A Close Look at AU Medical Center: CEO Lee Ann Liska Shares Highlights of Her First Year at the Helm

Mollee D. Harper

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Georgia CEO travels inside Augusta University Medical Center to meet with Lee Ann Liska after her first year serving as Chief Executive Officer. During our time together, Liska shares highlights of her first year in office, her priorities, the accomplishments she’s most proud of and her goals for the next year. 

Augusta University Health is an academic health center and health care network, offering comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care for the region. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University. This includes fulfilling its mission to provide compassionate care to its patients, conduct advanced clinical research and foster medical education and training for tomorrow’s health care practitioners.

Augusta University Medical Center at Augusta University includes the 478-bed adult hospital, plus the 154-bed Children’s Hospital of Georgia. AU Medical Center is home to a 13-county regional Level I trauma center and operates more than 80 outpatient clinics in Augusta and throughout Georgia. The Children’s Hospital provides primary and specialty care for children, serving all 159 counties in Georgia, and houses the region’s highest level pediatric and neonatal intensive care units.

Joining AUMC

Liska shared, “I officially stepped into my new role as CEO for AUMC on August 22, 2016.  This position appealed to me for several reasons. The Medical College of Georgia specifically appealed to me because of its national reputation. I have also been fortunate to work with many alumni from MCG – the state’s only public medical school, throughout my career. Being affiliated with the university, AUMC and the talented physicians and staff here was very exciting for me.” 

“I have worked in academic healthcare for most of my career. What’s unique in my position is that I work directly for the president of Augusta University. That’s not usually the case for other CEOs of academic medical centers. I am learning more about academia as a result, and that is something I’ve really enjoyed.”

“Also having direct responsibility for a nationally ranked children’s hospital is very rewarding.”

Liska added, “Finally, having the opportunity to build a new hospital in Columbia County is very exciting. Columbia County is one of the fastest growing counties in Georgia and the 28th fastest in the nation. Not a lot of CEOs get to build a new brick-and-mortar hospital any more. We will know by the end of the year if we have the green light to move forward and, hopefully, we’ll break ground in 2018. Planning a new hospital is a multi-year project with many moving parts. We anticipate opening a fully functioning, state-of-the-art smart hospital in 2021.” 

AUMC Priorities

Liska described, “Our priorities are set with the president, and, of course, I knew we should focus on quality, safety, and service. By service I mean engagement with our patients and employees. These are our primary priorities – quality, safety and service. We always want to make sure our patients are safe and receiving the best care. Coupled with that is the engagement, or the patient experience - something we measure through surveys. We want to make sure our patients and their families have a great experience when they are under our care. Much of that comes from how our employees feel about working here.” 

She continued, “Also a priority is the financial performance and strategic planning aspect of my role. In addition, capacity management – managing beds and creating virtual capacity is at the top of my list.”

First Year Accomplishments

Liska shared, “When I think about safety, I think about things that should not happen to patients when they are in our care.  In the last year, we have had a 73% reduction of falls with injury, a 42% reduction in surgical site infections, a 36% reduction in pressure ulcers, and a 55% reduction in central-line bloodstream infections in the children’s hospital.”

Liska offered, “AU’s beloved Children’s Hospital of Georgia (CHOG) – the only children’s hospital in this area – earned the top spot (No. 1) in the nation in quality and safety again in 2016 as rated by established national standards in academic health center pediatric quality measures. CHOG is a gem in this community and throughout the state, caring for kids from all 159 counties in Georgia and many from neighboring states as well. We have the highest level NICU and PICU by American Academy of Pediatrics standards, not to mention our internationally recognized ECMO program.”

“We also are very proud of our work in patient satisfaction. We are ranked nationally by Press Ganey. We have jumped up roughly 30 percentage points in our improvement in patient satisfaction scores this last year. This tells us that our patients are becoming more pleased with the care that we are providing them.”

Liska continued, “One of the big changes we’ve instituted is a daily safety briefing with key stakeholders throughout the hospital and clinics. We meet every morning and review safety incidents, what’s happened in the last 24 hours, and what we anticipate over the next 24. Our coming together every day for 30 minutes to discuss safety and quality has really pushed our safety performance forward.” 

“We have more work to do with employee engagement. We have just begun surveying our employees annually to improve our numbers here. We are hyper-focused on better communication, because we can never communicate enough with our staff. It’s not uncommon to struggle here because our staff are so busy at the bed side. But, we have a growing audience in our weekly updates and reports, and that’s promising.”

“Another accomplishment I’d like to point out pertains to our challenges in capacity management which most health systems face, specifically in diversions for our inpatient services. I’m proud to report that we have reduced our hours of diversion by 82%. This means we rarely have to deny patients from other facilities because we are full or near capacity. We’ve accomplished this by opening new beds, hiring additional staff, and through many other initiatives.” 

She added, “We decreased length of stay – the number of days patients stay in our hospitals – and are taking in more patients than ever through our transfer center. We get many transfers because we offer the highest level of care in many specialties and subspecialties that other hospitals in our region do not have. So we are a referral resource for all hospitals and clinics in our region and beyond.” 

“We have had the best year ever in terms of net growth and financial success. We completed our strategic planning for acute and ambulatory care, rebranding for our Children’s Hospital of Georgia, and we’ve rolled out standard policies and procedures about how we hire physicians, so that everyone is on a more even playing field. We are beginning to function more cohesively as an integrated health system (integrating the medical school, physicians practice group, and hospitals), which is fairly new for AU Health.”  

“Our president functions as the leader over all of the groups,” Liska said. “He is the President of the University and the CEO of the Health System. We also recently consolidated all of our boards for both the medical group and medical system. This is allowing us to make more of an impact across the organization.”  

Goals for the Next Year

Liska began, “Our focus for this next year is to continue to improve on our FY17 results, and continue to improve our balanced scorecard metrics. We are working on an overall strategic plan with AU and will be rolling out communications about our five-year plan shortly. We are still focused on increasing our safety and quality. We are recruiting for key physicians, including a few in our cancer center that we want to fill. We are also extensively recruiting in pediatrics and subspecialty care. These are significant growth areas for us. We want to make sure people understand the kinds of unique, complex care we provide that position us to better serve our community. We also have many top doctors here as cited in “US News and World Report”. We want to continue to recruit the best of the best to join our efforts here.”

Liska summarized, “Great recruitment, employee engagement, patient care, virtual beds, and financial improvement will remain priorities for us for years to come. We want to be ready for changes in health care that are coming on the national level.”

“We also want to expand our focus on telemedicine and be more responsive and accessible to our rural partners throughout the state. We already have a huge network here for telestroke care. We are taking care of many rural patients now through virtual (online) appointments, including telenephrology for kidney dialysis consultations. We are pioneers in telemedicine, and we want to continue to grow that.” 

Liska concluded, “There is no doubt in my mind that I made the perfect move for my career. We have an amazing talented team here, so much so that we should be envied by others. I have all of the support I need with a team dedicated to improve health care throughout Augusta and the state of Georgia. It was absolutely the right move for me and my family.”

Executive Bio

Lee Ann Liska serves as Chief Executive Officer for AUMC and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, since August 2016. She has a deep background in executive leadership of medical institutions throughout her career. Before joining AUMC, she served as President & CEO for University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Chief Operating Officer for Mercy Health Partners, CEO/Executive Director for UC Health – University Hospital Cincinnati, COO of Cleveland Clinic Florida, and VP of Operations for Metro Health Medical Center.  Liska received her formal education from Cleveland State University.

For more information on Augusta University, visit their website at: http://www.augusta.edu/

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