At CHI, nurse board leadership is embedded in the culture

Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), a nonprofit, faith-based health system, has a longstanding commitment to nurse leadership in the boardroom. Based in Englewood, Colorado, CHI is one of the nation’s largest healthcare systems, with 105 hospitals plus community health services organizations, accredited nursing colleges, home health agencies, and other facilities in 19 states.

As part of the American Nurses Foundation’s work on the Nurses on Boards initiative (funded in part by the Rita & Alex Hillman Family Foundation), we talked with three CHI leaders about opportunities for nurse leadership on boards. Highlights of their remarks follow.

How have nurse board members played a role in shaping CHI’s policies and culture?

Kevin E. Lofton, FACHE, CEO: We’ve always had a large number of nurses on our board, from deans of nursing schools to midwives to nurse practitioners. Our board’s quality and safety committee is chaired by a nurse and includes two other nurses. This committee has direct involvement in overseeing quality and safety for the whole organization. Input from nurses was instrumental in putting together a program we call Safety First, which focuses on everything from fall initiatives to hospital-acquired conditions.

How do nurse board members influence decision making at CHI?

Kathleen D. Sanford, FACHE, CENP, DBA, RN, senior vice president and CNO: CHI has an overall belief that nurses need to be in all highlevel leadership positions, including the board and committees. They’re subtly educating people. They’re business-oriented; they understand strategy and healthcare regulations, as well as what’s going on at the bedside. Nurses are so well informed about what it takes to change the culture or move the organization in a different direction. They probably understand the continuum of health care better than anybody on the board.

How do you encourage nurse leaders in your system to pursue board roles?

Sanford: As we move into the next era of health care, we need to do a better job of keeping the community healthy. One of the best ways to know what’s going on in your community and to find out how the profession is going to have to change is to be involved on boards and organizations within the community.

What advice would you give to nurses interested in serving on a board?

Antoinette (Toni) Hardi-Waller, MJ, BSN, RN, vice chair, Board of Stewardship; chair, Quality and Safety Committee; and CEO, Strategic Health Transformations: First and foremost, the key is being really clear about what your own passion is in your field, where your advocacy is, and what changes you’d like to see. You have to have that clarity to be able to identify whether a board has values that align with yours.

The other advice I would give is to participate in committee work, which is key to getting a chance to learn more, from the inside out. Not only is it a good opportunity for you to learn more about the organization and its culture and values; it also positions you to increase your visibility within the organization for an opportunity on the board.

What advice would you give to healthcare organizations interested in diversifying their boards with more nurses?

Lofton: It’s fairly common to have physicians on boards. But nurses have a different perspective, different experiences, different backgrounds and training and education. For our corporate board, I would look for people who have administrative and executive experiences in addition to nursing experience. On our local boards, directcare experience would be more valuable because board members are the ones overseeing credentialing of medical staff and direct delivery of care.

To read the full interview and learn more about the initiative, click here.

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