By Pete Davis

The Class of 2018 profiles the women and men who joined the AHA board this year. 

Hospitals and health systems are working hard to improve the quality of care being delivered to patients while reducing costs, and the AHA is well-positioned to support hospitals in these efforts, says AHA trustee Melinda Estes, M.D., president and CEO of Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Mo.

“Since we have such a diverse group of members, we have a lot of best practices that we can share – both on the quality side and on the cost side,” says Estes, who was appointed to the AHA board in 2015 for a one-year term to fill a vacancy. She was re-elected to serve a three-year term that began Jan. 1.

Estes notes the importance of AHA’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill, especially with the uncertainty about how November’s presidential and congressional elections could impact the health care field. In addition, she says it is critical to protect Medicare and Medicaid funding for hospitals from further cuts.

“We are trying to ensure that all hospitals can provide appropriate and high-quality services to their communities,” she says. 

That is essential as hospitals continue efforts to “Redefine the H,” focusing less on the four walls of a building and more on partnerships that advance the health of individuals and communities.

“There’s not one destination for everyone,” says Estes, noting that AHA has tools and resources to support members, who are at different points of this journey.

A board-certified neurologist and neuropathologist, Estes has led Saint Luke’s since 2011. The health system includes 10 hospitals across the Kansas City region, home care and hospice, behavioral health care, dozens of physician practices and more.

Before joining Saint Luke’s, Estes was president and CEO of Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt. for eight years. She also was CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston and Naples and senior vice president of medical affairs and executive vice president of the MetroHealth System in Cleveland.

Melinda EstesOne of the issues Estes is most passionate about is the AHA’s #123forEquity Pledge to Eliminate Health Care Disparities. The campaign, launched at last summer’s AHA-Health Forum Leadership Summit, asks hospital leaders to pledge to achieve three equity aims within the next year; provide updates on progress to the AHA and their boards; and share their success in promoting diversity and health equity with the public.

“All of our hospitals have signed and are participating in the equity of care pledge,” says Estes, who commends AHA Chairman-elect Eugene Woods for his leadership on this issue.

Serving on the AHA board is an honor and privilege for Estes, “not only because I believe in the work of the association – but it’s such a pleasure to sit around the table with so many smart people in health care.”

“Every time I go to a board meeting, I come home with a number of things I have learned and things that are applicable to our organization,” she says.