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When she begins her new position as Chief Health System Officer in mid-December, Lisa Brandenburg will be coming home to UW Medicine. She began her healthcare career at UW Medical Center in 1990 and held key leadership positions, including chief operating officer (2004-2006) and interim executive director (2006-2007). She also played a major role in the formation of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

As a quick introduction, we asked Lisa a few questions about her life, career and goals.

Q: Why did you go into healthcare – did you choose it or did it choose you?

A: I grew up in Los Banos, a small farming and ranching community in central California. My family’s life was greatly impacted by my father’s health. He had many medical issues after contracting polio as a child, starting with post-polio syndrome and including early heart disease and blindness.

What struck me most was the impact of his medical care on our entire family. There was such a difference between the times when it worked well and the times when it didn’t. This was especially true of our experience with trying to coordinate specialty care, which as you can imagine is especially hard in a small town.

When I went to college at the University of California, Davis, I had a work-study job at Planned Parenthood. I took advantage of being at the front desk to practice my Spanish skills with many of our clients and discovered ways to make the clinic work better. This success resulted in my being promoted to office manager and gave me the confidence that I could use my skills to make healthcare better on a broader scale.

For formal training, I continued my studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and received master’s degrees in both business (MBA) and public health (MPH).

Q: It’s been 10 years since you left UW Medicine. What are your impressions about how it has changed or not changed?

A: UW Medicine has always provided – and continues to provide – great care for patients. What has changed since I left is that the system is now much bigger with the addition of Northwest Hospital and Valley Medical Center, the expansion of the UW Neighborhood Clinics and the continuing growth of all parts of the system in research, education and clinical care.

On a more fundamental level, we have entered a period of unprecedented change in healthcare. Even though it is hard to predict what will happen to the Affordable Care Act in Congress, we have overwhelming feedback from the general public that healthcare needs to be more convenient, easier to access, more patient-centered and less expensive. In other words, there is no escaping that this is a time of transformation.

For me, it’s very exciting to see that UW Medicine is leading this transformation with Patients Are First, the Accountable Care Network and many other initiatives.

Q: What are some of your goals for your first year as Chief Health System Officer?

A: I will spend a lot of time initially getting reoriented to UW Medicine. I plan to meet with as many employees as possible to learn about our current challenges and to find out what is working well and where we have opportunities for improvement.

I will also focus on how we can build on the strengths of each entity to function better as a single, unified system. To achieve this goal, my initial plans include the following priorities:

  • Patient care: With UW Medicine’s strengths in research, education and patient care, we can be a national leader for healthcare reform by developing new approaches to keeping people healthy. We need to keep people out of the hospital and deliver more care in community and home settings. Technology can help us do this, and we have a great opportunity to partner with local technology companies that are working to change how healthcare is delivered.
  • Financial stability: With other leaders and the support of the entire organization, we need to execute on the recently announced Financial Improvement and Transformation plan (Project FIT).
  • Electronic medical records: Working with Joy Grosser, our new chief information officer, we need to achieve clarity about our EMR goals. Is it feasible to have a single platform for inpatient and outpatient care? What is the timeline for implementation? What resources will be available for this complex project?
  • Workplace environment: Creating an exciting and supportive workplace environment is vital so that we can attract and keep top talent. When I was at Seattle Children’s, we reached the 93rd percentile on our employee engagement scores, and we were included by Forbes magazine in its 2016 list of “America’s Best Employers.”
  • Learning organization: I believe strongly in using our collective brain power to solve problems. I have worked with many healthcare organizations to implement a daily improvement system that gives teams the tools to solve local problems themselves as well as a process for escalating broader problems to senior leadership.

Q: How do you spend your time when you are not at work?

A: I have been married to my husband Dirk who is a real estate professional for 22 years. We are both avid bike riders and recently completed a six-day ride in California where we averaged 50 miles daily.

We have a second home on Orcas Island, which is a favorite get-away for weekends and vacations. Being on the island is also great for kayaking and watching marine life. Just this weekend, I saw a family of five otters running on the beach!

Our 20-year-old son Max is a student at Emerson College in Boston, where he is studying film production. As a family, we enjoy travelling, hiking and skiing. I have also been a member of the same book club for 21 years and look forward to exploring the Bookshelf on The Huddle.

Q: How did you become famous as a “Seattle Biking Exec”?

A: In 2013, I was featured in a Puget Sound Business Journal story on six Seattle business leaders who do their daily commuting by bicycle.

I started riding my bike to Seattle Children’s when we were working with neighbors to mitigate the impact of our campus expansion. As part of this effort, we enhanced an existing program to encourage carpooling, van pooling and public transportation. We also developed a “Company Bike” program for employees who did not own their own bike but wanted to give bike commuting a try.

Bike commuting is not only a natural extension of my fitness activities but also a way to make a contribution to environmental stewardship. Although I do not ride to work every day, even a single weekly ride represents a 20 percent reduction in environmental impact compared to driving a car. I also find that an uphill ride back home is a great way to de-stress before engaging with my family!

Q: What would be your dream vacation?

A: One of our most memorable family vacations was a safari in Botswana and South Africa. It was truly amazing to see the animals in a completely wild and free space. I can still feel what it is like to get close to a pride of lions! I also worry about the future of these animals as a result of hunting and climate change. Although I don’t expect to have time for this in the near future, I would love to go on another safari to see different animals.

In addition to new sights and adventures, travel can help us see that we live in a beautiful and awe-inspiring world. It gives me comfort to feel this connection to something bigger, and it makes me realize how important it is to feel that our work is connected to a larger purpose.

By coming back to UW Medicine, I look forward to being connected with our entire community in the mission to improve the health of the public.

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