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Dr. Marc Harrison steps into CEO role at Intermountain Healthcare

Dr. A. Marc Harrison was preparing to move to London to run the Cleveland Clinic’s international business division when he got a call asking if he’d be interested in vying for the position of CEO for Intermountain Healthcare.

For Harrison, who hadn’t applied for a job for 17 years, the call was the only one that could have even tempted him away from his plan.

“I look at this as an amazing stroke of luck and opportunity,” he said. “To be honest, I had always thought I would really happily end my career at the clinic, but this is one of the very, very few places that could have gotten me to change paths.”

Harrison was given the job, and started—title-less—in August before assuming the reins of president and CEO on Monday following the retirement of Dr. Charles W. Sorenson on Oct. 15. For Harrison, moving to Utah was a bit like coming home: he and his wife had previously lived in Utah for six years while he completed a residency and internship in the pediatric critical care unit through the University of Utah School of Medicine and worked in the critical care units of Intermountain’s Primary Children’s Hospital. His wife, Dr. Mary Carole Harrison, served as the chief resident in the same program.

Intermountain Healthcare in particular was such an attractive prospect to Harrison because of its forward-thinking practices, said Harrison, who had previously worked as CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

“The degree of integration and the execution capability is remarkable, but I think what’s really extraordinary is it’s pointed in the direction that healthcare should go—how do you provide the highest quality of care and affordability and improve in that regard,” he said. “Intermountain has started caring for whole populations well ahead of the rest of the country. You put that together with a really value-driven workforce, and it feels like this opportunity to do the right thing and see what healthcare should do going forward.”

One of the programs within the 22-hospital system that excites Harrison the most is Intermountain’s strides in telehealth and otherwise allowing people to get more care closer to home.

“What we saw were people could stay closer to home, lengths of stays were shorter and patients did better—the outcomes were better,” he said, noting that Intermountain is currently working on expanding the system further with partnerships with other hospitals. “It’s this idea that people can get great care in this very large region by staying close to home.”

Harrison said he is also excited about Intermountain’s spirit of innovation, which has brought about new technological breakthroughs and embedding mental health professionals with other medical care offerings. On the near horizon is using genetic medicine to better treat cancer patients, a venture that has already resulted in Intermountain making contracts with companies locally and as far away as Singapore and Taiwan.

While his focus at Intermountain will be different than the one he expected to have at his post in London, Harrison said the commonalities in healthcare far outweigh the regional or cultural differences of an area—including the secret to running an organization like a well-oiled machine.

“One of the things you learn when you work at a great organization is there are so many people around you who know so much more than you’ll ever know, and trusting those people and empowering them, just setting the right direction so they’re charging in the right direction, that’s the secret. I think I had great training with that in Cleveland and Abu Dhabi,” he said. “My fellow caregivers will be my inspiration, and my patients.”

Harrison said he plans on chiefly listening and observing for the first part of his time at the helm, but is impressed with the strong leadership of the past and encouraged by the promise for the future.

“I think Dr. Sorenson and the board of trustees have done an amazing job in getting the organization aligned in that way already, and I think that’s a great leg up and an enormous advantage,” Harrison said. “I feel an enormous responsibility and a lot of opportunity that we’re the largest private employer in the state and as such have a real impact on the communities we’re in, above and beyond providing healthcare. I’m really excited about understanding how we can be the best possible community members, how we can make the biggest difference for these communities. … I think the opportunities are just huge here.”