Tressa Springmann knew early on that life in the lab did not suit her personality. After graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in biology, she landed a job conducting research at John’s Hopkins University. “I liked the scientific rigor, but I hated the social aspects of it,” she says. “I am a more social creature than the lab afforded me.”
Springmann preferred human interaction to head-down lab work, so she switched gears and got into healthcare IT. Now, as senior vice president and chief information officer for LifeBridge Health, a multifacility network in the Baltimore region, she combines the science of technology with the people skills of management.
Born into a military family that traveled every few years, Springmann became interested in IT when she implemented a new computer network at her lab job. That time spurred her to go back to school to earn an MBA at Johns Hopkins. “It focused on managing technical people,” she says. “I crossed the divide from researcher to more of a computer science wonk.”
Springmann first entered the healthcare space as a project manager at Electronic Data Systems. Other IT positions followed, and when LifeBridge’s retiring CIO called her, she was vice president and CIO for Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson, Maryland. “She asked me to consider taking her job, but I thought she was kidding,” Springmann says. “Then, three months later, she chastised me for not applying. So I did. I wasn’t anxious to leave my job, but I was intrigued by the possibility of being in a more complex environment. I am really glad I made the call.”
Since it was founded, LifeBridge Health has grown to include Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Northwest Hospital, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, Courtland Gardens Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, and their subsidiaries and affiliated units, including LifeBridge Health & Fitness and three LifeBridge Medical Care Centers. Much of that growth has happened recently, and as a result, Springmann’s focus is on orchestrating growth in a varied computing environment. “One of our strategic pillars is to grow scale,” she explains.
In that role, her sociable personality and interest in management really come into play. She has found that integrating the technology is not as complex as integrating the people who run it. “When we acquire or partner with another entity, we spend a lot of time on cultural differences,” she says. “Moving to our platforms hasn’t been as complex as harmonizing the different organizations’ cultures.”
That’s not to say that IT isn’t an issue whenever she oversees migrating a newly acquired hospital or provider group to the LifeBridge system. “Whenever we go through an M&A activity, that presents potential opportunity elsewhere,” she says. “We may have systems we have to retire, so system selection and implementation while we sunset legacy systems are an essential element of a new acquisition.”
In addition to integrating new acquisitions into the organization, LifeBridge also has many ongoing information services projects. Springmann believes in letting her direct reports manage the day-to-day. “I make myself available to those leaders so that any barriers to their success get dealt with,” she says. “A priority for my time is being accessible to my direct reports, getting them what they need.”
“I am a relationship person, focused on trying to find common ground and using dialogue and data to strike at common goals.”
As part of a new initiative at Lifebridge, she also spends time working on the company’s new bioincubator, which looks at intellectual property developments in the IT space. Other parts of her day are spent identifying new partners to help meet IT needs and developing an operations excellence program based on the Lean Management System.
In all of her work, Springmann applies her natural analytical skills. “I like the deductive reasoning that scientists apply, which I was exposed to as an undergraduate,” she says. “I have brought that to the business world. But I am also very collaborative. I am a relationship person, focused on trying to find common ground and using dialogue and data to strike at common goals. I still enjoy planning and analysis, but if ideas are not able to be applied, what good are they?”
Comfort with change and an eye on innovative thought are particularly important now because healthcare is at a technology crossroads, she believes. “Automation is here to stay, even though it can sometimes be an impediment to the most efficient workflows in healthcare,” she says. “We are still in the early generation of tools that providers use in what is still a super-high-touch industry. We have hit an inflection point. Now, these workers are knowledge workers as well as high-touch workers. Technology affords a gateway of opportunity to provide care, but we have to unlock that while making it easier and more efficient for them.”
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