CEO of the Year, Large Nonprofit

Care and Compassion

From the December 2013 issue of Columbus CEO
  • Photo by Tim Johnson

Meeting the community’s expectations isn’t part of Nationwide Children’s Hospital CEO Steve Allen’s personal job description. He is all about exceeding the community’s aspirations for the children’s hospital that was founded more than a century ago.

“Our founding mission is that no child will be denied care because families can’t pay for it,” he says.

His commitment to his organization’s cause has earned him recognition by his peers as Large Nonprofit CEO of the Year for 2013.

*Interview has been edited for length

Our founding mission is that no child will be denied care because families can’t pay for it. It’s my job here to see that we meet and exceed the community’s aspirations for their children’s hospital.

The hospital has enjoyed tremendous success in almost any measure that one could think of. Whether it’s the growth of the clinical enterprise, our success with our safety and quality programs, the research discoveries that have come out of the hospital or things like our financial performance. … Even something like the success of our last big capital construction program which culminated with the opening of our new inpatient tower and our third research building, which came in on time and way under budget.

We believe that we need to pursue best outcomes in patient care, in research discoveries, in employee satisfaction, in quality and safety and discovery of new research cures.

Just across the board, pursuit of best outcomes. In addition to that, we believe that there is a role that this hospital will play in leading how our society thinks about children’s health care. What it encompasses, how it’s delivered, how it gets measured and ultimately how it gets rewarded.       

We are one of the preeminent academic pediatric healthcare institutions in the world. There are things that we do here that you can’t get anyplace else. That’s the reason why we’re able to attract patients, not only from every state in the union but from about 26 foreign countries last year. It’s important for us to be able to provide services that people can’t get anyplace else and to be the place that’s always on the front edge of developing new cures and treatments and preventions for children who are injured or ill.

We also believe that we have a role in figuring out a better way to utilize society’s resources in keeping children healthy.

We need to have ways that we can push some of our preventative services out into the community and aren’t just dependent on them coming into physician offices.

While we have driven Nationwide Children’s Hospital to be one of the preeminent pediatric health care institutions in the world, we now have a unique set of assets that allows us to be in a position to help define for our society what encompasses children’s healthcare, how we think about how it’s delivered, how it get measured and then how it gets rewarded.

I graduated medical school well over 30 years ago.

I love medicine; it’s a whole lot of fun. It’s something I knew I wanted to do from my first memory and I’ve just gotten a great deal of satisfaction out of it.

But the way medicine was taught…to me and all my colleagues…is that our focus has been on the acutely ill or injured patient--we do whatever we can to get them well enough where we can pass them on to somebody else and we can go on to the next one. We haven’t had as much focus on management of chronically ill populations and we’ve had very little attention to managing the health of an entire population. That just wasn’t part of it.

(A) critical part of what an institution like Nationwide Children’s needs to do is also figure out ways to better manage entire populations to decrease their utilization of healthcare resources, and particularly with children.

I’m not sure I call anything a challenge. I feel very fortunate to be able to get to do this. I think that I have the best job in the world.

I get the benefit of walking out of this office and walking through our hospitals or through our clinics and getting to see the impact that this is having on real people.

I think that the job of a leader in an organization like this is to set the strategic vision for the organization and hire great people and then get out of their way. Then ask them what I can do to help them get their jobs done.