Jeff Korsmo, President and CEO, Via Christi Health

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Jeff Korsmo: Here to serve
Via Christi CEO stays true to his upbringing with humble leadership style

In a year’s time, the Via Christi community has gotten to know Jeff Korsmo’s style: approachable, transparent, inclusive and, above all, focused on the needs of patients and residents of Via Christi’s clinics, hospitals and senior living communities. Korsmo became president and CEO of Via Christi Health in September 2011, coming from the renowned Mayo Clinic, located in his hometown of Rochester, Minn.

“I have always felt that Jeff was very smart and very nice and, to me, those are the two key attributes of an effective leader. He is calm and decisive with a strong vision. He is approachable, unpretentious and open to debate and encouragement. Add to that a self-deprecating sense of humor and you have the whole package,” says Carl Rider.

Rider was chief administrative officer of Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., during Korsmo’s tenure there and is now serving an interim role as senior vice president of Via Christi Hospitals in Wichita. He calls Korsmo one of the few top executives who have left Mayo at the top of a very successful career.

Growing up, Korsmo received his own medical care at Mayo Clinic, piquing his interest in a health care career. He became the first administrative fellow at Mayo and went on to a career serving in leadership positions including chief financial officer at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville and Rochester and seven years as chief administrative officer of Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He also served a stint as executive director of the Mayo Clinic Health Policy Center, working with leading health care experts to shape health care reform.

Putting patients first

While Korsmo has no designs on creating a “Mayo of the Plains,” his vision for Via Christi draws from a number of key lessons he learned during his 28-year tenure at Mayo Clinic.

A key part of his vision comes from Mayo Clinic’s primary value: The needs of the patient come first.

“People come to us in their times of need, whether it’s for routine health care or significant, complicated medical conditions,” says Korsmo. “They come to entrust their health and their lives to us. The only way we earn this trust is to be centered on the needs of the patient.”

Korsmo is after what the Institute of Healthcare Improvement calls the Triple Aim: “improving the health of populations, improving the patient experience and lowering the per capita cost of care.”

Clinicians lead the way

A key to achieving the vision Korsmo holds for Via Christi is forming an integrated, clinician-led organization.

“Those who are trained to care for patients are the ones who know best what our patients need and how best to meet those needs,” he says.

Jack Shellito, MD, is chief medical officer of Via Christi Clinic and serves as interim leader of Via Christi’s Physician Services division.

“He strongly believes that ongoing clinician involvement in decision making will be crucial to drive learning, quality and value in patient care,” says Shellito. “He has already made great progress in these efforts because his innate sincerity and honesty come through to all of the physicians in the community.”

Cardiologist Darrell Youngman, DO, of Cardiovascular Consultants describes Korsmo as having “excellent breadth and depth of vision, which he keeps in mind at all times” and “an excellent commitment to very high level values.”

Carla Yost, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Mercy Regional Health Center in Manhattan, which is 50 percent owned by Via Christi, has seen Korsmo walk the talk. Early in his tenure, he visited Mercy, requesting to participate in the hospital’s “quality huddles.”

“As the new CEO, he walked the patient care unit and huddled shoulder to shoulder with nursing staff, pharmacists and case managers. While staff members were initially timid and unclear about his presence, he told them, ‘I want to see the great work you are doing to improve patient care.’”

Staff quickly realized, Yost says, “Jeff’s pursuit of quality aligned with theirs.”

Key decisions include not only the best care for the patient, but how to redesign health care to address underlying trends that demand major change, Korsmo says. These include the unsustainable growth in the cost of health care, 10,000 baby boomers a day becoming eligible for Medicare, the increasingly global arena in which businesses compete and our federal and state governments’ fiscal crises.

Adapting to a new world of health care

The key variable in reforming health care, says Korsmo, is replacing our fee for service system that encourages more tests and more procedures with a system based on rewarding value or “safe, high quality, affordable care delivered with great service.”
Korsmo cites studies showing that 30 percent of health care provided in the United States is unnecessary.

“Changing the payment mechanism will change the overutilization of care that happens in this country and will begin to bend the cost curve,” Korsmo says.

“I believe Via Christi has not only a great opportunity, but also a responsibility to contribute to improving the way we care for people across a broad continuum of care,” he says.

This ranges from providing services to people in their homes, in the clinic/outpatient setting, in the hospital setting or in independent and assisted living or skilled nursing care in Via Christi’s senior living communities.

“One of the big opportunities we have is to create a more seamless experience to those who enter Via Christi through any of our doors so that information, care plans and whatever else we know about that person is available to be used wherever they or their care providers need the information,” he says.

Moved by our Mission

Via Christi’s care continuum and the heritage of its founding congregations — the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita and the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother — were the most important considerations in Korsmo’s decision to join Via Christi. He was raised by deeply committed parents and attended Catholic schools all the way through college.

Through high school, he was taught by Franciscan Sisters and Diocesan priests who were influential in his life, teaching him values similar to those taught by his parents, who he says, “came from humble roots and had ingrained in them the values of service and humility and respect for others.”

In college, he attended St. John’s University where the Benedictines were “hard working and also very hospitable, very welcoming of others” — again values he learned from his parents.

“So, for me, it’s natural to want to be a leader who leads mostly by serving others. I believe that by serving others, helping them realize their own dreams and their own potential, we’ll be far stronger as an organization, far better for those we serve than if I had a very different leadership style,” he says.

Outside of work, family is Korsmo’s priority. He has spent as much time as he could with his wife, Jenny, and now grown daughters Erin and Gretchen.

“We enjoy the arts. We particularly enjoy traveling. When our children were younger, we had a pop-up camper and we chose a different state each year to explore and did that for a decade or so. For about the last dozen years, we’ve picked a different country every year and explored it as a family.”

Korsmo played on a Division III national championship football team at St. John’s, although his first sports love is hockey. He played club hockey at St. John’s, has played regularly in the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minnesota and wouldn’t mind setting foot on the ice in Wichita if he gets the chance.

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