“The Center Must Hold”: WSHA’s incoming CEO on what it means to be a state health care association

October 20, 2016

Cassie Sauer, who will take over as President and CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association in January of 2017, was introduced to the membership at the October 13-14 Annual Meeting. She was welcomed to the stage by the board of trustees new chair, Elaine Couture.


Thank you, Elaine. I am so honored to have been chosen as WSHA’s incoming President and CEO. Thank you to you, the search committee, and the board for the opportunity – and to Scott Bond for his extraordinary mentorship.

This is an amazing organization with a rich history and a bright future! Being here these last days has inspired me even more about what we can accomplish together.

The challenges facing the health care system in a quickly transforming world are substantial – but so are the opportunities. It is an exciting time for the Washington State Hospital Association to be leading and shaping the future of health care, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

WSHA doesn’t change leaders very often. I am only the fourth, and this is our 84th meeting as an association. This wonderful strength in leadership continuity allows us to be grounded and prepared for the change on the horizon for both WSHA and WSHA members. I wanted to take a few minutes today to talk about my view of some of that change, and how I believe the work that WSHA does is more urgently needed now than ever.

One of the reasons so many highly regarded national leaders applied for this job is because it’s well known that WSHA has a track record of accomplishment: we have an outstanding record on policy, advocacy and patient safety. We have top-level staff, engaged members and an approach that works.

For WSHA, creating the public policy framework to support members’ success is job one. Public policy has a huge impact on care delivery. The laws and regulations under which health care institutions and providers work can either make care delivery more effective and efficient, or more bureaucratic and burdensome.

And, at the moment, the political landscape is more than a little chaotic. With the uncertain policy environment, the expertise and engagement of our association is needed now more than ever.

We must be knowledgeable about how policy is made, planful in bringing issues to governmental bodies, and nimble and enterprising when reacting to others’ proposals. We must build strong relationships across party lines. We must also be willing to be the face on difficult issues and protect individual members.

Another major asset for WSHA is our collective action on safety and quality.

As with advocacy, the association is uniquely positioned to achieve region-wide results on quality and safety. The public tolerance for medical errors has evaporated, and it is in all of our interest to share knowledge on safety with each other.

The aviation industry knows this, right? It doesn’t help Alaska Airlines if Southwest Airlines crashes a plane. It makes people afraid of airplanes, period. Airlines have a big incentive to share safety information.

We have that same incentive. Medical errors make people afraid of getting the care they need. But we can do something about this.

We bring members together to share best practices and help each other succeed – and this has led to rapid improvement of care. The latest contract from CMS validates our approach, but we need to be clear—it’s not payment for past victories—it’s an expectation of future improvements. We have to continue to make progress in this area.

In addition to our strong work in policy and patient safety, our other significant asset is you.

You are smart, strategic, and mission-driven. You are active in our work. You are quick to join our task forces, work groups, committees and boards. Your are willing to endure individual discomfort testifying in front of a legislative committee or sharing a story of a medical error with colleagues when you know it will lead to collective victories. It’s amazing.

Our members fill the room for meetings with the governor, state legislators, and members of congress, and your involvement is powerful and effective.

We are proud of all those things, but there are also things we need to do going forward.

  • We will be even more strategic, proactive, and nimble. In policy and quality, things are moving fast, and it’s our intent to be ahead of the change and not chasing it. WSHA believes a big part of the future will be using data to effectively inform patient safety and policy work, and we are carefully making the infrastructure choices that will get you the data you need.
  • We need to be highly mission focused and good stewards of your resources. We know that you’re working hard to provide excellent value, and that you have had to restructure your own organizations in recent years. We have done the same, and going forward, it’s our great responsibility to be efficient, to be focused and effective, and to support the association with non-dues revenue.
  • We will expand the synergy between quality and policy, with data driving our work. WSHA is uniquely positioned to understand the profound influence policy and quality can have on each other. For example, the state is using quality measures in payment methodology. The state wants to reward the best work, which is good, but what happens to cooperation and statewide improvements when the rewards can only go to the top quartile? Public policy must incentivize and reward collaborative improvements on safety.

We have some great examples of how this work can benefit patients:

  • We noticed an increase in maternal mortality, which led us to work on legislation to create a maternal mortality review panel that has broad authority to improve care
  • Our telehealth legislation is helping patients reduce arduous and sometimes painful travel times; an incredible gift to patients with conditions like Parkinson’s or autism
  • A physician can check the Prescription Monitoring Program to see if a patient already has a prescription for opioids, and needs better pain management or addiction treatment.
  • We also need to respond to emerging societal issues. With the rapidly changing demographics of our country, we have a moral imperative to ensure we do not deliver differential outcomes based on race, ethnicity, language, or other characteristics. We might think that we treat every patient the same, but as an association, we can use data to highlight outcomes that might not be apparent when looking at just one provider or one institution – and work together on improvement that benefits all.
  • And finally, we need to continuously—and consciously— stay connected to our members. And since this is the annual membership meeting, this is an important time and place for our association. Thank you for coming.

Our name at WSHA has three parts. Washington State, Hospital, and Association.

Well, we aren’t just Washington State anymore, and we shouldn’t be. We should be developing more formal partnerships and affiliations across state lines, using the lens that these partnerships must benefit our members here in the state. This means upping our game on federal public policy issues, where we are already partnering with Oregon. It also means adopting the same patient safety goals and creating a Northwest regional quality powerhouse, as we are doing now with Alaska.

The second part of our name: hospital: We also aren’t just hospitals anymore. Members provide a broad range of care, well beyond the traditional definition of hospitals, and we need to provide association services to match that. We are privileged to enjoy a strong and strategic partnership with the Washington State Medical Association and other health care associations, and will continue to build on these relationships to our mutual benefit. We will also work in greater partnership with other organizations that can help support the health of our communities, such as schools, public health agencies, and supportive housing providers to fulfill the mission of our member hospitals.

The last part of our name – association. We are your association, and we need to make sure the center holds – there is no one else besides us advocating for the interests of Washington State Hospitals.

As health care becomes even more complex, there are multiple possibilities for division among the members: big and small, rural and urban, religious and secular, system and independent, specialists and generalists, public/nonprofit/for-profit.

Our association must meet the needs of all its members, and ensure all members have an important voice. Our association has room for and embraces all of these different types of members.

In conclusion, we are a strong organization now because you have pushed us, talked with us, engaged with us, problem-solved with us. You’ve been open about your concerns for the future, and your needs for the association. You have articulated a vision for this great association.

Our passion and our success is driven by you. We want to hear from you, we need to hear from you. No matter what changes for us in the future, making positive changes that materially affect your ability to deliver great care is our core mission. So join our task forces, fill out our evaluation cards, call us up and talk to us, invite us to visit you and show us what you need from us. That’s what we’re here for.

I feel deeply the sense of responsibility that each of you carries: our communities and our patients are counting on us. Mostly, they don’t know and will never know who WSHA is – but the work we do through the association and through you touches their lives. I strongly believe that only by coming together can we accomplish what’s before us. I am honored to lead this organization in service of our members, and I look forward to the coming years.


Contact Us

Washington State Hospital Association
999 Third Avenue
Suite 1400
Seattle, WA 98104

Map / Directions

206.281.7211 phone
206.283.6122 fax


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