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EXCLUSIVE: Russ Branzell, CHIME’s Incoming CEO, Speaks First to Healthcare Informatics

February 14, 2013
by Mark Hagland
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Russ Branzell speaks first to HCI’s Mark Hagland regarding his acceptance of CHIME’s CEO position

One day after the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) named Russell P. Branzell its incoming chief executive officer (he starts at the organization on April 5), Branzell, who has been a senior executive in a variety of roles at the University of Colorado Health (formerly Poudre Valley Health System), Branzell spoke with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding his acceptance of the CHIME CEO position, and his aspirations for CHIME as an organization going forward.

Branzell, 47, served in a number of sometimes-overlapping positions with Poudre Valley Health System, which became part of the University of Colorado Health in early 2012. He came to the organization in 2003 as vice president and CIO, and also served simultaneously as vice president-human resources from 2006 to 2009. In January 2011, he was named CEO of the Colorado Health Medical Group, and served simultaneously in that position and the health system CIO position until the summer of 2012. He will end his involvement with the University of Colorado Health System and Colorado Health Medical Group on April 5, the day he starts his tenure with CHIME. He will continue to live in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his family, and will commute to Ann Arbor and to Washington, D.C., as needed.

Branzell’s selection by CHIME’s board follows a three-month search that began in November. Over the course of his career, Branzell has received numerous industry awards, and has served on the CHIME board of trustees and on various committees within the organization. In July 2010, Branzell was honored with the CHIME State Advocacy Award, for his multi-faceted work in Colorado and nationwide, in helping to champion the launch of CHIME’s StateNet, an online CIO network intended to enhance communication among healthcare CIOs on state-level advocacy issues.

In announcing his appointment as CEO of CHIME on Feb. 12, CHIME board chairman George T. “Buddy” Hickman, executive vice president and CIO of Albany Medical Center said in a statement: “Following a comprehensive search, the Board is fortunate to have found someone of Russ’ competency and experience to guide our organization successfully into the future. As a respected IT executive who possesses deep industry knowledge, Russ will continue CHIME’s successful achievements and assure CHIME’s position as the association leading the national transformation of health IT.”

Below are excerpts from Mark Hagland’s industry-first interview with Russ Branzell.

What compelled you to accept this position?

As I looked through this, and looked through where I’ve come in my career and where I feel an overwhelming sense of duty and responsibility, it really is to the HIT community. I’ve done a lot of cool things in my career, but what’s most important to me really comes back to my commitment to the HIT community; and CHIME has always been a big part of that. I’ve always had a big place in my heart for CHIME, and CHIME activity has always been a passion for me. And so this just seemed like a perfect fit for me, and for my family.

Russell P. Branzell

Are you going to move to Michigan?

No, that is not the plan; the plan is to fly to Michigan, or to Washington, D.C., as needed. There isn’t a need for me to be in the office every day, but rather to work collaboratively with the staff and leaders to advance the agenda in the organization both nationally and indeed, now, internationally.

What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities in the next few years, for CHIME?

Well, if you look at what CHIME is great at—and that is, to provide the best executive-level education for CIOs and other healthcare IT executives—CHIME is great at that, and will continue to do that, and to include those even outside the hospital and large medical group model—it will include organizations like nursing homes, SNFs [skilled nursing facilities], rehab facilities, regional extension centers, and health information exchanges. All those types of organizations are part of this ecosystem now, and are the types of organizations we need to reach, in addition to hospitals, medical groups, and health systems.

Obviously, we want to continue our public policy and advocacy role; and I would say that our role has been appropriately, reactive, with regard to meaningful use, the ICD-10 transition, and so on. But now we need to get on the proactive side of it, in shaping the policy agenda, whether at the local and state levels through our StateNet activity, or at the national level in Washington, D.C. We also want to grow new opportunities for services that could be offered by CHIME. We’re obviously not at liberty to discuss details yet, but the bottom line is that CHIME wants to grow, and to support its members even more broadly.