Dr. Richard Lofgren faced a daunting task when he arrived in Cincinnati in 2013.
UC Health, still in its infancy after splitting from the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati to become its own entity just a few years prior, sought to transform itself from a teetering health system once on the brink of bankruptcy into a sustainable major academic referral center.
Lofgren, the second-ever president and chief executive officer of UC Health, a position he held for eight years, departed Cincinnati Friday confident he helped make that vision a reality for the academic health system.
Now, he aspires to complete that same mission elsewhere.
On Monday, the 67-year-old takes over as the first president and chief executive officer of the newly-created OU Health, a merger of the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Health Authority and Trust. It’s a new challenge he plans to make the capstone of a career he strategically designed around building academic health institutions.
When he looks back on his eight years in Cincinnati – a time frame in which UC Health grew its revenue by $1 billion from 2013 to 2022 – the Royal Oak, Michigan, native said he’s proud to have played a part in building a modern academic health system mostly from the ground up in Cincinnati.
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“We really have grown the organization,” Lofgren said in an interview with The Enquirer, his final public engagement as president of UC Health. “It’s a reflection of the growth of those high-end subspecialty programs that regardless of how complex your problems are, you can get world-class care here in Cincinnati.”
Lofgren oversaw a massive increase in capital spending with the minority and women business enterprises while at UC Health. During fiscal year 2021, the health system spent more than $12 million with the minority and women business enterprises, a 50% increase from the previous year, while all UC Health capital projects had at least 40% inclusion of the minority and women-owned subcontractors.
Lofgren highlighted three things as accomplishments during his tenure:
- Building “life-altering” destination programs offered at UC Health.
- Developing an ability to attract and invest in the academic missions that support those programmes.
- The health system’s partnerships it built with the community, including its commitment to investments within diverse communities.
But another success, he said, was UC Health’s role in the region’s pandemic response.
Lofgren alone was a key local and Ohio leader in the response to COVID-19, leading the team of health officials guiding the response of southern Ohio health systems to COVID-19 and appearing at numerous news conferences on the disease.
But the foundation he helped build at UC Health when it comes to areas of expertise that became particularly prevalent during the pandemic, allowed an effective local response to the novel virus, he contends.
“The way in which UC Health responded to the pandemic, and the importance of the expertise and leadership of our academic health system, I think was never more evident than during the pandemic,” he said.
“The things that the people I’ve been surrounded with have been able to accomplish over the last eight years is humbling.”
During the height of the pandemic, Lofgren was appointed by Gov. Mike DeWine as one of three zone leaders to coordinate with the Ohio Department of Health on COVID-19 trends and lead response efforts. Lofgren led zone 3, which comprises 16 counties in its coordination and pandemic response. A new zone 3 will be selected after his departure.
Locally, he did everything from providing updates on what was happening at state and local levels to signing off on ventilator requests when the region needed to tap into the state’s stock.
“I had to spend some time with him on the phone on Christmas Eve trying to get ventilators down here, and he was just great,” said Tiffany Mattingly, vice president of clinical strategies for the Health Collaborative, the coordinating group for the region’s 40 hospitals.
Lofgren was often found updating the public on COVID-19 trends at state and local news conferences. and was involved in many panels as each new variant emerged.
“He was a calming, sound, confident, reliable voice,” Mattingly said. “He was there when you needed him. He had a great perspective on things. If he had fear in his voice, it wasn’t heard from us.”
Lofgren’s interim replacement will be a name familiar to UC Health. Chief Financial Officer Rick Hinds, who has been with the health system even before it became UC Health, will take over as interim president and chief executive officer. A national search will be conducted to find a permanent president.
Lofgren said he hopes the next president of UC Health focuses on maintaining what his team calls the “UC Heath Way,” a cultural transformation about how the health care system works and treats patients.
“It’s very foundational,” he said.
He highlighted the importance of continuing to attract unique subspecialists who bring skills to the area not seen elsewhere, and hopes the region will finally get a National Cancer Institute-designated center.
But the biggest challenge the industry faces as it emerges from the pandemic is workforce shortages, something that was subterranean before the pandemic, but rose to the surface once COVID-19 began its terror, he said.
“We entered into the pandemic really having a nursing shortage,” Lofgren said. “Even the nurses that come, they frequently aren’t attracted to bedside. So I think how we further develop the care teams, develop the workforce and use technology in a way that augments and supplements their work rather than being a burden is going to be one of the biggest challenges.
“We’re going to have to rethink about what the care team looks like because just trying to throw people in the way we’ve done before, isn’t going to get it done.”
When OU Health called Lofgren seeking to bring what he built in Cincinnati to Oklahoma City, Lofgren saw the opportunity as a calling.
“I realized it was an opportunity for me to use my skills and experience, and frankly the things I’ve learned here in Cincinnati, to help launch this new program,” he said. “I really see it as an astounding capstone to my career over the next couple of years.
It will likely be his last landing spot, he said, adding that his wife jokes he has an expiration date on his back. But one last opportunity to transform an institution was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Lofgren came to UC Health, after more than 30 years in academic health care, including leadership roles at University Health Systems Consortium, University of Kentucky, Medical College of Wisconsin and University of Pittsburgh. He was the only physician to serve as president of a health system in Greater Cincinnati throughout his tenure in Ohio.
UC Health – which operates the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, West Chester Hospital, Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care, Lindner Center of Hope and more than 30 outpatient service locations – is one of the 10 largest employers in the Cincinnati region with more than 12,000 workers.
During Lofgren’s tenure, the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in Corryville announced one of the largest expansions in its 200-year history totaling $221 million. In 2019, the hospital committed to spending $110 to double the size of UCMC’s emergency department and $40 million to make way for two new parking garages.
He leaves confident that UC Health is in position to catapult itself to “hit the stratosphere,” but leaving the community itself will be difficult, he said.
“I’ve lived in a number of different communities, and one of the things that was absolutely striking to me is that I’ve never been in a community where the entire community was this committed to making sure that it’s a great place to live ,” he said. “People really are here and committed to making Cincinnati a wonderful place to live and raise a family. This community is really committed to itself.”