Servant leaders: Summa's Thomas Strauss and Martin Hauser

March 1, 2006

Practically every service-oriented business in America today talks about how in tune they are with their customers. Terms like "caring" and "compassion" often are tossed about in their advertising collateral. For Summa Health System, an organized delivery system situated in the heart of Northeast Ohio, and its health plan, SummaCare Inc., these aren't just clever lines crafted by a copywriter.

Practically every service-oriented business in America today talks about how in tune they are with their customers. Terms like "caring" and "compassion" often are tossed about in their advertising collateral. For Summa Health System, an organized delivery system situated in the heart of Northeast Ohio, and its health plan, SummaCare Inc., these aren't just clever lines crafted by a copywriter.

"We have a philosophy of servant leadership," says Thomas J. Strauss, president and CEO of Summa Health System. "We have a tag line that says if you are not serving the patient, you'd better be serving someone who is. Every new employee at orientation is presented with that philosophy. It's something called 'the moment of truth,' which is the first 15 seconds you come in contact with a patient in need. This is considered a moment of truth. We are empowering them to take whatever steps are necessary to satisfy the patient. We give them little cards that say: 'You are this hospital.' We ask them to carry them around and remember that they are Summa."

Since beginning as a TPA, SummaCare has expanded into multiple product offerings. Another division of SummaCare is APEX Benefits Services, a fully-licensed TPA that offers numerous cost-containment features for the self-funded employer. "With APEX now, we've gone national and are managing a benefit plan for Fletcher Allen Health Care," Hauser says. "We're talking with a number of hospitals and health systems around the country about actually managing their benefit needs."

The Summa organization is comprised of three hospitals (Akron City Hospital, Saint Thomas Hospital and Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital), that serve as a robust medical enterprise for teaching. "We have a very involved teaching program of about 200 residents and 13 specialties at Akron City and Saint Thomas. Our facilities serve as the major teaching sites for Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine," Strauss says. "In Cuyahoga Falls, we have about 35 residents in nine specialties from Ohio University." The Summa network also encompasses a physician-hospital organization (PHO), a charitable giving/fundraising foundation and a research foundation.

Summa Health System in 2004 launched Summa Enterprise Group, an entity created to bring revenue-generating products and services to market. "Summa Enterprise Group is a revenue-generation incubator to help start up new companies and health-related companies and help offset some of the challenges we have on revenues," Strauss says.

A pharmacist by trade, Strauss joined Summa in 1999 with a pretty bold vision. "We wanted to be recognized as one of the finest healthcare organizations-not only in Akron or in Ohio, but also in the United States-and to be the preferred provider of health services in our region," he says. Strauss is excited because that vision has become a reality and Summa has been able to demonstrate that in third-party reviews.