One day a teenage Maria Russo witnessed her dad bring home an “indescribably huge machine.”
“This is a computer,” he told her. It was the first one Russo ever saw and she was enamored by it, so much so that when she got to Saint Joseph’s University in 1983, she decided to study management information systems.
That interest was the catalyst for a longtime career in healthcare IT, which has seen her manage large-scale electronic medical records implementations, develop strategic plans for healthcare organizations, run IT departments, and work as a healthcare IT executive for large health systems.
In July 2021, the organization completed a historic integration of its hospitals and faculty practice to create an integrated academic health system with about 10,000 employees and more than 1,300 physicians and advanced practice providers. That same year, Russo became the first member of the newly formed system’s executive leadership team and was tasked with planning and implementing major IT initiatives. It was a chance for Russo to innovate and drive the strategic IT vision for the organization. Today, OU Health is Oklahoma’s only comprehensive academic health system of hospitals, clinics, and centers of excellence.
“When I joined, we were just talking about starting up the hospital side, but as I got into my role in 2020, it grew into organizing OU Health as an entity and that meant taking the clinics and bringing them in,” Russo explains. “That’s exciting because it puts us on the ground floor. It’s like a white piece of paper: we can build whatever we want. It was so appealing to be invited to be part of that.”
Now, her department continues to enable the business and to be a strategic asset for it by laying the IT groundwork for its future. To do that, Russo and her team have focused on implementing a new network, launching Epic, reorganizing the IT department, and implementing an enterprise imaging system. That work has been a “defining moment for the organization” and its future successes.
“By that I mean it’s all gone very smoothly. All implementations have problems and we were very fortunate that ours have been very minimal,” she adds. “Now, we’re in a position to actually take that next step and figure out how IT can help enable the next version of the organization to support the mission, values and goals of OU Health.”
“Partnering with Presidio and tech allies such as EPIC, OU Health established a comprehensive IT infrastructure in just a year,” says Robert Kim, CIO at Presidio. “Remarkably, despite challenges like regulatory pressures, COVID-19, and supply-chain interruptions, the collaboration ensured no detriment to patient care or clinician productivity. The success of this project is a testament to the power of collaboration between organizations that are focused on successful and truly impactful outcomes. As a global digital solutions and services provider, Presidio is committed to ensuring that our clients, like OU Health, are provided with the tools necessary to accelerate business transformation through secured technology modernization at disruptor speed.”
As her department eyes new ways to enable the business for the years to come, Russo looks for ways to enable and empower her employees. She’s the kind of leader who resists micromanaging and maintains an open-door policy for her team. It’s a style that encourages her team to make the right decisions and to keep in mind that she will always have their backs.
“I believe in holding people accountable and helping them achieve their success. Then I remove barriers. I also enjoy collaborating and working together with people to come up with solutions,” Russo says. “If we have to course correct, that’s OK. I look at it as an opportunity to help coach the team members on how they can improve.”
“That also goes beyond my team and to my peers because, in order for a CIO to truly lead a department, it’s not just about their team but what the business needs and how you can translate those needs into something that might have systems implications and helping them solve their business problems with technology,” the CIO continues. “There’s nothing you can’t do if you collaborate.”
Before her journey at OU Health, Russo worked in consulting positions for the likes of Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and Capgemini. At Ernst & Young, she was outsourced as CIO for a health system company in Philadelphia. She fell in love with the role and the impact she could have in an organization.
“It was so exciting to learn about how a CIO could help an organization, grow a team, and implement systems that help it move to the next level,” Russo recalls. “I sort of morphed my way into understanding what I wanted to do after consulting. When I left, that’s the career path I chose to pursue next.”
She went on to serve in CIO roles at Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s HealthCare, Tanner Health System, and the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.
For young people seeking success in their careers, Russo says to plan, show up professionally, and to come into your career with proper expectations. “A lot of people might think that they’ll start at the top, but you have to pay your dues and you have to really cherish being at ground level,” she advises. “That’s where you learn so much. Don’t try and shortcut that process. It’ll make you a better professional.”
The Future of Care
“The number one trend I really want to keep tabs on, which can help OU Health is the generative AI [artificial intelligence], ChatGPT, and chatbot space,” says Maria Russo when asked about her take on emerging technology. “I’m looking at how I can bring that type of technology into the organization in a safe way so that all data that needs to be protected is protected and so it enables team members to get their work done more efficiently.”
OU Health in Focus
OU Health is the state’s only comprehensive academic health system of hospitals, clinics, and centers of excellence. The flagship academic healthcare system is the clinical partner of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences, one of the most comprehensive academic and research campuses in the country.
With 10,000 employees and more than 1,300 physicians and advanced practice providers, OU Health is home to Oklahoma’s largest doctor network with a complete range of specialty care. OU Health serves Oklahoma and the region with the state’s only comprehensive children’s hospital, Oklahoma’s only National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center, OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center, and Oklahoma’s flagship hospital, which serves as the state’s only Level 1 trauma center.
In its most recent rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked OU Health University of Oklahoma Medical Center High Performing in Lung, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Surgery, as well as Stroke, Kidney Failure and COPD, and OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center as the Best Hospital for Cancer Care in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health was named a Top 50 Children’s Hospital for Pediatric Cardiology & Heart Surgery and Pediatric Gastroenterology & GI Surgery. To learn more, visit ouhealth.com.
Morris Technology Solutions (MTS) is a technology consulting firm with a specialization in healthcare infrastructure. The company offers services across network, cloud, storage, and many other functional areas. We were proud to partner with Maria Russo and the OU Health team in their historic transformation and implementation of Epic. MTS helped identify and bridge infrastructure gaps needed to go-live in a timely manner by working hand-in-hand with the client to deliver on those timelines for an incredibly successful go-live. If you are interested in connecting, please reach out to our COO, Patrick Mays: [email protected]; 210-414-3868.
Partnering with Presidio and tech allies such as EPIC, OU Health established a comprehensive IT infrastructure in short order. Remarkably, despite challenges like regulatory pressures, COVID-19, and supply-chain interruptions, the collaboration ensured no detriment to patient care or clinician productivity. The success of this project is a testament to the power of collaboration between organizations that are focused on successful and positively impactful outcomes. As a global digital solutions and services provider, Presidio is committed to ensuring that our clients are provided with the tools necessary to accelerate business transformation through secured technology modernization at disruptor speed.