Dayton Children’s Hospital president and CEO Deborah Feldman thrives at the intersection of complex challenge and human potential. As the leader of one of the leading children’s hospitals in the country, Deborah manages thousands of staff, tens of thousands of annual patients, capital expenditure, strategic planning, patient experience and much more.
Upon joining Dayton Children’s in 2012, Deborah led the creation of a new strategic roadmap to guide the hospital into the rapidly changing future of healthcare. This plan, called Destination 2020, outlines a framework for ensuring Dayton Children’s continues to grow and thrive while remaining true to its founders’ original mission – to provide the highest quality care to all children regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Destination 2020 involves a campus-wide revitalization, services expansion in key areas, recruitment of highly specialized pediatric experts, and the integration of advanced technology – all in a uniquely family-centered setting.
Deborah took a few moments to talk with us recently about her role, pediatric health at large, her vision for the future, and more.
Your career arc is somewhat unique in that you’re the President and CEO of a health system, but most of your background isn’t strictly in healthcare. How has that shaped how you do your job today?
I think my career arc helps me. Having not worked in healthcare previously, I’m not wired to think, “Well this is how we’ve always done it.” I think it makes me more inclined to challenge precedents and assumptions that can lead to new ideas. Healthcare is moving and evolving at such a rapid pace that having an open mind can be helpful.
Plus, I’m from the Dayton area, so having that hometown knowledge of the local market has been invaluable. I also have extensive experience managing large teams and complex departments, which is such an integral part of what I’m doing today at Dayton Children’s; without that experience, my current role would have been a more challenging undertaking.
How do you encourage your team and the organization to think beyond the status quo?
I challenge my team to be much more community-focused. We are taking what we do outside the walls of the hospital and into our backyard and beyond by collaborating with several new partners. Rather than being viewed narrowly as a place where sick children can recover, we can be seen as an organization that helps children live healthy each day.
A strong example of this is our partnership with the Hope Center for Families, which empowers lower-income members of the Dayton community with work, life and personal skills. We are a partner along with Montgomery County, Sinclair College, Miami Valley Urban League and Mini University. The Hope Center’s facility will bring all of these different components into one space: a pediatric clinic, a workforce training center, and an early learning center. It’s a place to promote health and wellness for all generations, and a leadership moment for us, because it’s the kind of initiative very few children’s hospitals are launching right now.
What are some of the biggest disruptions in pediatric healthcare right now?
There’s many, but let’s focus on three:
First, there’s a major movement right now to outpatient and home care, which is challenging in that it requires us to both think differently and create entirely new types of care spaces. We also need to carefully study how we’ll be paid for these services. For example, when it comes to a hospital-based infusion procedure, we’re reimbursed very little or not at all. But if we do those same infusions in an outpatient setting, we’ll be paid for it. That forces us to think whether we need outpatient infusion centers—it’s not something we’ve needed in the past.
Second, consumerism is also growing as more of our parents are of the millennial era. These parents are embracing all things digital and want things immediately, so consumerism resonates even more with them. These parents are open to virtual care, but will also seek out specialized care on their own rather than just heading to a pediatrician in their community. They’ll ask their Facebook friends for recommendations. Millennial parents also have a lack of loyalty – if they’re not happy with the care they’re getting, they’ll go elsewhere. How are we going to respond?
Lastly, a huge growth area is in pediatric behavioral health services, which is driven by a dramatic rise in teenagers with anxiety and mood disorders. Data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness indicates that more than 20% of children ages 13 to 18 experience a severe mental illness at some point during their life, and the number is 13% for those ages 8 to 15. How are we going to help these patients?
Our team is focused on these leading disruptions and creating future-focused solutions to them.
Five years from now, what pediatric health challenge do you hope has seen significant improvements?
I referenced pediatric behavioral health, and I really hope our collective national health system is better addressing that need, and I’d love for Dayton to be leading the charge. Right now, it’s the biggest demand of resources, and it’s challenging to keep up with the need. We need to find a better way to address this and help more children.
I also hope we’re doing more to help the rising number of children with asthma and pulmonary disorder cases. It’s the No. 1 reason for admissions at Dayton Children’s. Asthma wreaks havoc on a child’s ability to attend school regularly and live their lives without disruption. So much of treatment in the past has been ‘Did I take my inhaler,’ but it’s much more than that. Managing asthma and other pulmonary illnesses involves thinking about where the child lives, what environments they’re in consistently, do they have access to clean, quality air? We need to be thinking bigger picture for this issue.
What technologies do you think will drive the most positive impacts on patient experience moving forward?
Technology is a huge driver. When we opened our new tower, we implemented 13 new technologies. One was a tube system that lets nurses transport narcotics via fingerprint technology – for the patient, this means children can receive the medication they need, often for pain relief, faster.
From a consumer standpoint, the more we can start using digital communication more effectively, the better the experience will be, especially for our millennial parents. We can use this to communicate medical records, test results, schedule appointments – we’re trying to integrate MyKidsChart and “save your spot” technology as much as we can. Our millennial parents don’t want to talk on the phone, and they also don’t want to wait, so this technology will continue to have a big impact.
We often hear healthcare organizations are only as good as their staff (talent). How does Dayton Children’s focus on bolstering recruit and retain?
The No. 1 recruitment strategy for us is strong employee engagement. The best way to recruit is by not having to in the first place. If you have great staff who are staying, then you are bringing in new people strategically through word of mouth who want to be there. You want staff saying, “I’m going to do the best I can do every day,” and knowing they have a supportive team and organization behind them. Staff need to feel they can grow in the job. I’m proud that we’re in the 95th percentile for staff engagement and have very low staff turnover.
You’re a highly accomplished leader who has shown a clear commitment to your community. What motivates you every day?
First and foremost, it is making a difference in our community and the lives of families and the children we serve. When I left my last role, I knew I needed to pick a place where the work made a difference of this magnitude.
Secondary to that motivation, I also love leading complex organizations and seeing the team tackle big challenges and achieving great results. If in the end, we’re making the community and people’s lives better, then we’ve all done our jobs.
Read more on HORIZON >
It’s always an exciting moment when U.S. News & World Report reveals their annual ranking of the Best Children’s Hospitals in the nation — and this year is no exception! The yearly Honor Roll recognizes the best of the best in pediatric medicine and is an accurate indication of how children’s hospitals are improving the lives of children and their families. That’s why I couldn’t have felt prouder when I saw that our team has worked with nine of the top 10 hospitals on the 2018-2019 list.
What makes this Honor Roll so important is that it ranks the best children’s hospitals by gathering data on clinical outcomes, efficient coordination of care, and their ability to provide sufficient care-related resources. And what makes it so special is that it includes data from a reputational survey sent to about 11,000 doctors who are pediatric specialists – meaning that these organizations are seen as the greatest among their peers. The 10 best specialty designations are also significant as they recognize those pediatric systems leading the way in medical advancements and improving outcomes for some of the most medically complex conditions, including cardiology and heart surgery, cancer and orthopedics.
Over the last 25 years, our team has had the opportunity to partner with the top children’s hospitals to help create design solutions that support their all-important missions. We’ve collaborated on many innovative design projects, most recently Texas Children’s Hospital Legacy Tower and The Woodlands Campus, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care, Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Replacement Hospital, Colorado Children’s Hospital new facility in Colorado Springs, and Boston Children’s Hospital Master Planning — just to name a few.
Congratulations to all of the top hospitals on this well-deserved recognition. Thank you for the amazing work you do that continues to inspire us each day!
Learn more about our Pediatric expertise >
Today is International Women’s Day — a celebration that has been observed for more than 100 years around the world.
This year feels different, though. It comes on the heels of an unprecedented movement for women’s equality and justice. Fueled by #metoo and the Women’s March, discussions about women’s rights have captured headlines and spotlights across the globe. Women are standing together, demanding change and pressing for progress.
I am one of those women. In my career, I’ve been propositioned by a client. I’ve endured the wolf whistles and catcalls from the job site. I’ve been told I wouldn’t achieve success because of my gender. I even had a professor tell me I couldn’t have a family and be an architect — I’d have to choose one or the other.
But as people tried to diminish me, I became even more determined and energized to achieve my goals.
And I did. I’m a wife, a mother of two daughters and an architect. I rose through the ranks at FKP (now FKP | CannonDesign), starting at the bottom rung and making my way to the top as CEO. I was named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) at age 45. And now with CannonDesign, I’m honored to lead one of the most innovative pediatric healthcare practices in the world as well as to represent the firm within the AIA’s Large Firm Round Table (LFRT) new diversity initiative.
I don’t share this to promote my accomplishments. I’m sharing my experiences because I want to offer every person in our profession inspiration and hope. I am one of many women who have experienced success in the A/E industry, and although the journey wasn’t always easy, I made it happen. The glass ceiling that pervades society didn’t disappear, but I took the time to understand it (I am an architect after all and, for me, glass ceilings are beautiful — letting light in while providing shelter). I figured out how to reshape the glass ceilings I encountered. Because remember, when heat is applied to glass, it becomes pliable. So even with glass ceilings in place, I found ways to shape the career and life I wanted.
I thought today would be a good opportunity to share some lessons I’ve learned throughout my career, as well as some advice I’ve been given. I don’t present myself as an authority on this topic, but I’m hopeful that all people — women, men, people of color, the LGBTQ community, etc. — can find at least one piece of inspiration that can help them advance their careers.
Progress takes time. This is always tough advice to swallow because we live in a society fueled by instant gratification. Social media, smartphones and the internet have made it possible to get results for almost anything immediately. But when pushing for social progress, it is essential to remember it takes time to effect change. So many people fought to get us to where we are today, and they dedicated much of their lives to foster that progress. It wasn’t long ago that women couldn’t vote, that our schools were segregated, and that businesses could legally discriminate against people of any kind.
My advice: We all know the architecture and engineering fields have a diversity challenge. To change that and achieve the diversity aspirations we have as an industry, it will require engagement from all of us. Posting a single Tweet is not going to change anything. But reaching out into the schools and showing children the career opportunities in the profession will. Mentoring aspiring designers will. Joining (or creating) organizations focused on equality in the profession will. If you want to see progress move faster, you have to get engaged and help catalyze change. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
You can have it all, even with kids in tow. I am very fortunate to have an amazing mother. When she was younger, she drove a car with a bumper sticker that read, “A woman’s place is in the house, and the senate, too!” She was a chemistry teacher who also raised five children. I assumed her life was normal and routine. And then I had kids and confronted the hard reality of a workplace that didn’t support working mothers. After my first child, I found it almost impossible to simultaneously be the mother I wanted to be and the dedicated professional I was. I began to worry I would have to choose one or the other as that professor in college advised me. At the time, there weren’t any role models who had been in a similar position or a network of other working women in the industry to reach out to for guidance. But I forged my path. I stopped trying to create work/life “balance” and refocused on creating work/life integration.
My advice: Balance requires equilibrium. And as we all know, it’s very rare for people in our profession to have absolute equilibrium between work and personal life. But you CAN do it all. I did it by having a wonderful husband who co-parented with me and reframed his perceptions around roles. I did it by forming a support group of other like-minded parents who banded together to help each other juggle family/work conflicts. I did it by working with leadership at FKP to change their approach to work flexibility, and I even sometimes brought my kids with me to client meetings. So don’t ever think you have to choose one over the other. You can have it all — you just need to put in the energy and strategize on how best to make career/personal life integration work for you.
Don’t expect to be given anything. Every qualified person deserves equal opportunities in the workplace, but no respectable company should hire or promote someone solely because they’re a man or a woman — diversity should never be about checking boxes. It’s about finding the best talent for the job, regardless of who they are. A company’s success depends on that. And society’s advancement depends upon each of us every day giving our very best efforts.
My advice: Simply make yourself the best person for the job. Make bold career aspirations for yourself, but then take responsibility for laying the groundwork for getting there; don’t ever put the success of your career in someone else’s hands. But it’s also important to stay grounded in the reality of your current situation. I’ll never forget an interview I had with a young woman a few years ago about a job opportunity. She was right out of college, and as soon as she walked into the interview, she made it clear that she wanted to be a principal within five years. That was not an attainable reality for her at the time, but that’s not to say she couldn’t eventually reach that goal. So become very self-aware and work on yourself and your mindset; always remain grounded, and if you feel like you are being held back from something you deserve, find positive ways to be heard and effect change.
Learn from others. As I said, when I was starting my architecture career, there weren’t any female leaders to seek out for guidance. Thankfully, I had many male mentors who saw the value women brought to the profession, who were active parents and struggled themselves to integrate little league games alongside business travel. There were also historical role models I admired — like Rosa Parks for her dignity and quiet fortitude, among others. Today, we have so many amazing women to learn from who have most likely experienced any challenge you may encounter. At CannonDesign, Hilda Espinal has risen to the top as a woman architect of color — and Abbie Clary, Deb Sheehan, Meg Osman, Lynne Deninger, Carisima Koenig, Patricia Bou, and so many others have forged successful and inspiring careers within the profession.
My advice: Young designers today have more opportunities to learn from mentors than ever before. Harness these opportunities! Whether through formal mentorship or not, reach out and talk to people who have experienced the type of success you seek and get advice on the challenges you may be encountering.
I realize some of you may disagree with some or all of my advice — but that’s great! Diversity of thought is key to move equality forward. This is my experience, and everyone has their own unique story to tell and their own path to travel. By examining our individual mindsets, bringing our voices together and sharing our experiences, we can help our industry effectively press for progress.
Learn more about the inspiring people at CannonDesign >