The Power of Communication

By Ben Frotscher
For Tina Freese-Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven home the importance of effective communication. Learn how she's led her organization over the past year, how her time at Iowa made an impact on her professional life, and her thoughts on the future of health care administration.
Tina Freese-Decker Tina Freese-Decker

Hospital and health care leaders have played a vital role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tina Freese-Decker (02MHA, 02MS), president and CEO of Spectrum Health, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been an influential leader on the front lines during the past year.

We talked to her recently about the health care administration field and how her time at Iowa prepared her to lead amid a global pandemic.

What drew you to the Master of Health Administration program in the University of Iowa College of Public Health?

Freese-Decker: The MHA program stood out for a number of reasons. Most important were the personal approach and attention the professors gave students, the vast alumni network and engaged alumni, and the variety of dual degree options. I completed a dual degree in industrial engineering, along with the MHA, and connected with many alumni for my post-graduate career. Iowa definitely set me on a strong path to be successful.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyone's lives. What is a lesson you have learned during the past year?

Freese-Decker: We've learned a lot of lessons at Spectrum Health over the past year, but if I could choose just one, it would be around the power of communication: the reach and frequency, transparency, and act of listening to everyone.

Part of being an effective CEO is finding the right vehicles for this type of clear, continuous, constant, and transparent communication. We overcommunicated and over listened. People are at the heart of everything we do. It was important to give our teams and communities all of the information in a timely manner and answer their questions, so that they could be informed and do their best to care and support the people we serve.

What would you want a student considering a future career in health care administration to know about the field today and where it is headed in the future?

Freese-Decker: It's an exciting time to be in health care. Right now, we're at an inflection point where we are changing the course of how people experience health, how they connect, and how they receive services. We truly are changing the ecosystem, and we need individuals who will consider health as a career with the passion and energy for keeping people healthy.

This is a great opportunity and time to enter the health care field. Don't sit back—engage, volunteer, contribute, and participate in the conversations and actions that move our industry forward. Do not be afraid of taking calculated risks and bold steps. Finally, be the leader you want to be. It is incredibly important to be an authentic leader, with a strong internal compass tied to your values and the organization's values.

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