Dawn Anuszkiewicz, Reading Hospital COO, shares her career journey

Anuszkiewicz, a native of Titusville, New Jersey, will help lead the flagship acute care hospital of Tower Health.

Undaunted by her new position, Anuszkiewicz is eager to get moving. She is a passionate leader who looks forward to conquering the roadblocks that will inevitably come her way.

Anuzkiewicz is no stranger to overcoming challenges. As the former CEO at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center in New Orleans, Anuszkiewicz worked to return that hospital to full service after it was forced to close in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina.

For Anuzkiewicz, the rewards of hard work are worth it, both professionally and personally. A wife and mother of two, she does her best to meet the demands of both work and home.

During her busy second week as COO, Lehigh Valley Business visited Anuzkiewicz on the sprawling 36-acre campus of Reading Hospital, a 714 bed hospital with close to 7,000 employees.

There, Anuzkiewicz spoke with us about her career journey, the changing face of health care, and gave advice for other women in leadership roles.

LVB: Were you always interested in the fields of health care and business?

I did not have the clarity some people do at a young age. There are people who know exactly what they want to do for a living when they get older. I wasn’t one of those people. I went to college just to learn as much as I could.

My first job out of college was as a manager of a group home for developmentally disabled adults. I realized that in order to really serve the people I was working for, I needed to get my master’s in health care administration, which I did, from George Washington University.

I wanted to understand how to bring the rigor of business to delivering health care, and that’s what started my journey to health care administration.

LVB: What does a chief operating officer do?

The role of a COO is different in every organization. I am learning what that means for Reading Hospital. In general, the COO’s job is to make sure that the teams that deliver health care to our patients have the resources they need to do their very best.

My job is to remove blockages or concerns that they may have.

LVB: What would a sample day be like for you?

We start off with our safety huddle at 7:30 in the morning where we determine if there is anything that has come up from the night before that we anticipate being a challenge.

I was with the trauma team this morning, working on what we are going to do to improve our care and our services.

My day is a mixture of working with teams on how to improve and problem-solving. Fires will come up that need to be put out.

LVB: Tell us more about the path that brought you here today.

For the last 20 years I’ve been working in hospitals. I was really excited when the opportunity to come to Reading Hospital came my way. I had been working in New Orleans at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center and had been in that role for six years. I had come to New Orleans to help bring that hospital back after Katrina and to establish a center of excellence for women and children at that facility.

We achieved a lot of the goals that we set out to achieve over the six years I was there. I was looking for the next opportunity. Reading had everything I was looking for, with the added advantage of being close to where I grew up in the New Jersey/PA area.

LVB: What are challenges you expect to face in your new role?

The challenges are going to be how to refine what we already do and position ourselves to be ready for the health care changes that are coming in the future. We know it’s going to be different in a couple of years than it is today.

LVB: Tell us more about the changes you see coming to health care.

From the time I started interviewing to starting my position a week ago, Tower Health has expanded. We have expanded our urgent care centers. We have over 20 now. We are expanding our footprint more into the outpatient arena. We are looking to partner with more physicians through employment.

Going forward a few years, it’s not just about shifting to outpatient but how do we bring the care into the home: How do we manage chronic diseases in our patients’ homes so that they never have to come to our facility?

I will be keeping an eye on how people pay and how that will be changing. Creating a versatile team will allow us to adapt to whatever the reimbursement method will be in the future, whether it be single payer or something we don’t even know of yet and can’t contemplate today.

LVB: There is a lot of talk about the emergence of virtual medicine or telehealth. What are your thoughts on the growth of that industry?

Virtual medicine is the next level in outpatient care. We can do everything from home now. I don’t have to leave my home and I can order movies, shoes, dinner. There will be an expectation that we can get health care from our couch too. We will see that accelerate over the next 18 to 24 months.

LVB: As a busy mother with a demanding career, how do you manage to have a good work/life balance?

One of the things that is important is that you figure out what your support network looks like. I’ve been blessed that my husband and I decided 17 years ago that he was going to stay home with the kids. Not everyone has that but you have to have that network. Without it, it’s very difficult.

Another thing I do is take time every year to take stock, usually around the holidays, and look at what my personal relationships look like – my family, my work. Where do I want to go? I balance it and assess how I am doing. If there is an area where I’m not doing well, I look at how I can do better and what can I do to address it. With that plan, I then have the ability to carve out time for what I need to do.

The priorities change over time. I make sure that I am present for the important things with my children. My son is graduating this year and the team at Reading has been gracious enough to allow me the time I will need for him. It’s all about balance and sometimes I do better than others. I forgive myself when I’m not doing the best I can and figure out how I can do better tomorrow.

LVB: You mentioned that your husband is a stay-at-home father. What has that experience been like for your family? How have your peers reacted to that still somewhat-unconventional arrangement?

Personally, I think we both get positive reactions. Other couples wish they had that dynamic. But for my husband, I think it’s been harder. Who we are is so wrapped up in the work we do and our professional role. For him, he has had to reconcile thoughts of “How do I relate to other adults without that professional role?”

What&rsquorsquo;s been great to see is how involved he has been able to be in the community. He volunteered. He was a room parent. He served on the hospital auxiliary and community boards. We both have been able to be a part of our community and move it forward.

LVB: During your time at Ochsner Baptist in New Orleans, how did you go about rebuilding the hospital after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina?

Ochsner Baptist has been around to serve its community for over 80 years. For generations it was the place where babies came from in New Orleans. When Katrina hit, that legacy abruptly ended. This was one of the hospitals that was flooded, with 12 to 14 feet of water around it. It was absolutely devastating for the folks that were there at the time.

My role was to complete a $45 million renovation and implement a new women’s center and to return the hospital to full service operations.

We set about our goals. Every six months, we assessed what we needed to do next. We needed to have a pharmacy 24/7. We needed to have a lab 24/7. How do we expand our ORs to meet the demands of the community? It was really a story of rebirth and reimagining how to serve our community.

Eighty percent of New Orleans had been impacted by the water. A lot of the folks that were heavily affected still have not been back. We saw the neighborhood around us transform and we worked closely with the city legislature to make sure we were bringing businesses back. We did a very creative partnership. We did things like reutilize an old nursing dorm as a three story hotel. All hotel employees were from the neighborhood.

Hospitals, whether in New Orleans or Reading, are important parts of the community. Tower Health is one of the largest employers in Berks County. Our role goes beyond just delivering health care. A hospital is more than the people we employ and deliver care to. It is an economic engine for the community. We have 7,000 employees here at Reading Hospital. They need places to live and shop and eat. They need schools.

LVB: Finally, what advice do you have for other women who are or who want to be leaders in the business community?

In leadership rules, remember that leadership teams require people to have different talents. For women, figure out who you are and what your leadership style is. It will be unique to you, and different than the style of your colleague sitting next to you.

Ask yourself, “How do I bring my best self in service to others?”

Find mentors to help lead you. We have an obligation to assist the next generation of leaders, both women and men.

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