UConn Health information officer Lauren Woods sat down for an in-depth Q & A with Anne Diamond, the CEO of UConn John Dempsey Hospital, to learn more about her, her leadership, and her extraordinary accomplishment of overseeing the building of a brand new 381,309 square-foot, state-of-the-art, 11-floor hospital tower, which is set to open in a few weeks.
Tell us about yourself.
I would describe myself as an optimist yet based in reality. Maybe that comes from being an only child of two older parents from the greatest generation surviving the depression as children and then the great wars of the last century. I was born in Allentown, Pa. I am married – my husband’s name is Craig – and we have one son Jacob, who is 16. We live nearby in West Hartford, and I have previously lived in Salem, Ore.; Cleveland, Ohio; and also spent 17 years living in New York City.
Where do you get your health care and why?
I get my health care right here at UConn Health. I have complete confidence in our physicians and nurses. I actually was an inpatient recently, and I was happy to receive excellent care by all the staff, many of who did not know I was the CEO. I also saw a few things I wanted to improve, and I am making those things better for the next patient.
What inspired you to get into health care?
My Dad was a researcher at the Bethlehem Corp. in Bethlehem, Pa. His work actually helped clean up the cloudy water from the area’s steel production. As a child, I had the great opportunity to visit him at work and play in his research lab. There was never ever a question that I would go into some kind of science. However, he unfortunately died when I was in high school, so I turned to my older cousin for additional career inspiration. Originally I thought I would become a pharmacist. My cousin, John Poole, helped invent acetaminophen (Tylenol). I was always impressed and looked up to Johnny, but pharmacy school was just not for me.
How did you first enter into medicine?
I really enjoyed biology, and chose to study health physics in college. I graduated from Cedar Crest College with a BS in nuclear medicine, and became a nuclear medicine technologist and later a radiation safety officer. I trained at Lehigh Valley Hospital Center, a Level I trauma center. I also trained in health physics and safety engineering at Polytechnic University, and obtained my juris doctorate at Concord Law School, specializing in health law. I started my career in direct patient care for children with neuroblastoma, a very deadly and difficult to treat pediatric cancer. I conducted research leveraging monoclonal antibody tagging to I-131, high doses of radiation, injections, and scans to try to beat cancer. It was very difficult seeing first-hand the devastating effects of cancer and radiation therapy on 2-year-old patients. I saw many children not survive. This early career experience has really stuck with me, so advancing radiation therapy for cancer patients is still very important to me, and very near and dear to my heart.
What is your leadership style?
My early patient care experiences made me realize that in order for direct patient care to be successful, we really need effective systems and infrastructure in place. This is what I wanted my career to focus on doing, and that has driven me as I became a chief technologist, then a director, then a vice president, chief operating officer, and in my current CEO position.
I always keep a direct line of sight to what’s most important – patient care. Also, I aim to truly support my senior management team and their staff teams so they can successfully carry out excellent patient care every day. I always want to be visible to my employees and teams, understand the staff’s daily challenges, and always make necessary changes to improve and ensure we are the best caregivers to our patients.
What brought you to UConn John Dempsey Hospital?
I was living and working in Oregon when my husband and I decided it was time to finally come back home to the Tri-State area. All our family live here. UConn John Dempsey Hospital was my first application, and I joined the team in 2010 as associate vice president of clinical operations, then chief operating officer a year later, and was named CEO in 2014. My prior job experience of improving quality and clinical services at other hospitals matched what UConn Health was looking for in the leadership team of their hospital, also I had experience for the Magnet nursing journey to gain future recognition for our nursing excellence, awarded only to select hospitals from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
What past experience has prepared you for the triumph of opening a new hospital tower?
I am very fortunate to have already had the experience of this grand challenge of building, opening, and moving into a new hospital patient care tower from my time in Oregon. But for most this is a once in a lifetime and generational event. It brings with it a lot of emotion and promise.
This tower represents a new era at UConn Health and for health care in our state.
When UConn Health hired me, since I had already done it, they valued this important experience. Coincidentally, I am working with the same architect, construction, and equipment management company to build the new hospital tower here at UConn that I did in Oregon, which is very helpful for us in applying the lessons we learned previously so that we can make it an even better construction experience and hospital.
How will the tower benefit your patients and the state of Connecticut?
The new tower is what our community deserves. We also have excellent caregivers at UConn Health, and it’s about time that the environment of care truly matches the excellent level of clinical care they provide. Excellence is everywhere you look now at UConn Health, from the new tower to our new Outpatient Pavilion.
The opening of the new hospital tower is a very special generational event for UConn Health, the community we serve, and the state. It’s not often that a new hospital building opens.
The new tower will enhance and transform the patient experience of those in need of emergency, inpatient, or surgical care with a beautiful environment of care that includes a state-of-the-art modern facility with convenient patient access, private rooms, and the most advanced technology that promotes healing, safety, and improved patient outcomes.
The patient experience of the new tower is now a peaceful and healing environment, with carefully picked colors and design to offer a more soothing patient experience, materials to limit infection, technology to provide the cleanest air possible, and a healthy environment both for patients to heal in and for those working here.
Our new tower has 169 private patient rooms, representing the same number of towns in Connecticut. Each room has a photo of one of the towns taken by a local photographer. This recognizes that this is our state’s hospital, with every town and its residents represented. It’s a very small way for us to thank every resident in our state for their support and make it clear that they are always welcome here at UConn Health.
Also, what’s really great about UConn John Dempsey Hospital is that when you come here you don’t just get one doctor, you get the combined thinking and collaboration of more than 600 physician-scientists and faculty of our academic medical center of UConn Health.
How are you preparing for the big move into the new hospital tower?
The two areas of focus are continuing our high-reliability in patient care, and also high-reliability in the move to the new tower. We have considered every angle, and are planning for all of them. We have built the infrastructure so that anything we may not have thought of, we are really prepared to address quickly in real-time. We want to ensure that we have considered every issue to make a safe, efficient, and joyful move for both our staff and patients.
Also, I am having a team led by Dr. Casey Jacob in psychiatry help us address the potential emotional impact that our new hospital move may have on our staff. This is a big change. We have some nurses who have been working here for decades, and who helped open the original John Dempsey Hospital tower and have worked on the same unit their entire career. They are now asked to leave their long-time work home, and it’s hard. Change can be very hard. It’s similar to the experience of losing a loved one. There is that sense of loss, along with the potential for depression, anxiety, anger, and then later, happiness. Experience shows people may feel sad leaving their current units, given their emotional connection to that happy patient care and work environment.
How transformational is Bioscience Connecticut?
Bioscience Connecticut is a huge investment by Gov. Dannel Malloy, Lt.-Gov. Nancy Wyman, the General Assembly, and our state. They have trusted us at UConn Health to carry out something very special.
Over the past five years, the state’s investment in the physical and intellectual assets that support Bioscience Connecticut, specifically the research, medical and dental education, and patient care programs, provide unmatched, long-term dividends for Connecticut. Bioscience Connecticut increases access to health care and improves the quality of health care through research, discovery, and innovation. It also establishes a solid foundation for sustained economic growth and high-quality employment at a time when Connecticut needs them most.
The new patient care tower is a visible asset to Bioscience Connecticut. The opening of the new tower at UConn John Dempsey Hospital marks an important milestone in the progress UConn Health has made in implementing the state’s Bioscience Connecticut initiative. It is a bold plan to jump-start Connecticut’s economy by creating construction-related jobs immediately and by generating long-term sustainable economic growth based on bioscience research, innovation, entrepreneurship, and commercialization. The initiative is a multifaceted plan that will strengthen our state’s position as a national and global center for bioscience innovation, and improve access to quality health care for Connecticut citizens.
Also, the new tower has created more than 5,000 construction jobs and other job opportunities for the community.