When Leaders Live the Vision

July 15, 2017
Mike Stallard

Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, a part of Northwestern Medicine, is an elite performing healthcare organization in terms of patient satisfaction, employee engagement and financial performance. Marianjoy is composed of a network of 500 inpatient medical acute/sub-acute beds and outpatient rehabilitation services delivering a full range of multispecialty services to adults and children in the greater Chicagoland area. More than 50,000 patients receive care within the Marianjoy service network annually.

Marianjoy is led by Kathleen Yosko, its president and CEO. A life-long learner, Ms. Yosko, in addition to being a nurse by background, has earned M.B.A. and Ph.D. degrees. Ms. Yosko is a source of inspiration to the people she leads. She is an example of a leader who communicates an inspiring vision and lives it, as can be seen throughout her remarkable career. 

Overcoming Obstacles to Serve Patients Well

As a relatively new nurse during the height of the Vietnam War, Ms. Yosko was assigned to work with paraplegic and quadriplegic former solders at a Veterans Administration Hospital in Pittsburgh. She noticed the regular “cat calls” and comments from male patients about the attractiveness of women. While others chose to overlook this behavior, Ms. Yosko realized it was a sign the men were longing for sexual intimacy and stressed about that aspect of their lives going forward, given the nature of their injuries.

Historically, this particular need of returning veterans was ignored by healthcare practitioners. To Ms. Yosko, it was a problem to be solved that would help her patients. She went on a mission to learn about male sexual function and anatomy, even though her medical colleagues discouraged her from talking with patients about sexual intimacy. Undeterred, she read books and sought advice from experts, eventually becoming an expert herself and going on to counsel scores of veterans and their wives.

Serving the Poor in Chicago’s Gang-Infested Westside

Not one to back down from a challenge, from 1978 to 1998, Ms. Yosko became the president and CEO of Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and Care Network on the west side of Chicago. Schwab faced many challenges because it catered primarily to the poor, including gang members who required rehabilitation following injuries from gun violence.

Under Ms. Yosko’s leadership, Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital’s performance improved across the board and it experienced extensive growth. During her tenure, a replacement hospital was completed. Schwab now operates eight satellite facilities in the Chicago area. Ms. Yosko’s success transforming Schwab caught the attention of officials at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital who in 1998 recruited Yosko to be its president and CEO. 

Building the Best

In her early years of leading Marianjoy, which is based in the suburb of Wheaton about 30 minutes west of downtown Chicago, Ms. Yosko found people were afraid to speak up so she encouraged them to share their ideas and opinions in order to find opportunities to make the organization more effective. Over time, she gained people’s trust that she truly does want to hear their points of view. And speak up they did! One year the report of Marianjoy’s annual employee engagement survey included 80+ pages of optional comments, even though its engagement scores were near perfect. Typical of Yosko, she read every comment, looking for patterns that would reveal a problem or an opportunity to improve.

Yosko is a straight-talking, open-minded leader. When revenue was down one year due to changes in Medicare reimbursement, she explained to the people who worked at Marianjoy why she had to freeze salaries. This announcement was followed shortly thereafter by the organization’s employee engagement survey. Yosko feared that engagement scores would plummet from the stellar 98th percentile she was accustomed to seeing. To her surprise, engagement scores for the first time hit the 99th percentile among healthcare organizations nationwide.

Under Ms. Yosko’s leadership, Marianjoy continuously strives to be a leader in improving the state of rehabilitation medicine. For example, the organization launched AbilityLinks.org, an award-winning website that matches jobseekers who have a disability with businesses seeking to hire qualified workers. The program has increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities. More recently, Ms. Yosko secured philanthropic gifts to fund the cutting-edge Tellabs Center for Neurorehabilitation and Neuroplasticity. 

National Leader and Advocate for the Disabled

Throughout her career Ms. Yosko has been active nationally in the field of rehabilitation. She has served as the chairperson of the American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association, a nonprofit trade organization representing freestanding rehabilitation hospitals, rehabilitation units in general hospitals, outpatient rehabilitation facilities, several skilled nursing facilities, and home health agencies. Ms. Yosko has also served as the chairperson of the Commission of Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (1997), and as the chairperson of the American Rehabilitation Association (1994), a Washington, D.C.-based organization representing providers of rehabilitation services.

Living the Vision

Marianjoy’s vision is to be recognized for superior and compassionate patient service, clinical excellence, and as the health care employer of choice and the preferred partner of physicians in each community it serves. From helping wounded warriors with disabilities to leading the improvement and expansion of two rehabilitation hospitals, and becoming a national leader and advocate for people with disabilities, Kathleen Yosko’s career journey shows that she lives this vision.    

In many organizations, excellent leaders lead well, even though they haven’t lived the vision of the organization they lead. When a board of directors is fortunate to find a leader who lives the organization’s vision, like Kathleen Yosko does when it comes to rehabilitation medicine, it can provide an additional powerful boost to lift the organization’s performance even higher.

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Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of Connection Culture Group, speaks, teaches and consults on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blogTwitterFacebookGoogle+ or LinkedIn.

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