Published in Health Care
Freese Decker Freese Decker COURTESY PHOTO

Freese Decker ‘energized’ to lead Spectrum Health amid changing industry

BY Saturday, July 21, 2018 10:30am

GRAND RAPIDS — Tina Freese Decker takes over as president and CEO at Spectrum Health later this summer as the health care industry adapts to a combination of changes.

Having joined Spectrum Health in 2002, Freese Decker has firsthand experience with the range of changes pushing the industry in new directions. They include greater consumerism, the rise of personalized care for individual patients, and the drive to keep people healthy rather than treating them when they’re ill.

Those dynamics are on top of the need to adapt to a new economic model that rewards quality and pays care providers for outcomes, rather than volume, plus ever-present pressures to lower the cost of care.

Freese Decker, who steadily worked her way up the executive leadership ranks at Spectrum Health, said she’s ready to face what may seem like “daunting” challenges as the leader of West Michigan’s largest health system.

“I’m energized by all the possibilities ahead of us to not only survive but thrive as we take this next giant step along our journey to personalized health,” said Freese Decker, who takes over as president and CEO on Sept. 1. “We know that disruption is at our doorstep, so we must accelerate our pace for innovation and that strategic growth, and I believe one of our primary thrusts needs to be innovation for us to achieve a positive outcome.”

Freese Decker, presently the health system’s executive vice president and COO, succeeds Rick Breon, who plans to retire at the end of 2018 after 18 years as CEO. She previously led the health system’s hospital group from 2014 to 2017.

The health system that she will take over consists today of 12 hospitals across the region, 180 ambulatory care and service sites, and 3,600 physicians and advanced practice providers, plus the second-largest health plan in Michigan, the nearly 800,000-member Priority Health.

Her selection as CEO comes as Spectrum Health works to finalize a deal by Oct. 1 to acquire Lakeland Health in St. Joseph, which would add three hospitals to the system.

“Not a day has passed that I haven’t felt enormous pride to work at Spectrum Health and to work in this community,” Freese Decker said. “I am inspired and I am exhilarated and humbled to serve as Spectrum Health’s CEO.

“I promise you I will strive to lead this organization to the best it can be and improve the health of the communities that we serve.”

Spectrum Health in the 2017 fiscal year had total operating income of $5.68 billion with net operating income of $192 million. Financials for the just-completed 2018 fiscal year are not yet available. Through the first three quarters of the 2018 fiscal year, Spectrum Health had total operating revenue of $4.47 billion with net operating income of $133 million, or a 3 percent margin.

Breon, who led Spectrum Health through a massive clinical and facility buildup in the years following the 1997 Blodgett-Butterworth merger that created the health system, praised Freese Decker’s selection.

“I think it’s a wonderful choice,” said Breon, who over the years often talked about cultivating leadership from within the health system.

“She’s worked here for 16 years in a variety of positions and has really been well-groomed. She’ll be outstanding,” he said. “She’s been outstanding in every single position that she’s held. It’s no wonder that she’s now going to be the new CEO.”

Once Freese Decker moves into the CEO position, Breon will remain with Spectrum Health until the end of the year, “but mostly in a consultative role,” he said.

Directors at Spectrum Health unanimously chose Freese Decker to become CEO after conducting what board chair Dick DeVos described as a “very intense national search to find the very best person” to succeed Breon.

Freese Decker was chosen from three finalists who visited Grand Rapids for interviews, including meetings with directors, Spectrum executives and medical staff, and local business leaders. Her vision for the future, “great knowledge” of health care both locally and nationally, “tremendous” business acumen and forward-looking perspective made her stand out at the end of the search process, DeVos said.

The fact that Freese Decker was an internal candidate did not weigh in the search process, he added.

“She had to win it on her own and she did,” DeVos said. “Her vision for the future of this organization toward personalized, individualized health (and) making sure every person that we serve is getting the very best care possible — her passion and commitment to that was very compelling.”

Still, hiring an internal candidate will help in the leadership transition, because Freese Decker already understands the culture of West Michigan and Spectrum Health, he said.

“She knows the organization and the organization knows her. That allows her to be effective sooner,” DeVos said.

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