CHRISTUS Health’s digital transformation reimagines healthcare technology and IT

CHRISTUS Health’s digital transformation reimagines healthcare technology and IT

With a network of over 45,000 Associates, more than 15,000 physicians on medical staffs providing compassionate, high quality care, CHRISTUS Health is one of the largest Catholic health systems in the United States.

The company has been committed to extending the healing ministry of Jesus Christ for more than 150 years. As the founding father and sister initially began their mission by forming CHRISTUS in Houston, Texas, there was always a wider vision of expansion, extending its footprint across the United States.

Six years ago, a decision was made to relocate the company’s base of operations, its home of over 150 years, from Houston to Dallas. As with any major relocation, particularly after decades of operation, CHRISTUS faced a sizeable challenge.

“Having such a rich legacy, we had a lot of very loyal and dedicated associates and leaders who had given their entire lives to CHRISTUS,” says Bennetta Raby, System Director, Strategy, Performance Improvement, ITSM, TBMO, Learning and Development, Christus Health.

“When the decision was made to uproot and move, from a technology perspective we lost a significant portion of our workforce over 60%. Everyone from leadership roles to external facing roles, we lost people from across the board.”

Such a loss of resource meant CHRISTUS had to embrace a new strategic direction that gave it the best chance to first survive, and then thrive despite such a seismic level of change

This is where Bennetta Raby, having successfully worked in transformation, project management and healthcare IT for more than 10 years, was brought in alongside Christa Barclay, Strategy, Performance Management & Innovation Program Manager, Office and ACIO, to bring vision, strategy and stability to the organisation.

“When myself, Christa and our SPI team were brought into the organisation, it was a time of turmoil and uncertainty,” she says. “But we thrived on that, and it allowed us to be able to identify from a transformational standpoint, key areas where we lost intellectual capital, or we weren’t as mature.”

CHRISTUS had a long-standing tenure with people who had been a part of the business for decades, who understood the systems and, as Raby explains, “did not rely on a transformational practice or discipline, but rather their own individual longstanding knowledge.”

This of course, only serves to emphasise the significance of losing 60% of staff and the challenge that was facing Raby and Barclay.

But what the two of them brought to the organisation, was a fresh and innovative approach.

“Any time an organisation is faced with losing that level of capital, to me, is an opportunity to gain new talent, new philosophies, insight, methodologies and systems that could position us better for the future,” says Raby.

First up for Raby, as noted, was identifying where the organisation’s growth opportunities were, where she could really implement strategic change management. Through visiting and communicating with every last one of the organisations internal customers and community leaders, Raby was faced with a challenging situation.

“There were some very skilled people that were not positioned in the right places to align with their strengths and skillsets in order to drive growth in the organisation” she says. “So, I attracted a team of innovative thinkers to focus on the back-end work while I focused on change management and customer relationship.” This team, aka “The SPI Team”, consists of  strategic individuals that actually function as strategic partners across all disciplines (Strategic Automation, Performance Improvement, Workforce Transformation to Financial Management).

These two teams joined forces and aligned to develop a stronger technology solution team. This is where Barclay was brought in to look at implementing strategy and improve financial performance.

As was the case with Raby, her leadership team was faced with a lack of digital maturity, and was quick to identify the key growth opportunities through the implementation of digital technology platforms and key enablers that stunt the opportunity for these platforms to grow.

“There was a big gap when I came in,” Barclay acknowledges. “The processes were not documented; the financials were based purely on tribal knowledge and the organisation’s financials were over budget with a real lack of clarity as to why. As with most IT organisations, the lack of clarity and static annual budget cuts can kill the revolutionary capabilities that technology innovation can provide.”

She was tasked with installing a financial maintenance infrastructure and building data bases to monitor the spend and accruals in order to “clean up the financials.”

Leveraging Barclay’s financial strategy background with Raby’s SPI Team, attention turned towards a much more widespread digital transformation, strategically partnering with vendors to become a bleeding-edge department, one that was no longer coming at this strategic change management from behind.

“We have made the flip from simply a transformation division to becoming more of a partner,” says Barclay. “We operate as a technology division that is innovative, customer focused and one that can go out in front and communicate with customers and help them realise what growth opportunities can be made through technological implementation.”

No digital transformation can be achieved alone and CHRISTUS has strategically partnered with Microsoft and Service Now, two partners that have truly enabled Raby and Barclay’s drive for innovation across upwards of 12,000 applications in CHRISTUS’ healthcare system.

“When we look at a transformational partner, we look for the ones that see the mission of CHRISTUS and support it and want to work alongside it, we use John Kotter’s mantra everyday which is Changing Hearts and Minds,” says Raby.

“Everything that we’ve been striving to achieve, Microsoft and Service Now have been with us and supported us every step of the way.” 

This is a feeling shared by Barclay, particularly coming at it from the transformational requirements that were needed in order to bring maturity and stability to the organisation’s capital expenditure and budget management.

“They have redrawn the lines for what it means as a technology vendor to truly partner,” says Barclay. “It’s been amazing to come alongside in their field, to use their technology solutions and their resources to facilitate what myself, Bennetta and team have been trying to achieve. Our team: Omar Martinez, Velisha Mosby, Aaron Almaraz, Alan Carrington and Kevin Frye take every available opportunity our vendors have to offer to continuous build solutions that close the execution gaps.”

With any digital transformation, there is an immediate change and impact that one can point to. An efficient and faster way of working, working smarter, but what legacy will this transformation leave, not only for the future of CHRISTUS, but other healthcare organisations?

Raby can already point to industry recognition, with CHRISTUS becoming the first healthcare organisation to receive an award for strategy and innovation. At its core level, the award recognises Raby and the SPI Team and all of CHRISTUS for its technology business management. For Raby, it goes yet further.

“We have been recognised for our resilience against a very difficult backdrop of organisational change, losing revenue, lack of resources. We were an organisation drinking from a fire hydrant for six straight years” she says. “They saw us as pioneers in change management and IT.

“It’s not me bragging, the road has been and continues to be very difficult and challenging, but with the help of strong partnership and our togetherness and understanding of what we want the road ahead to look like, it’s been a winning combination to steady the course.”

That road ahead, whatever it may be, will be one of digital maturity, and a steely resolve to continue to deliver on a promise made all of 151 years ago.