Eric Morrison

System Vice President, SSRM Operations
CommonSpirit Health
Denver, CO

Please describe your career at CommonSpirit Health.

My career with CommonSpirit started in 2016 through legacy Catholic Health Initiatives when I had the opportunity to join the Texas division of Catholic Health Initiatives. It allowed me to take full ownership of the division’s supply chain operations and compete in one of the top markets for healthcare. It was my “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” moment.

At the time the Texas division operated as a group of individual hospitals, had poor quality outcomes, and was in financial turmoil. These challenges presented an opportunity to do better for our patients and the communities we serve throughout Texas. It also allowed me to reconnect with the ways in which supply chain can impact our caregivers and patients.

We put into place a playbook and set of standard procedures to begin operating as a division, rather than individuals. The work required support and significant change across a wide spectrum of stakeholders. It ultimately resulted in improved reliability and consistency of service – reestablishing confidence from physicians and clinicians in the supply chain. The newfound confidence brought both groups back to the table to support critical conversions and product standardization. The feedback allowed our physicians and clinical teams to have a direct connection to our contracting decisions, and the product standardization controlled supply variability to highlight deviations of care – improving quality outcomes. This approach drove cost out through the efficiencies gained by operating as a division and better controlling and enforcing our contracting decisions at the bin location.

The playbook and standard operating procedures developed in Texas were eventually scaled across legacy Catholic Health Initiatives. Many of the same operating philosophies are in place across CommonSpirit today and were critical to our success in navigating through the pandemic. My career at CommonSpirit has put me in a position to truly reconnect the supply chain to the patient.

What interested you about a career in healthcare?

Where most kids are searching for guidance on what they want to do with the rest of their lives, my mom helped shape and guide me by providing direction. My mom worked in clinical analytics and helped expose me to the industry. In high school she encouraged me to get a job at one of the local hospitals in Milwaukee. It was an opportunity to learn how hospitals operate and earn a little extra money.

Delivering meals for Food and Nutrition Services, I got a little insight into healthcare service delivery where you see patients at their highest highs and lowest lows. Each encounter was different, and I found it energizing to engage with patients around food. I wasn’t coming to run another test, or deliver bad news – just food of variable quality and possibly a distracting conversation that sometimes improved a long day of waiting and recovery.

You go through a lot of emotional moments when working in a hospital. I’ve seen honor walks, managed through the devastation of hurricane Harvey, and coordinated PPE needs for 145 hospitals throughout an unprecedented pandemic. It’s incredible to see people from all corners of life come together in these moments for a common purpose. I’m grateful my mom introduced me to healthcare, but my continued interest in healthcare and pursuit to impact the industry positively is simple – it’s the people.

What do you like about working in the healthcare supply chain? Was it a position you sought, or found out about once you began working in the field?

The most intriguing aspect of being involved in healthcare supply chain is the complicated nature of our work. Healthcare is a large and complex network to operate within, and supply chain requires you to have knowledge of all aspects of the business – finance, accounting, operations, quality, contracting, human resources, etc. There is always a new challenge and opportunity we’re trying to solve, and no greater feeling than being successful and positively impacting and supporting the way our clinicians deliver care within our communities.

In what ways has the supply chain changed over the last 2-3 years from your perspective?

Over the past two to three years the supply chain has become more relevant. The pandemic has required both providers and suppliers to be better strategic partners – meaning transparency to improve resiliency. Data and the ability to leverage that information into quick actionable insights has become the new currency, and there’s been a prioritization of the conversation around risk.

Inflationary pressures have required providers to contract differently with more attention to the operational costs of an agreement. While price is an important aspect of a contract – we’re starting to see more of a focus on the mitigation of risk and total value when making awards.

What are some of the big challenges your supply chain team is facing in 2023?

Labor – we need to invest in our people. We are competing for the same front line resources as Amazon, Walmart, etc. These associates are being compensated at higher rates, receiving additional incentives, and avoiding the risks associated with working in a hospital by pursuing opportunities in non-healthcare sectors. We need to find ways to improve our engagement and incentivize these associates to choose careers in healthcare supply chain.

At the leadership level, we need to find methods of recruiting and retaining top talent that will bring fresh perspectives and challenge traditional approaches. By having strong talent and an engaged workforce, we’ll be well positioned to tackle other over the horizon challenges facing our industry.

What’s the most rewarding project you’ve worked on recently?

The most rewarding project I’ve supported at CommonSpirit has been the development of our direct sourcing channels. The pandemic created the need for providers to have further visibility upstream into the supply chain. We went about developing a strategy with our caregivers and patients in mind. The question presented was – how could we improve product quality, resiliency and provide a financial benefit to CommonSpirit?

We leveraged strategic relationships, clinical advisory input and scale to pursue direct sourcing opportunities across certain product categories. We’ve been able to produce products with specifications determined by our clinicians and improved our visibility upstream by 180 days.

This work was championed by our Supply Chain Enterprises team, but took input and support from all of our work streams. It’s been exciting to see the journey from identification of a problem to the development of product that now sits on the shelves of every hospital in our system.

Does your organization have a formal or informal leadership development plan? Have you had any mentors that have provided guidance?

I’ve found the most valuable leadership development has come through informal and organic relationships throughout my career. Some of this has come through direct reporting relationships, but more often than not, indirectly through others that have accumulated experience in the industry.

My drive has always come from wanting to be in a position of influence to positively impact the quality of service delivered to our patients, and acknowledging that it’s really difficult to be in those positions without a good support system. My mentors have different ways of managing and approaching situations, but are all people I respect and trust. Some manage with data, and others manage through relationships. It’s important to have mentors with diverse perspectives – tailoring your approach to suit your own personality and leadership style.

Other characteristics I would like to call out are that these relationships have been bidirectional and not always unconditional. I’ve found that people will invest in you to the degree that you work hard and are receptive to feedback. The most productive relationships are where both parties benefit professionally and a true friendship forms. It’s my opinion that it is when people become more vulnerable that trust forms, and you can really begin to learn from the experiences of others. That’s powerful knowledge when navigating leadership challenges.

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