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Chamber Statement on Wright L. Lassiter III’s New Role

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Crain’s Detroit Business
Apr. 28, 2022
Laurén Abdel-Razzaq

Wright Lassiter III, one of metro Detroit’s most prominent health care CEOs, is leaving his role leading Henry Ford Health to take up the helm at one of the largest not-for-profit health systems in the country.

Lassiter, who has been CEO of the $6.6 billion Detroit-based system since 2016, will become CEO of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health on Aug. 1. He takes over from CEO Lloyd Dean, who is retiring.

The Henry Ford Board of Directors, led by Chair David Breen, will conduct a national search for Lassiter’s successor. Bob Riney, the COO and president of health care operations, will serve in the role in the interim.

“When you lead an organization it’s always a difficult prospect to consider departing. For the last 20 years of my career, my focus has always been on impact and trying to have the biggest possible impact I can possibly have on the communities that I serve and the organizations that I have led,” Lassiter said in a Thursday morning interview with Crain’s. “The move to CommonSpirit is really predicated on that.”

CommonSpirit is a 140-hospital system stretched over 21 states and the ability to reach more people was an attractive prospect to Lassiter as the health system recruited him.

“It has an explicit focus on the kinds of things that we have a focus on at Henry Ford and that I’ve had a focus on during my whole career, which is serving the entirety of the community and working hard to ensure that people can live out their best lives from a health and wellness perspective,” he said. “The ability to impact CommonSpirit’s platform, which is more than 30 percent of the United States, as well as some international communities is the kind of impact that I’m proud to be able to lead.”

That doesn’t mean the transition will be easy for Lassiter, who said he felt “deeply conflicted” over leaving Henry Ford Health.

“My intention had been to finish my career here,” he said. “But this is an opportunity for impact in about as broad a way as one can have doing the work that I do, so it’s what I’m called to do next.”

A lasting legacy

Lassiter joined Henry Ford Health in December 2014. Under his leadership, Henry Ford Health completed two successful mergers, expanding its geographic footprint, and expanded globally with the 2020 opening of partner hospitals in Saudi Arabia and India.

During Lassiter’s tenure, Henry Ford also significantly increased its quality performance, earning top honors in several publicly reported quality programs and also received outlook and ratings upgrades from Moody’s and S&P services.

One of Lassiter’s biggest efforts was increasing collaboration with a host of organizations, from the Detroit Pistons to Michigan State University, with plans for a new 300,000- to 400,000-square-foot building located south of the health system’s Detroit campus on West Grand Boulevard to house researchers and physicians on translational research — specifically looking at cancer, neuroscience, women’s health, imaging and public health.

Lassiter says he is not worried about leaving the MSU project before it is done.

“When you sign a 30-year partnership,you know that the fruits of the labor in that partnership will occur over time,” he said. “We are on track with all the milestones we set during the first year of the partnership. I’m not concerned at all what I’m leaving behind and both of our boards are 100 percent committed to the partnership.”

He said a transition team will take over on many of the projects he’d planned for Midtown Detroit and other efforts that “remain on the drawing board.”

In 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Henry Ford Health became a leading adviser to city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. The system was chosen for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine trials. Under Lassiter’s leadership, Henry Ford Health became the official medical advisor for Michigan’s mass vaccination site and the first health system in the state to require workforce vaccinations.

Lassiter praised the efforts of the roughly 32,000 employees who served during the pandemic.

“I’m grateful, humbled, by their dedication, perseverance and commitment to the community,” he said. “While all change is difficult, this transition will be just fine and Henry Ford is in great hands with a solid leadership team and an amazing board.”

Highlights from Wright Lassiter III’s tenure at Henry Ford Health:

Lassiter says he knows he has a good replacement in Riney, who has spent more than four decades at the hospital system.

Breen praised both Lassiter and Riney in a statement issued by the hospital Thursday.

“Wright is a visionary, innovative and courageous leader. His contributions have well positioned Henry Ford Health for the future of serving our communities,” Breen said in the statement. “And Bob’s 40 plus year legacy with Henry Ford has been marked by an unwavering and selfless commitment to serving patients, team and community members. I want to thank Bob for his steadfast leadership during this transition.”

Lassiter was named 2021 Newsmaker of the Year by Crain’ s Detroit Business and multiple year recognitions among the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare.

Lassiter is chair of the American Hospital Association and was the 2021 chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber and was key to the return in September of the Mackinac Policy Conference to an in-person format during the pandemic.

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual conference went on hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19 and its occurrence in 2021 was unsure. But with Lassiter as its chair last year, the conference was able to institute a vaccinate mandate for attendees. Coupled with the presence of Lassiter and his management team, the event would go on in the middle of a pandemic with reassurance that no major breakout would occur.

Prior to joining Henry Ford, Lassiter was CEO of Alameda Health System in Oakland, California. Lassiter earned more than $5.3 million in total compensation in fiscal 2018, $1.6 million of which was base pay, according to the latest Henry Ford tax documents available.

A new challenge

CommonSpirit’s incoming board chair praised Lassiter’s leadership.

“It is really rare to find someone so completely aligned with the organization’s priorities,” Chris Lowney said in a statement. “Wright has devoted himself to getting results for poor and vulnerable communities, making the patient experience more integrated and seamless and his work at Henry Ford showed he recognized that employees are the lifeblood of making those priorities happen. And of course he knows without prudent financial management, you are not able to pull these things off.”

At CommonSpirit, Lassiter will have to tackle some of the same issues hospital systems are facing across the country: emerging from the pandemic and dealing with a national labor shortage.

CommonSpirit’s 140-hospital system spread out across 21 states recorded more than $1.1 billion in operating losses over the two years following the 2019 merger between Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives. But the Chicago-based system’s finances improved in 2021, when it reported $998 million in operating income on more than $33 billion in revenue and a 3% operating margin.

The system benefited from $690 million in COVID-19 relief funding in 2021, a one-time $523 million gain from sales of joint venture shares, its acquisitions of Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Phoenix and Virginia Mason Health System in the Pacific Northwest and rebounding patient volumes.

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