Executive Vice President, Chief Compliance Officer
This month, we are excited to highlight Michelle Cooper! Michelle played an integral role in the recent merger of Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives into the newly launched CommonSpirit Health. Michelle was also recognized as a Woman of Influence at the 2019 WBL Summit. Learn more about Michelle and the other women acknowledged here.
How did you become an executive in the health care industry? Did you always have an interest in health care?
I didn’t always have an interest in health care, though I originally wanted to be a veterinarian, so I always had an interest in medicine as a whole. In high school, I took a pre-med class and interned at a hospital, which is when I found out I didn’t have the stomach to become a vet!
I went down the career path of becoming a certified public accountant with Ernst & Young, where I originally started in the cable industry. In an effort to have me work less after having a child, I was directed into healthcare, and I never looked back after that – it was like it was meant to be. It felt as though I found a home once I started auditing clients in the health care industry. I eventually transitioned fully to the health care industry and I have been there ever since.
What is one major challenge you see facing the health care industry today?
There are so many, but I think the biggest challenge is the ever-increasing price of health care and the ever-decreasing reimbursement associated with that care. This makes it very difficult for health care providers to sustain the income they need to continue to provide the quality of services they offer.
Who has been your biggest influence throughout your career?
I would have to say that there are two people who have been the biggest influences in my career. The first is my father, who had such an impact on me understanding how important it is to build relationships in the workforce and how important it is to mentor others. He also taught me that you need diverse people on your team to help fill the gaps in areas of expertise, wisdom, and knowledge.
The second is a woman named Sister Nancy Hopsman. When I first entered the healthcare industry, I started out as an internal auditor, and she pulled me aside and identified me as a potential leader to be developed. She got me involved in leadership training, which really pivoted my career into a different direction.
What does true leadership mean to you?
True leadership to me means so much, but primarily I would say it means being an example for all those that you work with – your team, other leaders – being true to yourself, and really lobbying for the interests of the greater good versus your own interests. Leadership is being an advocate for change, development, team building, and other things that tend to get lost when financial pressures and other hardships come into play. It’s being an active voice and being comfortable in speaking up when others may not be comfortable.
Your company recently went through a merger with Dignity Health to become CommonSpirit Health. What was your role in the merger and what was the most exciting or challenging part of the process?
My role in the integration was first in due diligence – making sure that everything was in place to align smoothly. The biggest role I had after that was leading one of the integration teams for the merger, a process in which I was involved for over a year now. It’s been very exciting because it enabled us to take the best of both organizations and build on those already positive, best-in-class practices and take them to the next level. I am one of the senior leadership team members, so I’m also responsible for helping foster the development of the new aligned culture.
How did you keep the culture of your company intact throughout the merger?
I think the best way to keep a culture intact is communication. It doesn’t matter what level of employee you are in the organization, you want to know what is going on and what the expected outcome is with the alignment. You want to hear from your senior leadership regarding what is going on and feel that you have a part in things. The way we did it was by making sure that communication was flowing and keeping employees engaged and energized around the fact that these two organizations were coming together to increase our ability for us to fulfill our mission, which is to provide quality healthcare services including services to the poor and underserved.
Personally or professionally, what might the WBL network be surprised to know about you?
Personally, I have four children – I had them young in my career and I have an amazing husband who actually let go of his career to be a stay at home dad, which allowed me to follow the path to my current position. I could never have succeeded as a leader without the support of my husband and family. Now, my husband is my travel buddy, which is just great – having my best friend by my side during trips is so wonderful. We just celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary.
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