Integrative Health Crusader Finds Compassionate Leadership At Hackensack Meridian Health

Originally posted on Forbes.com

Ruthann Russo Ph.D. is a board-certified acupuncturist and integrative medicine researcher/practitioner, and a serial entrepreneur. She has landed a new home in the world of work by joining Hackensack Meridian Health, two weeks before the pandemic began. You might assume that onboarding to a hospital team of over 35,000 at the beginning of a pandemic in a hotspot would be challenging. Instead, it was a positive work transition because of the people-centric culture with a commitment to supporting their frontline workers through the crisis under the compassionate leadership of CEO Robert Garrett.

Ruthann had primarily worked in health technology and ran two successful startups until 2006 when her daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy. At this point, she switched gears to focus on her daughter’s health. Out of this deep dive for answers, Ruthann turned to integrative medicine, which combines evidence-based Eastern and Western interventions for a more holistic approach to health and wellness. This approach worked miracles on Ruthann’s daughter. Fourteen years later, her daughter is healthy and still practicing some of the integrative techniques she discovered throughout her healing journey.

 To achieve her goal of introducing every patient to integrative medicine options on their first visit to a physician, Ruthann went to work to become educated.  She earned a second PhD in Mind-Body Medicine and a DAc in Chinese acupuncture and medicine. Her recent research involved interviewing leaders in non-profit health systems, specifically looking at their self-care practices. Three findings became abundantly clear.

1.     Eighty-five percent of leaders believe their own self-care practices impact their staff.

2.     More than half believe their self-care also impacts patients.

3.     When leaders rated their own self-care scores on the low end of the scale, this appeared to correlate with hospitals that had negative financial outcomes. 

In spite of these findings, many health systems have been slow to embrace an integrative health approach. Fortunately, Hackensack Meridian Health was one of the early adopters of offering integrative medicine to their patients and staff. When the pandemic hit, it became clear to the team at Hackensack Meridian Health that their staff’s well-being was of the utmost importance. Throughout the pandemic, they offered 50 weekly sessions on zoom and created a self-care series of videos on topics such as gratitude and life purpose. Robert Garrett, the CEO, also provided frequent virtual town halls to keep the staff informed and motivated. 

There’s no denying that those working in healthcare have been on the receiving end of tremendous strain and strife this year. It was fortunate that Hackensack Meridian already had a compassionate culture in place before the crisis to support existing staff and welcome new ones, like Ruthann, so they can all do their essential work. You can learn more about Ruthann’s research here, and if you know a compassionate leader who you would like to recognize, nominate them for a 2020 Compassionate Leaders Awards (CLAs) here.