Seattle Children's new CEO, Dr. Jeff Sperring

Seattle Children’s new CEO, Dr. Jeff Sperring

This week, the next chapter of Seattle Children’s journey begins with the arrival of our new CEO, Dr. Jeff Sperring. Even though it’s his first week on the job, he is no stranger to leading a world-class pediatric hospital. Sperring most recently served as president and CEO of Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, one of the largest children’s hospitals in the U.S. He was at Riley since 2002 and also served as Riley’s chief medical officer, associate chief medical officer and director of pediatric hospital medicine.

Sperring earned his medical degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and was a pediatric resident at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. After residency, he served as a United States Navy Medical Corps officer in Twentynine Palms, Calif., for three years.

A few of Sperring’s notable accomplishments at Riley include:

  • Helping transform it from a children’s hospital to a statewide children’s health system through regional partnerships, population health management and a statewide perinatal network.
  • Managing completion of a 750,000 square foot, $500 million medical tower using a LEAN-based, integrated project delivery process.
  • Launching the Riley Physicians network, a statewide collaboration of children’s health providers, to help manage pediatric health and improve quality outcomes for children.
  • Serving as a leader on the national CEO steering committee for the Children’s Hospital Association Solutions for Patient Safety network.
  • Partnering with the Riley Children’s Foundation to significantly increase annual philanthropy to support research, clinical programs and family support programs.
  • Medical oversight for quality and safety initiatives that improved the mortality index, catheter-associated bloodstream infections, patient satisfaction scores, immunization rates for high-risk populations and AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) measures.
  • Leading the length of stay improvement project, which resulted in a two-day decrease in average length of stay for an inpatient over a three-year period and created capacity for an additional 2,500 admissions each year.

On the Pulse was lucky enough to catch up with Sperring during his transition to learn more about the man who is now at the helm of our organization. Here’s what he had to say:

Before applying for the CEO position, what did you know about Seattle Children’s and what was your impression?

Sperring: Seattle Children’s has an incredible reputation for its world-class pediatric care and research work, and the ability to provide care for kids across a very large region. Seattle Children’s is also well-known for its commitment to continuous performance improvement (CPI) and use of Lean principles. These were just a couple of things that excited me about the opportunity.

What was your impression of Seattle Children’s as you went through the interview process?

Sperring: It felt like a perfect fit. From the moment I walked in the front door and throughout the entire interview process, I saw an amazing level of passion, dedication, engagement and enthusiasm in everyone I met. I was also struck by the fact that when I arrived in Seattle for my first interview and told my cab driver where I was going, he immediately shared a story about his 3-year-old son and the great care they received at Seattle Children’s. I can tell the hospital is a place that everyone in the community supports and really views as their children’s hospital.

Stepping into the role of CEO is no small task. What approach will you take to come up to speed and get to know our organization?

Sperring: My game plan coming on board is sort of a three-phased approach.

First, learning. I want to understand, listen and learn as much as I can about why Seattle Children’s is so successful and what aspects of this culture are crucial to that success. Seattle Children’s is doing so well – I want to learn first, then figure out what I can offer to help us do even better.

Second, I’ll work with others to assess opportunities for growth and partnerships, so we continue to expand and develop our specialty programs both regionally and nationally.

That will help launch us into the third phase, strategic planning.

I look forward to getting to know all of the experts at Seattle Children’s and providers in the community to help figure out where we can have the greatest impact on improving kids’ health.

Philanthropic support from our community is a huge part of Seattle Children’s legacy and a priority for any CEO of a not-for-profit organization. What is your perspective on philanthropy?

Sperring: I went to and read every word about Seattle Children’s 108-year history. What came through was how vital the community has been in ensuring we can care for every child who needs us. It’s important that our donors, friends and supporters understand what an incredible impact their gifts – both time and money – have on kids’ lives.

In this age of healthcare reform, financial challenges will only get more complex. So for us to fulfill our big dreams and goals, we’ll have to rely heavily on community support and philanthropy. Since sharing our vision and cultivating relationships with the community will be a key part of my job, I’m thankful to be coming into an organization that does this incredibly well.

You mentioned healthcare reform. What’s your take on the state of healthcare, and what challenges or opportunities do you see for Seattle Children’s?

Sperring: The healthcare environment will continue to change – likely faster than anything we’ve experienced before. One challenge we’re experiencing is regional health system consolidation. We want to establish Seattle Children’s as the best partner for every system or organization that needs to serve a pediatric population. We’ll continue to look at how we can be a better provider and partner, so when another medical system needs pediatric care, Seattle Children’s is the obvious choice.

We also need to manage the health of larger populations of children through new, innovative health plans. We can be both experts at keeping kids well and a world-class medical center for children with chronic and complex conditions.

Additionally, we must continue our relentless search for cures, and bring new research discoveries and innovations to the bedside – giving new hope and new cures to more children and families than ever before.

Lastly, we must continue to be as efficient as possible in the care we provide – without, of course, sacrificing safety or quality of care. The CPI principles engrained in our culture help us constantly look at the way we do things and figure out how we can do them better, always with a patient-centered perspective.

Describe some pivotal points in your life.

Jeff and his wife, Amie, have always talked about living in the Pacific Northwest. They said the opportunity just came sooner than they expected.

Jeff and his wife, Amie, have always talked about living in the Pacific Northwest. They said they were pleased that the opportunity came sooner than they expected.

Sperring: The biggest one was meeting my wife, Amie, in 1996 while we were serving in the Navy. I was a pediatrics intern and she was a nurse in the PICU. We approach our life together as a team sport, and she has always been incredibly supportive as I’ve tried different things or taken on new leadership roles.

Choosing pediatrics was another. As soon as I started my pediatric rotation in my third year of medical school, it was clear that’s what I wanted to do. It’s partly the challenge of taking care of kids who are sick, but also seeing the hope that’s there – realizing you could make a difference that has a life-long impact – 60, 70 years or more.

Serving in the military also helped shape me – it provided experience, leadership and development opportunities you can’t get anywhere else. It also helped me learn to adapt quickly to a new environment and become part of a team – something I’ll rely on as I join the team here.

With your clinical background, will you see patients at Seattle Children’s?

Sperring: I don’t want to over-commit myself so initially I will focus on the CEO role, but I would love to spend some time in direct patient care, too. I’ll have a faculty appointment and look forward to supporting our academic programs as well. I enjoy going on rounds periodically with different medical teams and spending time in the operating room – it makes me feel like a medical student again! Plus, it’s a great opportunity to learn about the latest innovations in care and see what challenges our teams face. More importantly, it allows me to interact with patients and families.

What are you most excited about doing or seeing in the Pacific Northwest?

Sperring: The Pacific Northwest is an area we have always enjoyed and talked about living in if the right opportunity came. Of course, we never dreamed it would be such an incredible opportunity so soon! Amie and I try to spend whatever time we can together, which typically involves something outdoors. It can be as simple as going to farmer’s markets, hiking and biking, so this area provides great opportunities to see and do new things. My wife is a gardener and is looking forward to being in a different planting zone. We also eat a vegan diet, so we’re excited to have more options here than Indiana – and we welcome recommendations!

Do you and Amie have any children?

Sperring: Yes, we have a 24-year-old daughter, Erica, who is also a nurse. She is moving here with us and is very excited about living in the Pacific Northwest.

What word would your friends use to describe you? How about your colleagues?

Sperring: My friends would say I’m enthusiastic and my colleagues would say I’m dedicated.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Sperring: As a new leader walking in, you can’t ask for a better scenario than the legacy left by Seattle Children’s two previous CEOs. My role is to build on their success and continue working toward becoming the best children’s hospital in the country. I’m incredibly grateful for the work everyone involved with Seattle Children’s does. I’m impressed with the team and I’m thrilled and honored that I get to be part of it.