Interim Leaders: Filling the gaps during recovery and beyond

Every hospital board understands the role interim leaders play when an executive leaves the organization, whether suddenly or because of a planned departure. At a minimum, an interim keeps the seat warm as the hospital searches for its next permanent leader. But there are so many other instances when a hospital, especially a rural or community access hospital, could benefit from the leadership of an interim executive—especially now.

But as hospitals continue to reel from the economic impact caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic, hiring the full-time expertise needed to regain lost ground may seem like a financial impossibility. Where then, do you get the leadership help you need? From a short-term interim leader who can address significant issues without long-term strings and implications.


Finding an interim with the right skills

Think beyond executive exits for your interim leader needs. Are you preparing for a survey? Rewriting physician contracts? Transitioning to a new EHR platform? Need to rein in OR costs? Or get your revenue cycle back on track? There’s an interim leader for that—and finding the skillset that matches your hospital’s needs is easier than you may think.

Mike Lieb, vice president of interim services for HealthTech, maintains a database of more than 1,000 active interims with varying skillsets.

“We have a very robust applicant tracking system and detailed search parameters,” he says. “We can search by skillset and temperament to quickly zero in on the best interims for the job. We can have someone on site within 10 days to two weeks. It’s quick, it’s detailed, and you get the right match to your specific needs.”


Effective from start to finish

What’s the difference between a consultant and an interim leader? While both may come into an organization for a defined period of time and make recommendations, only the interim can actually act on those ideas.

“By their nature, interim leaders are fixers,” Lieb says. “From day 1, they’re going to jump in and get to work on the most important issues without having to worry about the administrivia of running a hospital. With interims, you find true operators. They come in, fix things, turn them around and leave the place better than they found it.”

Interims also offer protection from the politics that go hand-in-hand with running a small-town hospital.

“Because they’re not a member of the local community, interim leaders have the ability to make difficult changes for the organization that can be tough for the entrenched person,” Lieb says. “Because they’re not bound to the local politics, they be very pragmatic in their decision making.”

What’s more, when the job is done, the interim is, too. “When you’re through, you’re through,” Lieb says. “There are no long separation agreements.”

But, he says, it’s also not uncommon for interims to become long-term mentors to the organizations they served. “They have a flavor of the organization but they also have an outside perspective. That combination makes for a valuable long-term relationship.”


Leveraging the gig economy in time of uncertainty

The financial fallout from the global pandemic is still an unknown at this point. “It’s all just guessing, but hospitals do need to prepare for a leveling off that is below their pre-pandemic normal.” And yet, the hard work continues.

“What we’re finding is that organizations aren’t wanting to hire permanently right now for spots that they can contract because they just don’t know their future level of financial stability,” he says. “When that’s the case, it makes sense to ‘rent versus buy.’”

Lieb predicts not only an increasing demand for interims but also a growing supply of qualified candidates. The threat of a second (worse) wave of the virus may encourage some permanent leaders to retire.

“People who are likely to consider retirement now will probably pack up themselves quickly and get out of the way,” he says. “And those same executives may decide they want to offer their decades of expertise somewhere as an interim leader.”


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