Candidate Dr. Jay Hess Arrives at OHSU

All three finalists for the OHSU president’s job have been asked to deliver remarks on the same topic. Dr. Hess presented Wednesday, and the other finalists will be in Portland to present next week.

OHSU staff and faculty got their first up-close view Wednesday of Dr. Jay Hess, one of three finalists vying to replace retiring President Joe Robertson. Hess spoke and answered questions before an audience of several hundred invited guests, while other OHSU community members looked on via online livestream.

The other finalists, doctors Laura Roberts and Danny Jacobs, will make similar appearances next week, after which OHSU leaders will collect community feedback via an online survey and the university’s board will name its choice to replace Robertson.

“All of them would be effective leaders for OHSU,” Robertson said in brief introductory remarks, before he turned the microphone over to Hess, who had been asked to talk about the future of academic health centers, OHSU’s role in that future, and what excites him about the opportunity to work there.

Hess began his remarks with a brief biographical summary, noting that he grew up in New England to artist parents to urged him to pursue a creative life.

He received his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University, then earned MD and PhD degrees from the medical school there, in addition to receiving further education from the Wharton School of Business and the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Today, Hess is vice president for university clinical affairs and dean of the school of medicine at Indiana University – and says he still sees the importance of creativity in his adult life.

“You may not be familiar with other academic health systems, but you really are quite unique in your structure,” Hess said.

By many measures the Indiana University School of Medicine is a national leader – nine campuses, partnerships with seven universities, 50 clinical affiliates, 1,400 MD and 300 PhD students and over $400 million in research funding, with a statewide reach. But its affiliation with a full-service state school means that university’s leaders also must contend with undergraduate student loans, Title IX issues, and concerns about the football team.

OHSU is able to focus on a singular mission: “eliminating suffering, improving health,” Hess said. “You have the ideal structure. You have the school of medicine, the other health sciences schools, you have the centers and the various research institutions.”

But he also noted that OHSU faces challenges that are widespread among academic medical centers in the U.S.: health care costs that are climbing at an unsustainable rate, the challenges of turning data into results and scientific discoveries into practical results, professional burnout, the possibility of an Affordable Care Act repeal, and struggles to recruit and retain a diverse workforce.

Nothing that OHSU is on the verge of developing a fresh long-term strategic plan, he suggested that the plan should take a lesson from another industry.

“I want to take a moment, take a pause, and think about innovation,” Hess continued. In the 1960s, people in the U.S. largely did business in cash, and had to physically visit bank branches during limited hours to access their money. ATMs created a new option during a time of teller shortages, and prompted the start of a revolution that has turned currency digital and given financial institutions access to a raft of data used to market and understand customers.

He forecast a similar transformation in healthcare.

“Think about healthcare for a moment, and what this implies for the future. You are going to get a lot of healthcare at home.”

“I don’t want to be presumptuous and say I have all the answers from being on campus for a couple of days,” he said. But the strategic plan “is a big opportunity”

Hess highlighted a number of concepts to keep in mind in the development of OHSU’s next strategic plan:

  • One shared vision across multiple departments and programs

  • Consistent and focused strategy

  • Metric-driven transparency

  • “Virtuous cycles” between research and care

  • Collaboration and partnerships within OHSU, and with outside institutions.

  • Supporting faculty and staff, including with a focus on diversity and on improving wellness.

“That’s all good, these aspirational goals, but how do you make it possible?” Hess asked. “How do you fuel this growth.”

If he were president, he said, he would focus on operational excellence, such as the use of technology to boost efficiency and reduce redundant efforts; on increasing philanthropy, especially from outside the state; on commercializing research; and on increasing clinical revenue. He noted that in his current position he spends about 30 percent of his time soliciting philanthropy, and forecast  that he would make a similar commitment at OHSU.

In questions following his prepared remarks, Hess largely elaborated on statements he had already made. Asked how he would act if hired for the job, he briefly paused.

“I am not from around here. That can be a good thing. You’re coming in with a very objective view. But what I have done when I have made moves, first thing you do is pull out the organization chart and meet with people, ask them: What do you do? … Ask if they like their jobs, what do they want to change,” he said.

“I do think it’s really important to be approachable. It’s something I work hard at. I have office hours. If you always agree with me there’s something wrong.”

The two final candidates for president will be on OHSU’s campus next week. Dr. Roberts will present on Tuesday, April 24, and Dr. Jacobs on Thursday, April 26. Stay tuned for additional coverage from The Lund Report following each presentation.

Reach Courtney Sherwood at [email protected]