When K. Alicia Schulhof stepped in as the new CEO of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, she was walking through its doors during the ongoing pandemic and cautiously navigating the challenges it brought with it.
Schulhof started the new role at the St. Pete hospital in late July, becoming its first female president. She most recently served as president of the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.
She previously served as the chief operating officer and ethics and compliance officer for Brandon Regional Hospital, and as associate administrator and ethics compliance officer for Northside Hospital and Tampa Bay Heart Institute in St. Petersburg.
At All Children’s, she succeeded leader Thomas Kmetz, who served as interim president since 2019 after Dr. Jonathan Ellen resigned.
In a one-on-one interview, Schulhof shed light on her experiences in the new role heading the 259-bed pediatric hospital:
The interview has been edited for clarity.
What were the first few months like for you at the hospital? I spent the first couple of months meeting the team and listening to them. I even spent the night at the hospital the first week to experience what it would be like working through the night.
Coming on during a pandemic is a challenge itself. With families who were concerned about vaccinations for their children and the cloud of confusion, how were you able to navigate around that? There’s so much complexity with the pandemic. My top priority is to focus on the team, know what they need, and in turn, they care for patients. I would advise people to listen to their primary care provider on the vaccinations. We saw a dramatic increase over the summer, in August alone we saw some of our highest numbers, and in September, we saw a drop. Today we are seeing some of our lowest numbers and that is just so wonderful. Our team members are vaccinated and wear masks.
What were some challenges exacerbated by the pandemic? A challenge worsened by the pandemic is having adequate staffing. There have been staffing challenges in health care due to the rise we previously saw in cases and high levels of burnout. We offer many resources for our staff to take care of their well-being. We are in the recruiting process and identifying long-term solutions for staffing. What has become most evident is how we use the lessons we learned through the pandemic to continue to enhance mental health – we are just scratching the surface. For children pre-pandemic, there were one in five kids with a mental health diagnosis. Now there’s one in three or four.
What has your daily routine been like? When I wake up, I first reach for my phone and look at the daily status of the hospital’s activity – which is pretty common for health care leaders to do first thing in the morning. I will then jump on my bike for a ride and then leave for the hospital. I spend time rounding up with team members and problem-solve any issues. I am so proud of my team.
Are there certain programs that have captured your attention? We focus a lot on our Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH) programs. Our team’s survivor rate for CDH patients is 90%. We are also heavily focused on an airway treatment program. Oftentimes, many community-based hospitals don’t have the expertise as we do and those patients come to us.
Does Johns Hopkins have any physical projects in the works? Right now, we are focused on expanding our internal footprint by building a clinically integrated network. It’s a physician-governed effort that benefits community physicians and patients and practices. For patients, it means data is shared within the network. We have 135 providers joining the CIN.
Are there any emerging technologies you are utilizing? New tech is the standard. We transitioned to an electronic medical records system last year that was a huge undertaking, and did it during the pandemic. We are still learning how to best use all the bells and whistles.
What have you most enjoyed about living in St. Pete? My husband and four kids and I love food and love “progressive” dinners. We can be found on our bikes hopping from one place to another to try different dishes. Between that and the Florida sunshine, it’s hard to imagine a better city to be in.