Field unity. It’s the key to success in a tough legislative and regulatory environment, says AHA Chairman Jim Skogsbergh.

He says unity is essential, whether in fighting legislative proposals to cut hospitals’ Medicare and Medicaid funding or in taking on policies that drown hospitals in paperwork and force them to dedicate precious resources to comply with a morass of federal regulatory requirements.

“Our biggest worry is what can happen in Washington at the stroke of a pen,” says Skogsbergh, who is president and CEO of Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove, Ill. “That is why the AHA’s advocacy effort is so important and our greatest strength, and why field unity is so important. We are never stronger than when we speak with one clear, unified voice.” 

Given the AHA’s broad and diverse membership, he is impressed by the association’s ability to build consensus around contentious issues.

“That’s part of the AHA’s untold story,” he says. “I don’t know how many hospital people are fully aware of how serious and intentional the AHA is about listening closely to the field and responding … and crafting strategies and solutions that everyone can coalesce around.” And he says it helps explain why the hospital field stands united on key federal policy issues. 

He says another part of the AHA’s story centers around improving the quality of care and enhancing patient safety through such efforts as the AHA’s Health Research & Educational Trust-administered Hospital Engagement Network – part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Partnership for Patients initiative – and the association’s #123for Equity Pledge to Eliminate Health Care Disparities.

Skogsbergh notes signs of solid progress. For example, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently reported a 17% decline in hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2014. That translated to 87,000 lives saves and nearly $20 billion in health care costs avoided. Also, hospital spending continues to increase annually at a slower pace than for other key health care sectors.  

“We are all trying to get better health outcomes at lower cost,” Skogsbergh says.

Skogsbergh became AHA chairman on Jan. 1, succeeding Jonathan Perlin, M.D., Nashville-based HCA’s president of clinical and physician services and chief medical officer. Skogsbergh joined the AHA board in 2013, and in 2010 he led the AHA’s Section for Health Care Systems as chairman of its 20-member governing council.

Skogsbergh has been at the helm of Advocate since 2002. During that time, the 12-hospital system, the largest in Illinois, has experienced or been at the forefront of nearly every trend influencing providers, insurers, employers and patients nationwide.

Advocate’s clinical integration strategy has aligned interests with employed and affiliated physicians. It is several years into a shared savings contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. The system has one of the nation’s largest accountable care organizations covering some 600,000 people. 

Advocate “has a foot in both [volume- and value-based payment] camps and we need to be nimble to succeed in both arenas,” Skogsbergh says. But he emphasizes that his organization’s “mantra is that we are first and foremost a safe, clinical enterprise. It’s all about the care we give our patients.”

As the field moves from volume-based to value-based payments and a more integrated health care world, Skogsbergh says each hospital has to navigate its own path to the future. “The AHA’s role is to assist and provide guidance to hospitals as they take their own path forward,” he says

But he says there needs to be one common goal – the Triple Aim of improving the patient's experience of care (including quality and patient safety), improving population health and reducing costs. 

A changing health care environment has the AHA examining how to “redefine the ‘A’ (the association), along with redefining the ‘H,’ because we want to be clear about who we are and who we want to be and how we can best serve the greater good,” he says.

Asked what he will enjoy most about serving as AHA chairman, Skogsbergh says it will be working with his colleagues on the board, as well as the AHA’s team.

“I love the work and we are all about health care,” he says. “But the work is so much more enjoyable when you do it with people you admire and respect. That’s the icing on the cake.”