When Elizabeth Seely spent her summer days living in a tent, she had no way of knowing that the experience would later be the guide that mapped her professional journey.
Growing up, Elizabeth and her family did quite a bit of moving. They relocated between Maryland and North Carolina several times and Elizabeth attended school in four different cities. Looking back, she can see that relocating helped develop her resilience. “Knowing I can pick up and start over created confidence in me to take on new situations,” recalls Elizabeth, Chief Administrative Officer, Hospital Division of The Ohio State University Health System.
Graduating Valedictorian of her high school, Elizabeth was always interested in science. She loved the theory and the process of figuring out how things worked. Like many of her family members, she attended Wake Forest University and graduated Summa Cum Laude as a Carswell Scholar with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. Thinking she may go on to work in molecular genetics, Elizabeth explored the field and realized that it contained a lot of lab work which wasn’t something she truly enjoyed.
A family friend, who was leading a hospital in Maryland, suggested healthcare administration. This combination of leadership and science was intriguing to Elizabeth. She thought back to her time as a unit leader for the Girl Scouts. She spent many summers living in a tent at a Girl Scout summer camp. She loved the responsibility and opportunity to set a direction and implement a plan. She never imagined that Girl Scout camp would be the foundation for her leadership skills and further determine her career path.
Elizabeth began her search for a graduate program and found that The Ohio State University health care administration program was one of the top programs in the county, and after interviewing for a spot, she knew it was the perfect fit for her. “I came to Columbus and The Ohio State University and had a great experience,” recalls Elizabeth.
Elizabeth settled nicely into the Columbus area. She became involved in a local, Lutheran church where she sang in the choir. This was special to her and during her second year in Columbus, she met her husband, Collin, at the church.
As part of her degree completion, Elizabeth did some training in Michigan where she received a job offer – her first offer in the role of healthcare administration. She decided it was more important to stay rooted in Columbus where she and Collin could be closer to his family, as they started a family of their own.
As luck would have it, she was offered a position at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center running the renal dialysis program. “I was a frontline leader in clinical operations. This operational leadership role offered me many opportunities,” says Elizabeth. “Frontline leadership roles are the most difficult. You are hands-on, day-to-day making sure everything is working as it should be.”
Her roles continued to evolve and she was given opportunities in the Ob/Gyn clinic and the transplant program each affording her opportunities for increased operational responsibilities. Soon, she found she had spent 16 years at Ohio State’s University Hospital in a vast majority of roles on the medical campus, including Associate Executive Director of University Hospital and the Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital.
In 2007, Elizabeth was asked to take on the role of Executive Director leading Ohio State’s East Hospital. She remained in that role for 10 years. During her tenure, she led the hospital through a 37% growth in admissions; the addition of new services such as a STEMI program, a primary stroke certified program, and a limb preservation program; and a 48% increase in patient satisfaction and excellent quality metrics.
In addition, she led the acquisition and renovation of Outpatient Care East to provide expanded ambulatory access to a variety of Ohio State Wexner Medical Center medical and surgical specialties on the Near East Side of Columbus.
Two years ago, in 2017, David McQuaid, Chief Executive Officer of the Ohio State Health System and Chief Operating Officer of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, asked Elizabeth to become the leader of the hospital division. This position put her in a leadership role overseeing six university hospitals –East Hospital, University Hospital, Dodd Rehabilitation Hospital, Ohio State Harding Hospital, Ohio State Brain and Spine Hospital, and Ross Heart Hospital. Each of the hospitals has an executive director which Elizabeth works with to directly set the course and the overall day-to-day operations of each facility.
While working with the teams to maintain the daily operations of each hospital, Elizabeth is focused on the future. “Our goal is to create an academic health center of the future,” says Elizabeth. “It’s not just about health care, but health as a community. We need to ensure access to care close to where people spend their time, whether it be home or work.”
“Access is a big part of treating people. Patients need to have the ability to contact a physician in a timely manner.” This might mean inpatient care, outpatient care or interacting with a physician electronically. Another initiative that is underway is bringing medical technology into homes. “Interacting with physicians on mobile devices is an area that will continue to expand,” adds Elizabeth. “Expectations are changing and we need to be able to reach people where they are.”
When a medical condition arises that requires inpatient care, the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center is planning to set themselves apart from the rest. There is a 5-year plan, currently in the early stages, for the construction of a new inpatient bed tower.
This tower will have superior access for patients, updated facilities, modern technology, and greater capacity. “We are giving ourselves the ability to be positioned for the future of health care,” states Elizabeth. “I am proud to be a part of an organization that helps people with their health so that they can reach their full potential.”
Elizabeth is very modest about her current role in the university hospital system. “Similar to our goal with our patients, my leadership style is about helping people reach their full potential.” She describes her job as being similar to an orchestra conductor. “Every person has a part and we all need to work together. If one person is off, it won’t sound very good.” Her position is to ensure that the teams have what they need to be effective and she believes that one person’s job is not more important than any other. She is serving the teams to make sure they are all working together for the greater good of the patients.
Much like learning to adapt to her many moves in her early childhood, Elizabeth must be able to adapt her leadership style when changing situations arise. A situation can dictate the best way to lead. She has defined herself as a cheerleader, a listener, a problem solver, and a manager. And in times where comfort is required, people look to their leader. She realizes that not one style fits all situations and this is what makes Elizabeth a great leader. “The currency of leadership is time,” adds Elizabeth. “Where a leader spends their time sends a message and is a reflection of your values as a leader.”
Elizabeth’s efforts do not stop at the office. She is a founding board member and board chair of Partners Achieving Community Transformation (PACT), where she guided a $10 million commitment by Ohio State to create a healthy, financially and environmentally sustainable community where residents have access to safe and affordable housing, quality health care, education, and employment opportunities on the Near-East Side of Columbus.
She serves on the board of MedFlight (medical helicopter service) and MedCare (ambulance service), where she partners with other healthcare leaders in the community to ensure both organizations provide the best service possible to patients.
One of her longtime achievements and one that she attributes to having shaped her into the leader she is today, has been with the Girl Scouts. Elizabeth devoted 17 consecutive years as a troop leader, taking two troops from kindergarten through high school; and now she devotes time as a member of the board of directors and finance committee for Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland.
“I am proud of the troops and what they will do. It’s exciting to be a part of their journey.” She believes that Girl Scouts has prepared them to go out and do hard things.
Her leadership and commitment to the community has not gone unrecognized. Elizabeth has achieved recognition as a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives and served on the American Hospital Association Region 5 Policy Board.
She is a recipient of Distinguished Alumnus Awards from both the Ohio State Graduate Program in Health Services Management and Policy Alumni Society and Ohio State’s College of Public Health. In 2018, Elizabeth was honored as a Columbus YWCA Woman of Achievement.
Life has occasionally tossed Elizabeth some challenges along the way. In July of 2018, less than a year into her new role as Chief Administrative Officer, Elizabeth was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was caught early thanks to the screening mammography at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
She continues to be monitored closely and is doing very well. “Looking back, it was certainly a bump in the road and at the time it really rocked my world,” recalls Elizabeth. “Through that journey I had such amazing support from family and friends. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support.”
Family has always been a huge priority for Elizabeth. She was married in 1992 to Collin. They have three children. Traveling and adventure have always been a part of their family dynamic.
They enjoy national parks where they can be outside and hiking and skiing are always a bonus! Elizabeth loves to sing and has been singing since she was in second grade. She currently sings at church in their contemporary band.
Having spent 29 years in the Ohio State Health System and much of her time in Columbus, Elizabeth is grateful for the people and the opportunities. “Just like many mentors and colleagues have helped me reach my potential, I strive each day to support those that I am guiding.”