Make room for lawyers at the hospital C-suite table

Boardroom

As payment models shift and other industry changes shine a spotlight on regulatory concerns, it’s becoming more and more common for hospitals and health systems to use in-house attorneys.

These legal experts are becoming a C-suite mainstay, too, according to an article from Becker’s Hospital Review, as roles like chief legal officer gain importance.

"Gone are the days where CEOs could afford to say, 'I hate lawyers,' or, 'I don't want to deal with lawyers,'" Werner Boel, principal and practice leader of legal services at executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, told Becker’s.

Though smaller hospitals may not be able to afford an in-house team, many larger systems are investing in a group of attorneys. Having on-site legal advice beyond general counsel, for example, can help hospitals navigate mergers and increased oversight from institutions such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services related to privacy and anti-kickback laws, Boel told Becker’s.

Boel emphasized the need for a true team, according to the article, as having a group of lawyers with diverse regulatory knowledge is key to helping hospitals weather any number of storms. Other executives must also be open to the legal team’s advice, and must actively engage with them on legal matters, Boel said.

A knowledge of regulatory matters can also benefit the executive team, according to the article, as roles like compliance officer and even CEO are increasingly filled by people with a legal background. These leaders have the right mix of experience to help guide change in hospitals under the constraints of healthcare reform, Boel said.