A rich history of leadership roles in healthcare has prepared Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati Vice President of Supply Chain Management Dennis Robb to help his IDN face the future.
Dennis Robb has been a pioneer in healthcare for over three decades, beginning with a career as a neurosurgical nurse and later as an executive director of the Neuroscience Institute at the University Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. When he joined Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati in 2000, first as vice president of its Neuroscience Service Line and eventually becoming the organization’s executive vice president of supply chain management, he brought with him a history rich in clinical and executive leadership. To date, he has been nationally recognized for quantifiable excellence in supply chain, leadership in economic inclusion and service line administration, and neuroscience.
For nearly 15 years, Robb has used his experience as a springboard for a number of initiatives, which have contributed to the ongoing success of Health Alliance, a 929-bed (819 emergency beds and 110 long-term-care beds) IDN with $296 million in supply spend and $100 million in capital. Today, he directs his supply chain management department with the same enthusiasm he brought when he first assumed his current position in 2005. His areas of expertise include supply chain, service line management, hospital operations, contract negotiation, supplier diversity/economic inclusion and Center of Excellence development and management. He manages Health Alliance’s supplier diversity program, oversees environmental programs and is responsible for the organization’s relationship with its group purchasing organization, Broadlane. Some of Robb’s current responsibilities include:
- Management of $369 million supply and capital spend for the IDN.
- Establishment of supply chain infrastructure.
- Initiation of value analysis committees.
- Leadership of multidisciplinary teams of doctors, nurses, pharmacy, IT and bioengineering professionals for the management of capital purchases, policy development, procurement procedures, contracting and contract compliance, system-wide standardization, price verification, documentation of audited savings, economic inclusion, environmental responsibility and vendor negotiations.
Leadership and diversity award
In February 2005, soon after Robb joined Health Alliance, CEO Ken Hanover went on record saying that the IDN would purchase $23 million worth of goods or services from minority-owned, women-owned, historically underutilized and small businesses in the coming fiscal year, starting July 1, 2005. Ten months after the year started, the IDN had met its goal. Then it raised the ante, pledging to purchase $28 million from such firms in the coming fiscal year.
Buying $23 million worth of goods and services from minority firms doesn’t just happen. It calls for commitment, communication, creativity and, most important, “stick-to-itiveness.” The commitment actually had its roots in a diversity awareness and education initiative that CEO Hanover instituted in 2002, says Robb. “He did this to be sensitive to our patient population, and to increase the awareness and sensitivity to our associates, which is what we call our employees, as well as the businesses with which we interact.” Hanover sought to recognize in a public way the IDN’s diverse employee and patient base.
Health Alliance executives attended intensive three-day classes and ongoing training and education to help them improve the way they interacted with people of different cultures, ages, sexual orientation, ethnic groups, etc. After several years, the program seemed to be having an effect. “But we said, ‘Maybe there’s something else we can do to reflect our commitment to the community,’” says Robb.
Although the Health Alliance had done its share of free health screening, community outreach and provision of care to the underinsured and uninsured, it hadn’t performed particularly well in terms of buying goods and services from local minority-owned firms. In fact, an assessment by a diversity-consulting firm, Cincinnati-based Pope & Associates, gave the IDN the equivalent of a grade “D” in its commitment to suppliers of color or minority. Hence the commitment to purchase $23 million in the coming fiscal year.
“[Health Alliance Chief Operating Officer] Dorman Fawley was crystal clear that this was not only a way to give back to the community, but to promote the economic growth and development of small businesses, minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses and historically underutilized businesses,” says Robb. “We would do this through competitive processes, like our standard business practices. We were able to throw a net out into the community to say, ‘We’re going to do business differently at the Health Alliance, and we want you to be partners in it.’”
Aware that they weren’t going to find local minority-owned companies making high-tech products, such as drug-eluting stents, Robb and the Health Alliance team focused on products and service areas in which smaller and minority-owned companies have developed expertise, including office supplies, furniture, and printer and copier services.
Another area of opportunity was construction. Of the $100 million in capital dollars the IDN spent in fiscal year 2006, close to $36 million was earmarked for construction and renovation projects, and facility improvement. While the target for construction projects was big, construction represented a challenge too, for two reasons:
- First, few minority-owned companies in the Cincinnati area are large enough to act as general contractors for massive building projects. In most cases, they have to serve as subcontractors.
- Second, the hospital facilities managers tend to be hesitant to take chances on vendors whom they don’t know. That’s due in large part to the critical nature of hospital construction.
To address the first challenge, the Health Alliance made every effort to fit the bid request with the capabilities of the vendors. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What is the scope of the services and products that [the minority firms] can offer?’ says Robb. “Then you align the bid opportunities to that scope.”
In some cases, the Health Alliance has encouraged “prime” firms – that is, firms with whom the IDN has done business with for years – to subcontract with one or more minority-owned ones, to give the latter a foot in the door. The Health Alliance has gone so far as to recognize as a competitive advantage bids that include such partnerships.
When the IDN issued a bid request for building expansion projects at two of its hospitals, all three of the construction companies who responded did so with minority partners. “That’s the first time in our history we saw such an action,” says Robb.
The IDN approached the second challenge – the reluctance of facilities managers to take chances on unknown companies – slowly and methodically. “Working with our facilities managers every week, on every bid and project, we were able to introduce new businesses to the organization,” says Robb. “Once one of the facilities managers took that risk, and the [vendor] did an outstanding job, [the vendor] subsequently got more business with the Health Alliance.”
In early 2008, in recognition of his success with the diversity and inclusion initiative, Robb was awarded the 2008 Corris Boyd Leadership and Diversity Award from The Federation of American Hospitals (FAH). The award was established by FAH to pay tribute to the late Corris Boyd, former vice president for supply chain optimization at Triad Hospitals Inc., and executive vice president of supplier diversity for the HealthTrust Purchasing Group. Robb was honored for his efforts to create an environment of cooperation and commitment within his organization, which made it possible to reach the $23 million goal in diverse supplier spending.
In addition to his work with the economic inclusion program, Robb has met several other benchmarks. Over the last three fiscal years, for example, he achieved an audited savings of $18.6 million. “Some of my more challenging projects have included the administration of a quarterly bulk purchase warehouse program, resulting in verified annual savings of $4.7 million,” he says. I have also [overseen] system-wide contracting and successfully implemented complex clinical applications, such as a picture archival communications system, smart IV pumps with error reduction technology and reprocessing of single use devices.”
In the next couple of years, he expects to continue to engage Health Alliance physicians in value analysis, particularly in the areas of high spend/high volume procedures with significant physician preference items. In addition, he looks forward to advancing system-wide administrative and clinical consensus, and designing and implementing a vendor management program. “Components of this initiative will include vendor credentialing, vendor orientation, controlling vendor access, vendor representative scorecards and regulation of off-contract spend,” he explains.
Over the next five years, Robb anticipates the industry will face intense pressure to deliver value-driven, quantifiable savings in the face of diminishing reimbursement. “Driving competitive contracts through transparent performance metrics related to compliance, speed of implementation, and appropriate product orientation, training and vendor/contract management will facilitate this process.”