In the ever-evolving healthcare sector, delivering quality care with a patient-centric approach has proven to be incredibly therapeutic. When infused with operational expertise, it improves diagnostic accuracy, patient satisfaction and adherence to treatment. It holds the potential to influence patient outcomes, including pain control, mental health and day-to-day operational function. Lisa Golden, the Chief Operating Officer at Alo, understands the importance of making sure healthcare providers have enough time to care for the whole patient and is committed to making it happen.
A seasoned veteran, Lisa has seen major changes in health care over the years. She’s worked both for large health systems and small practices, always putting the patient first. Now 30 years into her career, she’s found yet another opportunity to take on—leading the Operations of Alo, a North Carolina start-up that is helping independent physicians optimize their practices and deliver better, more efficient care. In the past year Lisa has used her operations, nursing and healthcare management experience to bring to market Alo’s services and offerings such as payer strategy, practice management and patient engagement. She’s also led the integration of Avance Care, a management services organization acquired in late 2021 that supports over two dozen independent primary care practices across North Carolina and continues to grow across the state.
Let us dive in to know about Lisa’s leadership journey at Alo.
Finding Value in Preventive Care
Lisa was inspired to enter the field of healthcare at an early age when she stepped in to care for her aging grandmother. She quickly realized how rewarding it was to care for someone in a time of need and this became her calling. Over the next ten years, she became a registered nurse and then an ICU nurse.
In the ICU, Lisa was passionate about making sure that not only were patients getting the best care, but that their families were also cared for. She noticed how much of a difference a good primary care physician can make in a person’s life and began to see preventative care as a powerful investment with a high return.
These experiences influenced her decision to join Alo. To date, Alo and its subsidiary Avance Care, has focused on helping independent primary care physicians offer the best preventive care possible. In addition to taking on the operational and administrative burdens of running a practice, Alo and Avance Care’s model helps providers deliver more accessible, comprehensive care. Lisa says, “At every Alo and Avance Care supported practice, Nutrition and Behavorial Health services are integrated. These offerings have a huge impact on our patients’ health and well-being.”
Making an Actual Difference in the Healthcare Sector
Early in her career Lisa became known for asking the question, “why?” She was often brought in to solve and improve processes for quality outcomes. In addition to taking on the tough challenges, Lisa also saw she could make a difference by building new programs and developing teams.
She met with leaders she looked up to and asked, “What can I do to make a difference?” Several encouraged her to get her master’s degree. These mentors were the key to Lisa’s journey as a leader, as they provided feedback and opportunities to grow. Lisa was given bigger challenges to solve and teams to manage. She performed roles such as clinical program development, patient quality, inpatient hospital processes and administrative responsibilities. She also was recruited to help with hospital acquisitions and physician partnerships. And she served as a Chief Administrative Officer for a Level II trauma center and Chief Operating Officer for a large health plan in the northeast US.
Lisa took on positions that sometimes were a lateral move, with no pay increase or title change. Although many didn’t understand why she had chosen those positions, it was all about learning as much as she could about all the different aspects of running a hospital, clinics and specialty programs. Sometimes she saw that if she made a lateral move, she would have the opportunity to make more of a difference.
One of the key reasons she was successful in these different roles is that she built strong relationships with front-line employees and partnered with physicians and nurses with transparent, open communication. Moreover, she always tried to put the patient at the center of any tough challenge. She’d ask herself, “How will this benefit the patient? What would folks on the ‘frontline’ think about this?”
When Alo approached her with the opportunity to lead its operations, it excited her because “[The organization] is changing healthcare for the better.” Lisa says, “In my career I’ve seen mass consolidation in an effort to improve care coordination and increase efficiency. But what’s happened is that it’s also reduced competition, increased prices and actually hasn’t improved quality. Alo’s approach feels fresh and meaningful—I loved the idea of giving independent physicians the tools and support they need so that they can be more accessible and have more time to treat patients.”
Offering Distinguished Services
A key part of Alo and Avance Care’s services that distinguish them from other organizations is their behavioral and psychiatry offerings that are embedded in their primary care offices. While the industry average to establish care with a psychiatrist is 25 days (Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/grand-rounds/202107/fundamental-changes-are-needed-in-mental-health-care), at Avance Care patients can receive the treatment within a few days, which gives primary care providers the support they need to help their patients have the best outcomes. This novel approach in how services are offered helps decrease ER usage and lowers costs for all.
Alo and Avance Care also offer in-house lab services, allergy services, X-rays and nutrition services. Since these services can be provided in the office, they are not only a convenience to patients but help provide a quicker diagnosis.
The Key to Becoming an Effective Leader
Throughout her career, Lisa has always prioritized partnering with physicians, nurses and all frontline staff. She’s never afraid to ask, “Help me understand. What do you think the root cause of this issue is?” “When you say that,” adds Lisa, “Folks open up and share information so that you can partner and collaborate together to come up with what the right decision should be.”
She believes, “Leaders don’t always have all the answers. They can only be as good as the people around them,” which is another reason why they need to connect with their teams and colleagues. For this, it is essential that they feel comfortable being vulnerable, sharing their ideas and developing plans together.
As Lisa worked to integrate Avance Care with Alo this past year, she made sure she met with and listened to all her frontline employees to learn more about the business and its challenges. Through this “listening tour” she identified areas in operations that could be bolstered. She took on the COO role at Avance Care as well, becoming a “double hatter,” and introduced many operational best practices in her first year—new quality measures, robust KPI dashboards, improved scheduling measures—that have improved customer NPS scores.
She also saw the need to invest in the existing workforce; there were many leaders and potential leaders who could benefit from coaching and mentorship. She mapped out a three-year leadership development program and hired the Huron Consulting Group to assist her with this training. Lisa says, “The strongest leaders are those who invest in their teams and build strong teams around them. There is only so much one person can do on their own.”
Words of Wisdom
Lisa says that this is an “exciting time” to be in health care as “there are so many opportunities for improvement.” “Healthcare is changing,” she says, “What we see today is not going to be the same three months from now. But if you are passionate about the people—the patients and the providers—and try to see things as an entrepreneur, then there are so many ways to be successful and make people’s lives better.”
It is also important to maintain a good work-life balance. Lisa says, “My family really keeps me grounded. I have two great kids, who both recently earned their business degrees. My son Michael is 24 and my daughter Lauren is 21. Throughout the years, they have been my inspiration; I’ve seen that if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be able to take care of them or be my best for my colleagues and patients. I think as a leader and a mom, you really set the stage and you teach your children the importance of caring, developing a strong emotional intelligence, having a strong work ethic, yet maintaining healthy work-life balance.”
Growing Company Leaders and Culture
“At Huron Consulting, we work with leaders across the healthcare industry and Lisa Golden is one of the best,” says Huron Consulting Senior Director Jen Miley “She came to us in early 2022 intending to develop a leadership development program for her staff and improve company collaboration. She understands the importance of developing talent and helping staff reach their potential. She brought us on for a three-year engagement that will touch over 50 employees and set Alo and Avance Care up for success in the years to come.”
One of the first things Lisa and Huron implemented during this engagement was employee rounding. Rounding is an important tool used to improve communications, strengthen relationships, create accountability and increase employee retention and recruitment. All people managers at Alo and Avance Care were encouraged to consistently have monthly face-to-face check-ins with their direct reports to learn first-hand what is going well and what issues need to be addressed. Through these efforts, teams grew closer and more informed while leadership was able to uncover issues and address them more quickly.