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A Chat With Our New COO

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Jeff and Karen Smith are pictured with their children. Front row (from left) are Gavin, Andrew, Benjamin and Marquette.

It’s been nearly six months since Jeff Smith, MD, JD, MMM, left Massachusetts for Los Angeles, assuming the roles of executive vice president of Hospital Operations and chief operating officer for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The Bridge recently sat down with Jeff to talk about his first impressions, his priorities, the future of Cedars-Sinai, and living in Los Angeles with his wife of 20 years, their four sons and their dog, Goofy.

What has impressed you the most about Cedars-Sinai?

Our people and our commitment to our mission continue to amaze me every day. We are an institution with a rich history in the Jewish tradition, and over the decades that has carried through our mission, culture and values. I’m universally impressed by our staff, caregivers and leadership. I’ve spent my entire career working on clinical quality and patient experience in very strong institutions, but we weren’t able to achieve anywhere near the results we’ve seen here. It really comes down to the people.

What do you see as Cedars-Sinai’s strengths and challenges?

Healthcare is a tough place to be right now, but we have an incredible starting point and the right people to achieve superior results. Excellent clinical outcomes and patient experience on a strong financial foundation have positioned us well, but we still need to improve—and we have to do it more quickly than ever before.

Efficiency is one of the biggest challenges we face. A large part of being accessible to the community is being both affordable and available in health plans, and that creates continued pressure to reduce costs. Every healthcare system in the country is facing this dilemma. That is why we are actively engaged in negotiating better prices for supplies, eliminating waste and providing quality outcomes at a lower cost. Our front-line staff will be critical in helping identify opportunities to enhance efficiency.

What are your other priorities in year one?

Patient flow is my top personal priority for the medical center. When we are over capacity, when we have to divert ambulances, when we do not have the capacity to accept patients from other hospitals who require a level of care only we can provide—all of this means we are not fulfilling our mission of being available to the community. Patient flow is critical to quality, patient experience and our financial health, as we need to create capacity to accommodate growth. It’s a complex issue that will require us to work together to drive improvement.

We also need to continue breaking down barriers and silos to deliver better results throughout the organization. With so many great initiatives happening across the institution, we need alignment to accelerate progress. That starts with relationships and collaboration.

You are part of a new wave of leadership at Cedars-Sinai. What does that mean for the institution?

One of our strengths historically is incredible continuity of leadership. But we are now at a critical inflection point. It’s an exciting time for me to be able to come in and benefit from the experience of those who have been here for decades. And I’m committed to further developing our leadership team. We each bring new ideas and experiences that will make our organization stronger. We need to work together so that we can enable front-line staff and caregivers to achieve and perform better.

What are the organization’s plans for Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital?

This is an exciting time for Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital, as we plan for a new replacement hospital on the site and celebrate its 50th anniversary in the community. Since joining Cedars-Sinai health system three years ago, Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital has seen incredible growth, improved quality outcomes and made financial improvements. We continue to make significant investments in the hospital so that we can enhance our presence and expand services in that area.

What is one thing people might be surprised to know about you?

If I wasn’t living in Southern California right now, I’d be in Africa. Before coming to Cedars-Sinai, I seriously considered relocating my entire family there to support medical education in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I am looking forward to another visit to Eastern Africa in February. I’m passionate about not only delivering and improving healthcare here, but also using my experience to help incredibly underserved areas.

What is the single best thing about living in Los Angeles?

That’s easy—I live in a beach city, so I’m there every day!

What’s your favorite part of the Cedars-Sinai campus and why?

Having lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, which are currently buried in snow and ice, I love being on the Plaza Level. I appreciate the gardens and the tranquility I feel there.