As a newborn specialist, Dr. Thomas Malone helped save the lives of very ill or extremely premature babies one child at a time.
But as a hospital president, he said, his leadership and decisions affect the lives of thousands of patients, as well as thousands of employees who work in the facility.
“There are a lot of people whose livelihood come through the hospital,” he said.
Malone, 56, took over last month as president of Summa Akron City and St. Thomas hospitals, collectively the largest health-care provider in town with nearly 5,000 employees.
He replaced longtime hospital president Bob Harrigan, who retired in September.
Malone comes to Akron with strong Ohio ties.
He grew up in the Warren suburb of Niles and earned his undergraduate degree from John Carroll University and his medical degree from Ohio State University. He completed his residency in pediatrics at Columbus Children’s Hospital (now Nationwide Children’s) before spending the majority of his career in Michigan.
During a recent interview in his office at City Hospital, Malone said he was attracted to the Summa job in large part because of the health system’s dedication to embracing industry changes, particularly a move toward “population health.”
Population health involves taking responsibility for helping improve the health across a broad group of patients, not just individuals.
In recent years, the health system has launched what is called an accountable care organization, which brings hospitals, doctors and other health-care providers together to manage the care for a population of patients. If the patients can remain healthier through more efficient care, the providers share in the financial benefits.
Summa officials have said they want to work together with new minority owner HealthSpan Partners, an auxiliary of Cincinnati-based hospital system Catholic Health Partners, to launch more statewide initiatives.
“I liked what I saw at Summa,” Malone said. “They really have the opportunity to do a statewide network for population health.”
Before joining Summa, Malone served as president and chief executive of Harper University Hospital and Hutzel Women’s Hospital, a 560-bed medical center with 2,200 employees in Detroit.
He previously held roles in the same health system as executive vice president and chief medical officer of Detroit Medical Center, overseeing graduate medical education, physician contracting, medical informatics and quality and safety initiatives.
But after the Detroit health system was purchased by a for-profit company a couple of years ago, he said, he became disenchanted with the increasing focus on profits and stock prices.
As a former chief medical officer, he said, he especially didn’t like the decreasing focus on education.
“They started to change, where I didn’t feel we were staying true to our mission,” he said. “It’s an entirely different environment.”
During his time leading an inner-city Detroit hospital with many uninsured patients in the face of industry changes, he said, he discovered “the only way to survive is to find more efficient ways to do things.”
Some of the strategies he developed in Detroit can apply at Akron City and St. Thomas hospitals, which also provide millions of dollars of charity care each year, he said.
For example, he is trying to help Summa develop a “clinical decision unit,” which can be used for emergency department patients who likely won’t need to be admitted but require observation and care for less than a day. The hospital he led in Detroit took a similar strategy.
Hospitals are taking a financial hit because of the industry trend toward lower-paying observation days instead of inpatient days.
“His strategic thinking is always ahead of the game,” said Valerie Gibson, who worked with Malone as chief operating officer for Harper University Hospital and Hutzel Women’s Hospital.
“He also trusts his team,” she said. “He puts you there for a reason, because he believes in you and he believes in your skill and ability. He doesn’t micro-manage you, but he expects you to deliver.”
When he was chief medical officer, Malone also oversaw the implementation of electronic medical records across eight Detroit-area hospital in the system during an 18-month period.
“The project was of a huge magnitude,” Gibson said. “That’s when I first got to know him and his leadership style. He understands that the patient is the focus.”
Malone got his start in the medical industry as a practicing neonatologist for 18 years, first in Virginia and then in Indianapolis, where he became director of a neonatal intensive care unit.
The business side of health care “kind of grew on me,” he said, which led to him going back to school to earn an MBA from Notre Dame University.
“I like challenges, so I can’t imagine a more challenging time to be in health care,” he said.
He said he believes his experience as a doctor helps make him a better hospital leader because he always has a patient focus.
“The clinical perspective, no one can learn unless you do it,” he said. “It’s not just going to medical school, it’s taking care of patients.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.