Cathy Jacobson, President & CEO, Froedtert Health

Catherine Jacobson at Froedtert HealthCathy Jacobson always returns to the kitchen. That’s where she began her healthcare career as a 16-year-old in a 70-bed community hospital—a long-ago casualty of consolidation—in her small hometown 90 minutes west of Chicago. That’s also where her mother, an RN, mentored her in the day-to-day operations of a hospital. Now president and CEO of Froedtert Health, a Milwaukee-based regional health system, she finds herself still applying those early lessons, including making rounds not only to hospital kitchens but to all the places working people beget a community of care. “I very much relate to our service workers, whether they’re hospital-kitchen workers or nurses on the hospital floors,” she says. Jacobson joined Froedtert Health in 2010 as executive VP of finance and strategy, chief financial officer and chief strategy officer. In 2011 she became president and a year later CEO. Prior to joining Froedtert Health, Jacobson spent 22 years at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago in various leadership roles. A CPA, she received her Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from Bradley University and has served as board chair of the Healthcare Financial Management Association.

Jacobson’s grounding in operations, finance, IT and strategic vision—early on she worked as a consultant and later for a payor—makes her an ideal CEO to reimagine the post-COVID health system. We asked her to comment on emerging characteristics of healthcare’s “new normal” post-COVID, based on SI Member lessons learned during the past several months; specifically on how each component is likely to play out on the “other side” of this historic inflection point.

“We’re still in recovery with a foot in the next phase to reimagine the future health system,” she says. “We want to keep gains we’ve made like rapid-fire decision-making. We didn’t strip the organization down to its bare bones just to build it back to how we operated before. For example, we’ve closed certain areas such as one of our ambulatory network cancer-infusion centers. Do we really need 14 chairs just for that service or do we build a different program around this resource. We’re rethinking those services that are 75 percent predictable.”

Which brings us to analytics, our first major premise for healthcare’s new normal.