Community Health CEO Corley preparing for 'something different'

June 16, 2008

This month, 65-year-old Bill Corley gave his 18 months' notice that he will be retiring as CEO of Community Health Network, the third-largest hospital network based in Indianapolis. Perhaps Community's board of directors needed so much time to replace a man who has held his post so long--nearly 25 years. When Corley arrived in 1984, Community consisted of just one hospital on Indianapolis' east side. Today, it has five. Its work force has tripled and its annual billings have risen nearly tenfold. In January 2010, Corley will join the Massachusetts-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, working to coach other hospitals around the world. Community's board has formed a search committee to find a successor.

IBJ: Why was now the right time to move on to something else and end your time at Community?

CORLEY: Several reasons. One, the organization has been in existence for 52 years. I've been here for almost half that time. So you want to go out when you want to go out. It's like Strahan [New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who announced his retirement four months after winning a Super Bowl ring]. I'd just like to do something different and something where I'm not working 70 hours a week. My wife and I like to travel. And we've done a lot of that. But we want to do more. And then my daughter is pregnant with our first grandchild. So the combination of all those, you just sort of say, "Hey, hand the baton on to somebody else."

IBJ: Once you retire, you and your wife, Angela, will still live in Carmel. Will your new job include travel?

CORLEY: My wife and I talked about this, and she was ready to go overseas. But my daughter's pregnancy has changed all that. We were going to [work for IHI] for two years [in Australia and New Zealand]. So I've got to go to plan B and, at this point, I don't know what plan B is. I really would like [to travel]. I really like looking at the United States outside the United States. You get a different perspective.

IBJ: What has been your biggest achievement in your time at Community?

CORLEY: I would say the largest achievement is probably building a culture in the organization that values three things, and we call them our exceptional experiences. One is the exceptional experience for patients and family. That's the major focus of everything we do. And embedded in that is quality and safety and compassionate care, and making it special to a particular patient or family.

Secondly, we talk about the exceptional physician experience. We've been able to develop partnerships with physicians over the 25 years that really have worked very well. It's not the typical sort of fighting--we on one side, they on the other.

The third exceptional experience is the exceptional experience of employees. The employees in any organization are the people that really establish the reputation of that organization. It's what they do every day. So we've tried to get managers and leaders to help their employees to be as successful as they can be. We have a two-day course on relationship development that we get all of our managers to go through, because it's crucial to the success.

IBJ: When you talk about building relationships with physicians, do you mean the unusual success Community has had at bringing on primary-care physicians as Community employees?

CORLEY: Even before that. In 1987, we said, "Physicians are a key customer, and what kinds of needs does that customer have?" A lot of people would tell us, "You know, I never got any training in medical school on how to run a practice: financial, businesswise, scheduling, staffing of the office, organization, all those kinds of things."

So we had this idea that we would start managing physician office practices. Our whole concept was, if we help them be successful in their business, which is their practice, then maybe they would help us be successful in our business. And we did that. We provided those services at cost to the physicians. That really developed a trust with the physicians. No one was really doing this at that point.

Then one of our organizations built a whole infrastructure on how to manage physician office practices. And we were managing physician practices, not just our own, but we were managing physician practices for other hospitals, throughout the state of Indiana. All the way up to Munster and down to Vincennes and Kokomo and Bloomington and Richmond and Anderson. We were getting calls to do it outside of the state.

IBJ: Community has recently tried to enter into employment arrangements with heart specialists at its Indiana Heart Hospital. One of the practices didn't like that and so entered into a deal with Clarian Health. Will Community directly employ more specialists in the future?

CORLEY: Yes, and every hospital in the city is doing the same thing.

IBJ: Why does it make sense?

CORLEY: Younger physicians want a more balanced lifestyle than working 80 hours a week. Young people today, many of them were raised by fathers and mothers that worked, and worked very hard. And they basically are saying, "I learned something from that. And what I learned is, I'm not going to repeat the same thing." So I really do think that the employment of specialists will continue.

IBJ: One thing that failed for you was your attempt to do joint-operating agreements, first with St. Vincent Health and then with St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers. What happened there?

CORLEY: I really think there was some potential to that. What happened was, there was a leadership change [at St. Vincent]. And the new person that came in, his name was Doug French. And Doug basically felt that there needed to be one CEO for both the organizations, and [Community] needed to be a Daughters of Charity hospital [as St. Vincent is]. Well, our board of directors basically said, "Hey, did you guys read the agreement?" It basically said, in straightforward language, "Community is not going to try to make St. Vincent non-Catholic and St. Vincent is not going to try to make Community Catholic." And it wasn't anything against religion. When Community was formed, it was formed as a community hospital open to everyone without preference to anybody.

IBJ: It was the city's first non-religious hospital, right?

CORLEY: That's right. When I first came in '84, I tried to change the name of the hospital. Because I said, "Community is pretty generic." And the board members basically said, "We really brought you here to provide leadership for this organization, not change the name." Name change was not in the cards.

IBJ: Do you think we will see any more joint-operating agreements?

CORLEY: I don't think so, because I think what folks are interested in are acquisitions or mergers. Up in Anderson, we tried to do something with a third Catholic order with St. John's and Community of Anderson, and that didn't work out. And pretty soon, my wife was saying, "Hey, when are you going to learn?"

IBJ: One of the reasons for joint-operating agreements was to get more leverage to deal with payers, such as Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Do you think the dominant market position Anthem has hurts hospitals or health care in this community?

CORLEY: No, I don't think it hurts hospitals or health care in the community at all. Anthem is a good corporate citizen. [We're working together] to help some of their enrollees, that have Anthem insurance, to become well and prevent illnesses. And they're very much in favor of trying to keep people out of the hospital.

IBJ: The demographics have shifted out of the favor of Community Hospital East. Can Community afford to keep the East hospital open?

CORLEY: Yes, yes. Because we're committed to it. And it's breaking even--now. That's where we started. And we're committed to the east side, just like we're committed to the north side and the south side of town. We think the commitment that the neighborhood has made to us is equally as important to the commitment that we've made to those neighborhoods.

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