Barbara Lord Watkins, the 2022 board chair for Texas Healthcare Trustees, has an incredible professional background and a history of exemplary board service for many organizations across Texas. THT sat down with Barbara for a brief conversation to learn more about her priorities for the upcoming year.
How did you get involved with THT?
For starters, I have been in and around health care for most of my life, both as a professional and a volunteer. I was senior vice president of Patient Services at Parkland Health and Hospital System (Dallas), as well as the president/CEO of the Parkland Foundation. When I retired, Andy Stern invited me to join the board of Medical City Dallas. I’ve been on the board for 14 years, and served as board chair for six years.
About five years ago, a member of the Texas Healthcare Trustees board of directors asked if I would be interested in serving, and after I read the mission and vision of the organization, I really felt that I would have something to contribute based on my past experience and my passion for health care services.
My first experience with THT was the 2017 Healthcare Governance Conference, when Andy Stern was presented with the Advocate of the Year Award. I introduced him at the Awards Luncheon. That was the true beginning of my involvement with THT.
What are you looking forward to in your upcoming year as board chair? What are your priorities in the coming year?
As a board, we have been very fortunate to have spent time identifying and meeting our strategic objectives for the organization. In my upcoming year as board chair, I look forward to continuing our focus on increasing member engagement and participation and furthering the educational programs that trustees need.
While increasing revenue is always on the table, I would like to establish a think tank – a committee that considers what the future holds for our members, especially as we look to the delivery of health care services. We know things can’t stay the same.
I’d like to focus, as well, on enhancing our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that I began last year as the chair of that committee. A new diversity survey and study is on the table, and we will look forward to coordinate efforts with our affiliate organization, the Texas Hospital Association. We want to make sure we are all on the same page, collecting and disseminating relevant information for our members.
How has recent disruption in the health care industry – and specifically for trustees – shaped your priorities and future thinking?
We certainly have had a disruptive experience these past two years! My major priority is having adequate nursing care available for our patients. We read about burnout with nurses, physicians and other medical staff – so, looking to the future, I want to ask questions like: How are we treating our nursing staff? What are alternative ways to bring medical staff to our hospitals? For our organizations, we have to suggest new models and programs to help retain staff. Physician partnership goes hand-in-hand with this priority, as well, as physicians are looking to hospitals less and less for job security.
Another important priority area for boardroom discussions is clinical innovation, which looks different for every hospital, as there are bandwidth and financial implications. But we definitely need to be thinking about forward-thinking technology and how it impacts our patients, communities and facilities.
What should trustees look to THT for in the way of support?
Well, of course our outstanding Healthcare Governance Conference! Our timely webinars, our Governance Toolkit and the Board Self-Assessment have also been extremely supportive of our membership’s needs.
We pride ourselves on presenting issues that multiple hospitals are faced with and providing a network of subject-matter experts to share their insights in those areas. That said, our membership is diverse, and rural hospitals and urban health systems have different needs. For example, we may ensure our rural trustees at small hospitals feel supported with resources to guide board recruitment and retention, while working closely with chief governance officers at urban hospitals on cultural issues in the boardroom. There is no one size fits all.
What is your best advice for hospital and health care trustees as we move into a post-pandemic era?
Every board member needs to keep up with the relevant state and federal programs that affect your organization. It is important to be an active member of THA/THT, because you can count on information that will help inform your boardroom decisions.
Stay in close contact with your elected representatives. It pays off and it’s important they know what’s going on at your hospital. You equally need to stay in contact with your community – to know who you’re serving. When we look at our boards, community representatives who are not sitting at the table, that doesn’t mean you can’t know what’s going on. It’s so important to be aware of what gaps there are in your community when it comes to health care.
What has been your most formative experience as a board member?
I have had many, honest to goodness! I’ve had a diverse professional and volunteer experience as a board member, much of it in the health care industry. I’ve been placed in situations with organizations where I’ve felt I could speak up for the underserved. I was the first chair of the Dallas Human Services Commission, when we were first speaking about the AIDS epidemic and community spread. I was faced with a lot of opposition, but I took a stand.
On the board of the public television station in Dallas, KERA, I saw the organization become more inclusive. And I was on the board of Baylor College of Dentistry during its major transition to the Texas A&M College of Dentistry.
It’s been a good life, it really has. I don’t serve on a board unless I feel I can make a sincere contribution. As long as I’m on a board, you’ll know I’m on it!