New Community CEO weighs in on system’s future, universal care

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Bryan A. Mills, 48, was named Community Health Network’s next CEO March 31. He will become president of Indianapolis’ third -largest hospital system May 1 and replace Bill Corley as CEO sometime later this year.

Mills said his first order of business is getting to know the team at Community, which includes 11,000 employees at five hospitals and 65 other locations. Mills said his job running Community’s joint ventures with physicians limited his exposure to many parts of the not-for-profit.

After that, he’ll work with Corley to fill open executive positions—including chief operating officer, CEO of Community’s East Hospital, and Mills’ own post as CEO of Visionary Enterprises Inc.

IBJ reporter J.K. Wall asked Mills about his new job and the future of Community. Below is the edited transcript.

IBJ: Why did you want to be CEO?

MILLS: When Bill made his [retirement] announcement [in June 2008], I made it very clear to the board that I was very interested in being the CEO of Health Network—if asked. I was not looking to be the CEO of [just] any place. If not chosen, I would be perfectly content with doing what I’m doing.

IBJ: What you were doing was growing VEI from $2 million in revenue to $150 million in revenue, and from 50 employees to 2,200 employees. But now that we’re in a recession, with fewer people insured, can hospitals still grow?

MILLS: It’s going to grow. I have no doubt about that. The need, the demand, continues to grow. We’re not manufacturing that. Age of population, health status of population, all those things say this is going to grow.

IBJ: What’s your biggest fear and what’s your biggest hope about the health care reform debate in Washington?

MILLS: The hope is, if I know I can have access to care for my family, I think as a citizen that’s a good thing. But working in the Detroit market, with our ventures and partners up there, we get a little snippet of Canada [which has entirely government-financed health care]. We have many employees who come across the bridge. We have many patients who come across the bridge. Because they don’t want to work in that system, and they don’t want to have care in that system—if they have a choice.

My personal experience and my conversations with Canadians—my limited sample—would say that’s not a good thing. As a provider, I’m very convinced it’s not a good thing. So we’ve got to find a system that balances the good of what we have right now, which creates wonderful health care, with the ability to afford it.

IBJ: How will your 22 years working with physicians, understanding the economics of their practices, help you as CEO?

MILLS: We have a trust factor. We have prior dealings. And to me that leads to better ways for us to address a changing or evolving model. I think it is very relationship-based. The other thing is, I think you better understand the conse quences of decisions. When you understand how that affects the hospital and you understand how that affects private practice, it’s easier to find a win-win.

IBJ: You coached a traveling youth baseball team for 15 years, but stepped back from that when you became a candidate for the CEO job. What other hobbies do you have?

MILLS: I teach fifth- and sixth-grade Sunday school [at First United Methodist Church in Noblesville]. I play golf, on occasion. My wife [Cathie] is the big golfer in our family. We travel a little bit. I spend time with Noblesville Boys and Girls Clubs. I read extensively. My wife, if she were sitting here, she would say, "He always has five or six books going at the same time." Some are work-related, some are health-care-reform related, others are, you know, [John] Grisham’s latest book, and usually I have an autobiography or two.

IBJ: That’s impressive that you can keep a half-dozen books juggling in the air.

MILLS: You might not be as impressed if you knew how many times I had to go back and figure out, "Who is this person?" And I think my kids move my bookmarks around on me. I’m pretty confident of that one. They say, "We’ll mess with Dad."

IBJ: Does your faith impact how you work and how you manage?

MILLS: Absolutely. To me, there’s no separation. I am what I am. And my values, my faith, my principles, my ethics, my integrity—whether I’m at a work setting, whether I’m at church, whether I’m on a baseball diamond, whether I’m a dad and a husband—I’m the same person. I can’t separate those.

IBJ: Bill Corley has been Community’s CEO for 25 years, growing the organization from one hospital to five and boosting its revenue more than tenfold to $1.2 billion. If you were CEO for the next 25 years, what would you like to see Community become?

MILLS: When people answer those questions, they typically want to know about number of facilities and net revenues and things like that. I guess I don’t look at it that way. I [hope] that people who need health care would say, "This is the best place to access health care. This is the easiest place to navigate this very, very complex [health care] system that’s currently in place."

IBJ: When Bill Corley arrived as CEO in 1984, he wanted to change the name of Community Hospital, but the board told him no. Do you have any plans to adopt a new name?

I do not. Do you have an idea? The name is something that, when [I] need health care, I want to know how I access and how I get through it. That’s what’s most important to me.

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