Behind Ballad’s push for more physicians in the C-suite

Paige Twenter

Physician input is crucial to making and enforcing tough business decisions as financial stressors on the healthcare industry grow in strength, according to leaders at Ballad Health.

The system’s CEO, Alan Levine, told Becker’s that Ballad, like many other systems and hospitals, has had to reduce service lines. Some of these choices “are not terribly popular with the public,” he said, but the Johnson City, Tenn.-based system has found greater acceptance among staff because physicians are part of the decision-making process.

“I can’t think of a single decision we’ve made — and we’ve made a lot of big ones in the last five years; the consolidation of our trauma program, consolidation of our NICU — every decision that we’ve made that affects patients, there are physicians sitting at that table guiding us in those decisions,” he said.

In August, Ballad promoted several one-hospital chief medical officers to be CMOs across more hospitals in its Southern region. Mr. Levine told Becker’s the decision was a natural evolution of a years-long initiative of putting more physicians in leadership positions.

“We’ve got physician leadership infused throughout the entire organization,” Mr. Levine said. “At this point, I wouldn’t do it any other way. I don’t think there’s any going back.”

Ballad Health, which formed in 2018 after two systems with more than 1,000 physicians total merged, has 20 hospitals, about a dozen urgent care locations and more than 150 physician practices.

Between the two states Ballad operates in, Tennessee and Virginia, there are more than 20 former and current physicians who hold leadership positions, Mr. Levine said, including its Southern division CEO, chief physician executive and chief clinical officer.

Amit Vashist, MD, senior vice president and chief clinical officer of Ballad Health, previously served as the chair for the system’s hospitalist division, in which he led more than 140 hospitalists. Dr. Vashist said his clinical experience in emergency rooms and ambulatory care clinics, along with his MBA, lent him more credibility among staff.

“Many members of medical staff will tell me that they may not necessarily agree with some of the decisions that I take or Ballad Health may be taking,” Dr. Vashist said, “but they have no doubt where I’m coming from, which is from a place of good heart [and] from a place of patient- and community-centered outcomes.”