Janelle Reilly, CEO, CHI Memorial Health System, serves as our Chattanooga Chamber 2022-23 Board Chair. With 33 years of healthcare management experience, she is making waves as a thought leader in communities across the U.S. This month, Reilly receives the Women of Distinction of Greater Chattanooga award.
Reilly invited TREND on a tour of CHI Memorial, where we learned about cutting-edge technology and greeted healthcare workers providing topnotch care to Chattanooga residents. Reilly shares working space with Kathryn Davis, Coordinator, Executive Office & Board Activities, who began her career 22 years ago with Memorial. Karen Long, Communications Manager, joined us for the tour.
Through the many corridors on the way to CHI Memorial Stroke and Neuroscience Center’s biplane room, Reilly paused and chatted with every guest and employee she encountered. Once in the biplane room, we begin to sense how serious their work is. While the environment was bright and sterile, Reilly remained warm and friendly, greeting the technician in charge as she walked the room.
Long said the impressive biplane is used to diagnose and treat neurological disorders such as strokes and aneurysms, helping ensure patients receive potential life-saving treatment as quickly as possible.
Our tour concludes with Reilly expressing her thoughts on Chattanooga, leadership and the wisdom she wishes to pass down to young adults. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
TREND: What are your favorite things about living in Chattanooga?
Reilly: Southern hospitality is alive and well here. There’s so much to love about the region from the many outdoor activities, public entertainment and events, arts and museums, to the affordable living and educational opportunities. As a representative of the Chattanooga Chamber, I’ll also share that Greater Chattanooga is the best place to own and operate a business. And, of course, the high quality of the healthcare systems in the region, which are essential for a thriving community.
TREND: What drew you to leadership?
Reilly: I was drawn to leadership by a desire to have an impact and serve a community. In my healthcare career, religious sisters taught me the value of service to others. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, the original sponsoring congregation of CHI Memorial, have a motto, “Caritas Christi Urget Nos –The Love of Christ Impels Us,” which is about serving the needs of the community. Service to others is engrained in my leadership and in the actions of our entire organization. Other successful leaders have taught me that a high-performing team can achieve more than a single individual.
Healthcare can seem like a collection of individual contributors because of the separate one-on-one patient interactions that occur. However, it is a team, like an orchestra playing individual parts to create a musical masterpiece. So, whether we are treating a rare diagnosis, performing complex surgery, building a new hospital or fighting a pandemic, the broader team’s skills and experiences harmonize to have the loudest impact. This to me is leadership – the team with a service motto that “impels us.”
TREND: What might you say to students considering healthcare careers? Which careers are most in demand right now?
Reilly: I would say that healthcare is a career field in which the reward is exponential to the investment. The most powerful reward is the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life or to an entire community. Everyday healthcare providers are blessed to experience the joy from the birth of a new baby, the expressions of relief from patients who survived a difficult disease or accident, the smiles of gratitude from loved ones for providing answers to medical mysteries, or the satisfaction of observing the health status of a community improve over time. Healthcare is exciting and ever-changing, presenting new, stimulating challenges every day. People who choose to work in healthcare do so because it is meaningful work, and they love it.
Healthcare jobs have high earning growth potential and career advancement opportunities, and they are all in demand right now. It is a unique profession because of the variety of attractive jobs and settings available. There are a variety of jobs in healthcare such as pilots to fly medical air ambulances, IT experts to collect and analyze complex medical data, and housekeeping staff to ensure safe, infection-free environments. Healthcare services occur in schools, nursing homes, businesses and offers healthcare professionals the ability to live anywhere in the world – because there are opportunities everywhere. An associate degree for healthcare can be completed in a little over a year and then many organizations support further educational advancement or there are numerous financial aid options.
TREND: What advice would you have for young professionals seeking to play a role in civic and community leadership?
Reilly: I have seen young professionals who think that civic and community involvement is something leaders do toward the end of their careers. I suggest that the earlier professionals become involved, the more impact they can have on their communities. Their involvement in community activities can help their businesses grow and thrive.
Learn about the community, its needs, its history and its vision for the future. Observe other community leaders who can serve as mentors and be valuable network contacts. Collaborate with neighbors to shape the future of the community for the next generations and make a positive, powerful impact. You will influence the community itself, and in return, the community will shape your life’s journey.
TREND: How does your leadership work at CHI Memorial overlap with your leadership efforts for the Chattanooga Chamber? For example, was the Community Healthcare Assessment an outgrowth of work like Velocity 2040, or is this a type of study that’s routinely organized in healthcare?
Reilly: Catholic healthcare organizations have been conducting community health needs assessments for many years, primarily because women religious sponsors have a philosophy of serving the needs of the community. The purpose of the Community Health Needs Assessment is to identify and prioritize significant health needs within our population.
Within the last 10 to 15 years, the federal government began requiring all healthcare organizations complete community needs assessments every three years. These assessments and others completed by community organizations certainly do overlap with the Chamber’s Velocity 2040 plan and campaign. And, I’d suggest, the findings of each are enriched by creating a synergy and focus that benefit the entire community.
TREND: What are a few of the most critical insights CHI Memorial gained from this assessment? Are there initiatives you’d like to focus on?
Reilly: Based on the Community Health Needs Assessment, secondary data, a community survey, focus groups and interviews with community participants, five focus areas emerged: access to affordable healthcare and insurance, mental and behavioral health, affordable healthy housing, substance use disorders, and prevention and education. Another notable result is that health disparities are compounding these challenges for the poor and vulnerable populations in our community.
Health equity is achieved when everyone can attain their full health potential and when we as a community work together to address historic and ongoing poverty, structural racism, and discrimination. Building community bridges will maximize both health and economic prosperity for all.
TREND: How has talent recruitment changed over the years? Any trend predictions for 2023?
Reilly: The most significant change in recruiting in the last few years is increased competition for labor. In healthcare, we are broadening our geographic search for talent while people are relocating to increase their quality of life. We are even recruiting internationally. Of course, technology like smartphones, video interviewing and social media are changing the way we communicate and engage with prospective employees and how we deliver key messages about our organization.
Employee expectations of their employers have changed. Employers must appreciate and respect their employees’ family time and outside interests while also being socially responsible. This requires offering flexible schedules, unique benefits and employee services to support lifestyle choices, and organizations that play a part in building viable communities and organizations in which they can be proud.
TREND: Velocity 2040 led to many individuals, groups and organizations working together toward a shared vision of what our community can become. How important is healthcare to regional economic growth and what role do the 4,600 healthcare workers at CHI Memorial play?
Reilly: Healthcare and economic growth are integral. Businesses considering relocation or expansion in Chattanooga have many factors to consider. One critical factor is the availability, cost and quality of healthcare for their employees. Fortunately, healthcare costs in Tennessee are relatively low.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the 2020 average annual single premium in the country is $7,219 per enrolled employee. In Tennessee, the costs are 10% lower at $6,485 (only Arkansas and Alabama have lower costs). These lower costs, coupled with some of the highest quality care in the country due to high0caliber physicians, nurses and clinicians, results in very high value healthcare for all employers. Lower healthcare costs allow businesses to thrive and, in turn, power a strong economic engine for this community.
I cannot praise the 4,600 healthcare workers at CHI Memorial enough. They strive every day to deliver on the value promise and ensure the trust of each patient and the entire community. They were heroes through the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to work miracles through ever-changing times.
TREND: For someone who’s new to our community and trying to decide where to seek medical services, how would you advise them to research their decisions?
Reilly: I recommend everyone have a primary care provider (PCP) they visit annually. A PCP will answer questions and direct you to the appropriate specialist or to a hospital for testing or admission, if necessary. Chattanooga is fortunate to have three accredited healthcare systems in our community – CHI Memorial, Erlanger and HCA Parkridge. Credible online consumer sites are a great place to begin one’s healthcare research and to prepare for a visit with your physician. The operative words are “qualified” provider and “credible” online sources. Federal Government agencies are good sources of information. You can visit USA.gov for a list of agencies. Large professional organizations and well-known medical schools can also be good sources of health information.
TREND: Can you share some of your secrets for staying healthy and managing stress?
Reilly: Our society sends many messages about how we should look, eat, exercise and age. Right now, I’m trying to be open-minded about my view on health. By that, I don’t mean we should let ourselves go. Instead, we should eat and exercise to keep our bodies strong, energized and able to support the activities we love to do – or need to do.
We can’t all be competitive athletes or master yogis or runway models, but all of us need moderate levels of activity, nourishing food and plenty of sleep. Let’s spend more time with loved ones and friends enjoying each other’s company and being kind to each other. All of these are healthy habits that studies indicate can extend longevity and result in a more fulfilling life.
Finally, let’s show self-love. Finding time for oneself to enjoy hobbies, to think and process, and to recharge is also important. Let’s embrace who we are and what we look like – our beautiful, flawed and imperfect selves.