Legacy of a transformational leader - Dr. Patricia Gabow, CEO, Denver Health


If you type “Denver Health” or “Patricia Gabow” into the search box here on HealthBlog you will discover that the achievements of this well known public healthcare system in Denver, Colorado, and its tenacious leader, Dr. Patricia Gabow, have been frequently referenced in my writings over the years. Not too long after joining Microsoft in 2002, I was invited by Dr. Gabow to participate in something called the Denver Health Board Advisory Committee. Our imagemission was to serve as industry mentors and advisors as Denver Health began its journey on a remarkable transformation. Leading the charge was their dynamic, fire-cracker of a leader, Dr. Patty Gabow. What Dr. Gabow may have lacked in physical stature, she more than made up for in her energy, wisdom, and leadership skills. Of note is that the Board Advisory Committee members Dr. Gabow recruited were not health industry insiders. Instead, Dr. Gabow brought in executives and thought leaders from other industries including IT, transportation, customer service, hospitality, and manufacturing. She wanted Denver Health to learn about best practices in these other industries and how to incorporate those practices into healthcare. Whether it was an exemplary reward program for Denver Health employees, or the best way to manage an enterprise IT system, Dr. Gabow wanted to learn from the best.

Puzzle 1In September, Dr. Gabow steps down from the CEO pulpit at Denver Health to enter a well deserved retirement. Today, as a former Board Advisory Committee member, I received a letter from Dr. Gabow outlining some of Denver Health’s most significant achievements over the last decade.

Citing a “puzzle” diagram that the organization developed early in the process, in her letter Dr. Gabow provided some concrete examples of organizational initiatives, and clinical and administrative projects, that have cumulatively resulted in more than $170 million in combined financial benefits through June of 2012. Areas of focus included Right Person, Right Communication, Right Environment, Right Process, Right Service, and Right Reward. At the center of the puzzle was the keystone (as it should be), the organization’s Patients and their Families. Surrounding the perimeter of the puzzle is IT - information technology. Dr. Gabow is a firm believer in the power of computing and software solutions as agents of change and as mandatory business intelligence tools for contemporary, continuous quality improvements in clinical and administrative workflow processes.

The six piece puzzle (now seven pieces with the addition of Right Service) addresses strategic areas of focus for Denver Health’s organizational improvement. Deeply rooted in all of this is Lean process engineering. In fact, Denver Health now has 8 full time Lean Facilitators, 250 Black Belts including all clinical and physician executive leaders, and 16 Value Streams. Since the implementation of Lean, the organization has conducted 400 Rapid Improvement Events. Dr. Gabow reports that Lean has become completely embedded in Denver Health’s culture and in turn has transformed that organization’s culture.

I know that it takes more than Lean or a Board Advisory Committee to transform an organization as large as Denver Health or an industry as complex as healthcare. Primarily, it takes a leader with the foresight and tenacity to keep an organization on track and to instill in every employee his or her deeply held values by “walking the walk, and talking the talk” every day. That is the kind of leadership we need in the health industry and that is the kind of leader who has been at the helm of Denver Health these many years. Congratulations Dr. Gabow on a job and career well done!

Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft

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