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One-on-One with AristaCare Health Services CIO Rich Temple

March 30, 2009
by root
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When a hospital is acquired, at what point does a CIO decide it's time to leave?

Rich temple

Rich Temple

Rich Temple was CIO of Denville, N.J.-based St. Clare's Heath System, a four-hospital system acquired by Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), the nation's second largest Catholic health system. He recently spoke with Daphne Lawrence about his experience as CIO during the merger. Temple is currently chief information and business intelligence officer of AristaCare Health Services in South Plainfield, N.J.

DL: How did you your keep your staff on board and loyal during the acquisition?

RT: I think they were justifiably concerned because when you have an acquisition of this magnitude, it definitely changes the dynamics of the organization. It changes their sense of well-being that they're uniquely contributing to the technological infrastructure of the organization, because the acquiring organization may have different technology and different people who currently are doing things. People may become a little uncomfortable because they're not sure where they fit in the brave new world. With that in mind, what you want to be able to do is be as transparent as possible, because one of the things to me, personally, that was very important was that I wanted to maintain my personal credibility with my staff. I wanted to put a positive spin on it and say this opens up a lot of possibilities for us. I also didn't want to make promises I couldn't deliver or try to sugarcoat some of the challenges.

DL: Such as?

RT: One of the real positives that I was really trying to impress upon people when we had gotten acquired was, ‘think of all the opportunities this opens up for you. You're part of something much bigger; you're able to make a difference on a much grander scale.' Most of us are idealistic. My IT staff took a lot of pride in making a difference in people's lives at St. Clare's. And being part of a much larger organization affords you the opportunity to make a difference on a much grander scale. And that was what drove me. I thought that this was actually pretty cool. We had done a really good job on our Cerner implementation; we were named project of the year there. They were going to need to tap into our talents in that regard, because they're re-deploying Cerner at five of their larger systems and we had a track record of success. We would now be able to take what we did and leverage it, if you will, in several different places. Whole new challenges! Whole new people to interact with! Whole new situations and challenges to work through! So it seemed really cool. And it's going to be.

DL: What about the culture change? You were sort of like a maverick at St. Clare's. Was there a Rich Temple cult of personality? Was the culture change very different?

RT: Not right away. It turns out our acquiring organization had a lot of the same technology that we did, so there really wasn't a gross mismatch between the technological needs of the organization and what we could conceivably bring to the party. So that was good. As far as me being the leader of the IT organization and being perceived as such, now all of a sudden there's a new sheriff in town, and there are way bigger fish than me, and that took some time to work through, I think I'd have to say. It took time for me to work through also, because I wasn't the ultimate decision maker but I was relatively close to it.

DL: How did you handle the new approvals process and new standards?

RT: It was something I had to get used to. I think that I really did buy into the notion that being able to have these standards is going to ultimately work to all of our advantages, because working with selected vendors means we're going to get the best deal we possibly can. We have more leverage over those vendors because there's a lot more at stake for those vendors if they do a poor job. But it was a little bit challenging because it was just harder to get from point A to point B, and once you got to point B, I think there were benefits that we would accrue. And I think sometimes you have to take a hit at the local level for the good of the whole - and the whole is paying my salary, so you don't lose sight of that!

DL: So at what point do you walk? What gets you to that point?

RT: One of the things that personally drives me is the ability to make a difference. I'm not saying that in a trite way, I really mean that sincerely. I really want to be able to be impactful. I want to be able to think I can make an impact, what I do is relevant, I can make a difference. An opportunity, the one that I'm at right now, presented itself where I would be able to quite literally come in and really build something.

DL: And what if it hadn't presented itself?