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Younger trustees bring new ideas and push for greater efficiency

October 11, 2013


Across the nation, hospital boards are getting grayer. In 2005, 29% of hospital trustees were younger than 50, according to the 2011 AHA Health Care Governance Survey Report. By 2011, only 24% were younger than 50.

Getting younger members on hospital boards is an admirable goal, says John Combes, M.D., a senior vice president of the AHA and president and chief operating officer of its Center for Healthcare Governance. “Young people are part of the stakeholder group, and we need to make sure to have their voice at the table,” he says. “A lot of times, it’s a very different voice than we’re used to hearing.”

The challenge for hospital boards is finding qualified people, and then giving them more than just a seat at the table.

Busy Gen Xers and Millennials expect the time they spend on board work to be meaningful and efficient.

One way to recruit candidates is to involve them in a committee first, before asking them to formally commit to becoming a trustee. “It may be much less time-intensive than being a full member of the board,” Combes says. “It also gives them the experience of working with the board and a better understanding of whether this is something they would like to pursue.” Hospital boards are often structured in a way that discourages younger people from participating, says David Nygren, a health care governance consultant and the chairman of Boardsource, an organization that advises nonprofits on good governance.

“They meet at odd hours of the day, at strange places that people can’t get to easily,” he says. “They have much more of a retirement attitude that ‘we can meet whenever we want to meet.’”
The proceedings themselves are often also not appealing to younger professionals. “Good meetings are good meetings, but a lot of board meetings are bad board meetings,” Nygren says. “They don’t know how to be constructive. Chairmen are not effective leaders, CEOs are ponderous, and there are too many reports. Young people would say, ‘Give me this on the iPad and then let’s talk about it. Don’t give me all the same slides again. I’ve already studied it.’” The days when hospital boards behaved like fraternities are over, says Jim Hinton, president and CEO of Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, NM, and AHA chairman-elect. “Boards have to make service meaningful.

Governance needs to change, to not be the social club but the social conscience,” he says.

Most leaders understand the need to look beyond their boomer peers to enhance and sustain good governance. Sixtytwo
percent of CEOs surveyed for the 2012 Boardsource Nonprofit Governance Index said having younger people on the board would help “bolster their efforts to advance their organization’s mission,” says Nygren.

“A multigenerational household in any sense always benefits from different sources of wisdom and experience,” he says. Younger board members bring proficiency with technology, different insights about their communities and a better understanding of what appeals to certain employees, like the work-life balance so many Gen Xers and Millennials cite as a top priority.

Younger members also help to ensure continuity, preventing “massive turnover in a short period of time,” says James E.

Orlikoff, president of Orlikoff and Associates and senior consultant
to the Center for Healthcare Governance.

“If you don’t have age diversity, the problem that presents itself is that this board will age out together – either hit their term limits, or retire or die within a relatively close period to one another,” he says. “If you lose 80 to 90% of the board in a two- or three-year period, it creates very significant issues in board continuity. You may be able to recompose the board, but the problem is maintaining a governance culture, maintaining the board dynamics that you’ve worked so hard to
develop.”

Putre is a Cleveland, OH-based freelance writer. This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in the September issue of Trustee magazine, www.trusteemag.com, a publication of the AHA and its Health Forum affiliate.

By Laura Putre