attest, there is something about Washington, D.C., like Hollywood, New York and other supposed centers of power, that is not quite of the real world.
BACK TO THE REAL WORLD
Summy missed the seasons as she remembered them unfolding in her native region of the country. She was raising a child, and she wanted to be around "real people."
So when the executive director's position at ASHRM opened up some nine years ago, Summy went running, not back to Iowa but to the capital of the Midwest, Chicago, where ASHRM is headquartered.
"I never thought I would live in a city the size of Chicago but have absolutely come to love it, and I took a real leap of faith in moving here to take this job. I knew nothing about healthcare risk management. I knew a lot about healthcare, but I really didn't know about risk management," said Summy.
But it was right before she made that move then that she found another mentor, John Eisenberg, director of the Rockville, Md.-based Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research.
"I said, 'What is risk management?' And he said, 'You know, it's great. There is a lot going on, and there will be even more going on in patient safety and quality.' "
Eisenberg's words proved to be prophetic. Within a matter of months, the Institute of Medicine would publish the results of its groundbreaking study "To Err Is Human," which shouted to America the news that thousands of people were dying annually in U.S. hospitals as a result of medical error. It was a shock wave that ran through the industry, and Summy was there to ride it as the executive director of ASHRM.
Now, in her vice president's role with the AHA, Summy will get the opportunity to "grow and stretch" as she puts it, networking with more and more people, taking on an even more authoritative role in healthcare policymaking.
Don't be surprised if you see her growing and stretching and moving on up in future years.
(Read the rest of the Oct. 22 People on the Move e-newsletter.)
October 22, 2008
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