As the senior vice president of human resources and community affairs at Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest health system and employer, Lisa Abbott feels an incredible obligation to keep the people in the state employed and make world-class healthcare accessible to the community. She achieves this by assembling mission-driven teams and creating an inclusive culture based on Lifespan’s core values.
Lifespan serves Rhode Island and New England through its offerings as a comprehensive, integrated, academic health system with five hospitals and affiliation with the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Lifespan’s over seventeen thousand employees represent a broad spectrum of experience, occupations, and cultural backgrounds. With the acquisition of Coastal Medical Group in April 2020 and the potential merger with Care New England, Rhode Island’s biggest employer is getting bigger—and Abbott is making it more inclusive.
When managing a merger from an HR perspective, Abbott is fully aware of the importance of making sure no parties feel like they are losing their identity. “It’s all in that cultural assimilation,” she says. “How do we preserve the best of who they are and what they bring and at the same time welcome them into the Lifespan family?” It’s a delicate balance, but regular communication and inclusivity in the business culture help lead the way for combined growth.
Coastal Medical Group officially becoming a part of the Lifespan health network arms the company with a high-performing primary care practice. Coastal not only aligns with Lifespan’s business strategy, but significantly simplifies the process of connecting patients to the specialists they need, allowing the company to better serve the community.
The potential merger with Care New England would provide Lifespan with service lines in obstetrics and gynecology and childbirth, while Lifespan’s domain is more related to pediatrics. This merger would deliver the ability to be synergistic with healthcare offerings from cradle to grave. “There’s not a lot of redundancy in the system; there’s a lot of opportunity for more continuity of care,” Abbott explains. “And there’s a lot more opportunity to deliver a better patient care experience.”
Abbott believes the Care New England merger would provide incredible community benefit as well. As head of community affairs at Lifespan, Abbott oversees a community health institute that strives to alleviate social determinants that keep people from receiving care such as food scarcity, access to quality care, or transportation to a job. “We see our ability through this merger to expand exponentially the services that we can provide around social determinants and peoples’ needs,” says Abbott.
“We’re here because we deliver health with care. It’s all about the patient experience. We touch, in some way, everyone in our community, and that matters.”
Abbott is in her sixth year leading the HR department at Lifespan. She’s had the opportunity to build teams in executive leadership, HR, and community affairs among other areas. When it comes to her approach for encouraging her teams to be progressive drivers of Lifespan, Abbott states, “My job is to coalesce around [Lifespan’s] mission. And make sure everybody sees why their job is related to our mission and why that makes them essential.”
She places an emphasis on hiring people that want to serve a purpose greater than self—an invaluable quality that cascades into the organization. “I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have good mentors and to have been given real breakthrough opportunities,” she says. Abbott pays it forward with her involvement in mentoring her teams in HR and community affairs with the same encouragement and guidance she received early in her career.
“I want [employees] to come in engaged and motivated, and I want them to go home feeling like they matter today,” Abbott notes. “I want them to bring a good version of themselves home. So, I try to instill that passion in the team. I want people to feel passionate about the mission.”
This level of respect doesn’t stop at her direct reports and department members. Lifespan values the voices of every employee and conducts engagement surveys to hear their concerns and opinions about the company. Abbott is a proponent of this open dialogue and wants to make sure everyone feels heard. She explains, “We try to communicate what we’ve acted on as a result of what people shared was important. Because that’s what they need to see—they need results.”
Abbott explains that Lifespan’s “CARE” values—Compassion, Accountability, Respect, and Excellence—are also a driving force in how she approaches her team. “We’re going to treat each other with respect,” she notes, “and we will continue to have that as a theme of our action plan going forward.”
Lifespan was also recently awarded a $10 million grant to build pipeline programs for Black and Indigenous populations. “As the state’s largest employer, I feel an incredible obligation to keep the people employed that work at Lifespan and create employment opportunities for those looking for them,” Abbott says.
She wants her team to feel passionate about the mission and their purpose at Lifespan, while opening avenues for new members to find a place where they belong in the organization. “We’re here because we deliver health with care. It’s all about the patient experience,” she says. “We touch, in some way, everyone in our community, and that matters.”