Adam Head Steering CARTI Toward Success
by BECKY GILLETTE
State's largest cancer treatment facility responding to change
LITTLE ROCK - Adam Head was chief operating officer of the Arkansas Heart Hospital for over 4 years until Sept. 5, 2017, when he took over as the new CEO of CARTI, an independent, not-for-profit cancer care provider that sees an average 26,000 patients per year. Head has always been drawn to situations that require transformative leadership. And that was just what was needed at CARTI, which has struggled with financial losses in recent years.
"With multiple acquisitions and needing subsequent integration of many different clinics and practices, CARTI has suffered from very poor financial performance in the past couple of years," Head said. "The main facility has state-of-the-art cancer treatment equipment but was expensive to build - $90 million. The challenges of this transition were multi-faceted including physically relocating various oncology groups into one large space, as well as bringing many different teams and many varied cultures into one building, all with the desire to take excellent care of patients."
Head said while CARTI has a wonderful mission of helping patients all over the state diagnosing cancer and providing the very best in treatment options, these recent transitions created some significant leadership challenges. Head saw an opportunity to bring all the pieces together.
"Our biggest accomplishment is that we now have a leadership team working collaboratively with CARTI's physicians," Head said. "We are all pulling the same direction. I think everyone was ready for something new and different. I don't want to say the ship is back on course. I can very confidently say the ship is on a new course. We are aggressively leaning forward into all we see this place can become."
Head said it is common for organizations to resist changes because of the age-old mentality, "we have always done it this way." To overcome that means having a culture of leadership intentionality, as well as a solid foundation of strong communication and collaborative working relationships with team members and providers.
"When you do something the same way for a long, long time, it can be difficult to look at things in a brand-new light," he said. "But if you do that, you have unlocked unlimited potential for the future. You do that organization-wide and all of the sudden you can dig into areas you never thought you could before."
Head found that CARTI's leadership landscape was ripe with opportunities.
"When I initially engaged, I set up a plan of attack and a lot of that involved listening, finding out what is going on," Head said. "It didn't take me long to see we needed some fresh eyes on the scene with our leadership team. Our entire executive team has been here less than a year and we work together really well. That is true not just of the executive team, but physician leaders, as well. We now have an environment where momentum is steadily building. We just hired our 26th physician."
Head sees communication as vital to discuss not just what is going well, but what might not be going well. You have to be willing to hear the hard stories such as, "I'm upset because of this," or "I'm burned out here," etc. Once you've heard it all, you call a truce jointly and, in a way, set everyone free to move forward toward a new and common vision.
"I believe leadership is the ability to inspire people to work toward a common goal," he said. "As CEO of CARTI, the buck may stop with me. After all, it is my job to see the vision and communicate it. I am accountable for the success of CARTI. But it is not about me. Every role is important here. We believe in equal value, different function. But, truthfully, it is not even about any member of this team. It is always about the patients and families we serve."
Head has high expectations of himself and others.
"I probably am harder on leaders more than others," he said. "Part of that is because of the pressure I put on myself as CARTI's leader."
Head names as one of his most influential mentors Charlie Smith, former CEO of Arkansas Heart Hospital.
"He really challenged and mentored me in healthcare leadership when I first got out of the Army and showed me what leadership in healthcare looks like," Head said. "He taught me if you do right by patients, you never go wrong. He also taught me to be a challenger."
Certainly, his new position is a challenging one since CARTI has been losing millions on operations alone in recent years.
"Pulling everyone together, working with our physicians face-to-face, restructuring how we do things, we've seen some real success," Head said. "It is a team effort. The results are CARTI has just had its fourth straight month in a row with a positive margin. This is the first time that has happened since 2015. It requires great intentionality and there is reason to be excited. But, at the same time, we take that humbly and are never satisfied."
For 2018, he wants to see CARTI to continue to grow.
"We want to get the news out that we are not just digging our way out of a hole," he said. "We are scaling CARTI's operation to new levels. We are thrilled about the future because we have the ability to serve patients in an even greater way than historical norms."
In addition to the main campus in Little Rock, CARTI has 10 other sites. Head said they want CARTI to be a destination for cancer patients both inside and outside this state.
"We literally have some of the best diagnostic and treatment technology in the nation and some of the best physicians right here in the heart of Little Rock," Head said. "A lot of people don't know that."
A native of North Little Rock, Head received an Army ROTC scholarship to the University of Arkansas that got him interested in leadership. In the aftermath of 9-11, he became an officer in the Army Medical Services Corps and spent a year in Iraq in 2005.
"Leading soldiers in a combat environment is the ultimate proving ground," Head said. "Being in that environment really helped shape me into who I am today. In this setting, as I see it, we have assembled a powerful team with the most sophisticated weapons to go to war together in our larger scale fight against cancer, and in how we want to deliver care to the entire state and beyond."
Head and his wife, Courtney, have been married 15 years and have four children.
"We have a lot of fun and love living life together," he said. "I follow the Theodore Roosevelt principle of life by regularly taking part in intensive physical training. I like to get up at 4:30 a.m., spend some time praying, and then put myself through intense workouts for an hour or so. It is a stress reliever and creates a flint-like focus. I've done that since I was in the Army."