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One-on-One with Catholic Health Initiatives SVP and CIO Michael O'Rourke, Part III

March 23, 2009
by root
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Organizations that maintain their long-term vision during tough economic times will emerge stronger, says O’Rourke.

Catholic Health Initiatives is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Denver. The faith-based system operates in 20 states and includes 77 hospitals, 40 long-term care, assisted- and residential-living facilities, and two community health services organizations. With approximately 70,000 employees and annual revenues of $8.2 billion, CHI ranks as the nation’s second-largest Catholic healthcare system. Last month, O’Rourke was promoted to full-time CIO after an 18-month interim stint, during which he helped restructure the entire IT organization. Recently, HCI Associate Editor Kate Gamble spoke with O’Rourke about what it takes to transform 40 autonomous operations into a single enterprise, as well as his vision for the organization.

Part I

Part II

That brings up another big issue, which is the state of the economy. How is the economic situation impacting your plans, or how will it impact your plans in the near future?

MO: I think that just looking at the economic downturn around the country, and actually, around the world, it has had an impact on health IT, and across our whole organization. I think the whole healthcare industry is impacted by it; everyone is really looking at where their investments are going to be made — what they need to invest and what they can hold off on right now, because there’s so much struggle in the economy.

Because we’re a faith-based organization, we do a lot of charity care, and the numbers of people who need healthcare who have lost their insurance grows during this time. That’s what we do; that’s what our mission is — we provide care for those people. But that also costs us a tremendous amount of money every time that comes out of the hospital’s revenue to support those folks. And we’ll continue to do that.

In IT, as is the trend across the country, we’ve had to curtail and cutback on our plans, on what we’ve wanted to do. For example, we had some very large plans for continuing on many of the applications for Cerner and for Meditech, getting down to much more standardization with them, and making sure we have barcoding in our medication safety programs in place. And we’ve had to pull those back just because of the challenges with revenue and the other aspects I talked about. Everyone in the country is going through that. All my colleagues — whether from faith-based, for-profit or other areas — are saying the same thing, that we’ve got to hold on another few years until we come out of this recession.

So it has affected us. But it also causes you to make wise decisions. It forces due diligence and good business practice to say, okay we can’t do everything, so what’s important to the organization? We’ve gone through that and I think it’s actually made us smarter and it’ll help us when we’re out of the recession. And we will come out of this, and we’ll have better business practices and make smarter decisions because of the challenges we’re facing right now.

That’s a great point. While this situation certainly isn’t ideal, it is forcing organizations to reprioritize and, like you said, develop better business practices.

MO: Exactly; it’s very true. It puts in disciplines and processes that will carry you forward long after the recession is over.

So with all of that considered, what are your biggest goals as you take on the role of full-time CIO at CHI?

MO: I’ll give you the really high-level goals we have. One, obviously, is to help the organization through these downturns. We want to make sure that the IT and the services we deliver are very affordable, and that we can identify and be very transparent in what our cost model is. And that’s very important, because we have to get to a point where the organization is comfortable with the level of service, whatever that may be. That can bring cost down to a very low level, but then I also bring down my quality and service delivery. So the key thing we’re looking at in the next 18 months is critical in terms of getting out of this tunnel, and continuing our focus on good cost affordability and good cost management to the organization.