Friday, May 22, 2015

Tarbell lecture focuses on patient-centered hospital advancement

From left, Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president; Walsh; Tarbell and Anne Klibanski, MD, director of the Center for Faculty Development

COMPREHENSIVE CARE: Kate Walsh, president and CEO of Boston Medical Center (BMC), was the keynote speaker at the seventh annual Nancy J. Tarbell, MD, Faculty Development Lectureship on May 13 in the Thier Conference Room. Walsh, a former senior vice president of MGH Medical Services and the MGH Cancer Center, presented “Risky Business: A Career in Health Care,” providing an overview of her leadership strategies with a focus on BMC’s rapidly changing financial landscape and the hospital’s patient-driven approach to strategic decision making.

Walsh described the leadership challenges related to delivering comprehensive care to low-income patients. “We start every day with the opportunity to deliver services to patients – but that’s wrapped in a government envelope that is rapidly shrinking daily.” With more than 50 percent of the BMC patient population insured by Medicaid, Walsh discussed how health care reform and the economic downturn have led to increased hospital financial strain. “People say, ‘I can’t cut the budget because quality will suffer.’ We actually saw our quality measures improve while reducing the budget,” said Walsh.

During her presentation, Walsh also reflected on BMC’s effort to ensure that all patients have access to basic necessities through its preventative food pantry. When it first opened, the pantry distributed provisions to 500 people, but demand now has surged to 8,000 patients each month. The service, which allows providers to write “prescriptions” for food, runs in partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank, which provides more than 10,000 pounds of food each week.

Moving beyond practical examples to her career philosophy, Walsh stressed that although health care leaders are faced with many challenges resulting from the need to bend the cost curve, it is their obligation to do this work. “We are privileged to do what we do. It’s in vogue to say ‘there’s too much change,’ but if we complain, we are missing an opportunity to lead our industry through these changes.”

The Tarbell lecture offers an educational opportunity to promote both professional and personal growth for MGH faculty. The lecture was established by the Center for Faculty Development to honor Tarbell, the center’s founder. For more information, visit

Read more articles from the 05/22/15 Hotline issue.


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