CommonSpirit Health's Lloyd Dean is taking on inequities in healthcare

Lloyd H. Dean, CEO of CommonSpirit Health

Age: 70

Education: Dean holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in education from Western Michigan University. He also holds an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University of San Francisco.

About him: After shepherding a $29 billion merger between Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives creating the largest health system in the nation by revenue in 2019, Dean took on the role of co-CEO of the newly formed CommonSpirit Health. In July, the former longtime CEO of Dignity Health became the sole CEO of the massive nonprofit Catholic health system.

Under his leadership, CommonSpirit has developed digital tools powered by predictive analytics to inform operations and planning as the health system sourced and distributed personal protective equipment to COVID-19 hot spots and scaled telehealth services to expand access to care both now and after the pandemic ends.

Taking on issues of racial and other inequities in health care have been priorities for Dean throughout his career. He frequently engages with peers and other national leaders to improve health care for everyone, regardless of race, geography or any other actual or perceived differences.  In the past year, he has been involved in influential discussions about social determinants of health and equitable access to care, including Becker’s annual conference, the Health Evolution Summit and Health Anchor Network’s August CEO conference. At HLTH in October, Dean delivered a keynote speech to tech innovators about how healthcare can transform society by innovating for the greater good.

He serves as co-chair of the California Future Health Workforce Commission, working with University of California President Janet Napolitano to open up pathways to health care education and training so that practitioners better reflect the communities in which they serve.

Dean began his healthcare career at Upjohn Company, before working with Consumer Health Service, EHS Healthcare and Advocate Healthcare. He also served as president and CEO of Catholic Healthcare West, which later became Dignity Health, which he grew from a holding company to an organization comprising 41 hospitals and over 400 care centers.

First job: “I was privileged to be a junior high school teacher after receiving a master’s degree in education. I loved being a teacher as well as working on the business side of a university, which led me to my first job in health care at the Upjohn pharmaceutical company.”

Proudest accomplishment: “Creating a new national health system in CommonSpirit Health has given us a tremendous opportunity to improve the health of more communities in the 21 states we now serve across the U.S. Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health had unique strengths and distinct care offerings. Together, we have built a new business model that supports a continuum of health care services in a way that is community-focused, collaborative, and accessible to all.”

Problem he’s most passionate about trying to solve: “I am most passionate about stopping the cycle of racial inequity that continues to result in health inequity across the country. Historically unfair and unjust racial and ethnic health disparities are truly life-and-death disparities. I have dedicated my career to eliminating health disparities across all vulnerable and disenfranchised populations. More than ever, I hope it’s clear that hospitals and other service providers need all the help they can get to tackle barriers to health.”

“We need smart, well-resourced policies to enable people of color to be safe. And we must remember that health and social equity is everyone’s responsibility. Health is where you live, learn, work, play, and pray. Equitable health care is an important piece, but it really comes down to having a home, a job, and the community support systems you need.”

Book he recommends: “I enjoyed reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari, which implores readers to think about what it means to be human. I think his ask of the reader about how they want to shape the future for generations to come is a valuable perspective – especially for those of us who commit our careers to improving health. The concept that what separates humans from other species is our ability to think of things that don’t yet exist appeals to me.”

Advice he would give to his younger self: “Always look ahead and never forget where you come from. Growing up in Michigan with no access to health care, I never envisioned my path would lead me to where I am today. I would also tell my younger self that you have to be team-minded. Very rarely does success come from a single person. Regardless of your title or status, you can’t do it alone – great ideas can originate anywhere.”

What he’d do with his career if it wasn’t this: “I would have continued teaching. Education was my highway to opportunities beyond my poor community as a youth. I saw the power teachers had on their students’ lives and believe education is the best avenue for young people to achieve their life goals. My mother instilled in me at a young age the importance of education and I believe that continuously seeking knowledge drives fundamental improvements in our society.”

Advice he’d give to healthcare leaders seeking to make a real impact on the systemic problems of racism: “Always be collaborative, adaptable, and think big. We in health care exist side-by-side in our communities and we need to prioritize cooperation to truly make a difference—now more than we ever have. We have a unique opportunity today to rebuild the health care system in our country so it is better, stronger, and more responsive to the needs of everyone – especially the vulnerable and underserved populations who we have seen disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Let’s work together to use the data and experiences from the pandemic to better target health services to the people who need it most.”

“If we in health care all advocate for solutions that reverse the long history of economic disenfranchisement in our country, we can eliminate health disparities. With national data, strengthened health care capacity in minority communities with the greatest need, and well-funded policy commitments, we will make meaningful changes. It’s been a long time coming, but the time to take responsibility and act must be now.”