A different path

He wanted to be Matlock until a career turn led him down the health care road.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Eighteen months into his job as regional president of hospital operations for SSM Health Care of Wisconsin, Damond Boatwright, 43, seems as energetic as ever and ready to take on the world, or at least the oversight of two recently merged health systems, SSM and Dean.

Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., Boatwright hails from a blue-collar, middle-class family where his father was an electrical contractor and his mother worked in materials and procurement at a naval hospital. He remembers being fascinated with Ben Matlock from the Matlock TV series, hoping to one day emulate the part-time lawyer, part-time detective. “I’d role-play,” he admits. “I’d wear bow ties and seersucker suits. Now, I only wear bow ties in spring and summer. In winter, I think I need the longer ties — for warmth!”

Boatwright graduated from The Citadel, a traditionally all-male, state-funded military college in Charleston that began enrolling women just a few years ago. “I always say, the minute women were integrated into the Citadel, the IQ scores went up,” he laughs. “Some say it was coincidental, but I think that may not be the case.”

He majored in business administration with a minor in pre-law, thinking he’d be a corporate attorney. “The short story is, I applied to law school, but when my test scores came back ….” He took a year off to assess his future.

One day, on the steps of a Charleston cathedral, he met Frank DeMarco, the man who would become his mentor. “I think it was divine intervention,” Boatwright admits. “Turns out we were both Citadel graduates. He was a regional president and CEO for a for-profit health care company, and he redirected my career focus from law and gave me my first job opportunity in health care.”

Recently, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies, IB sat down with Boatwright, whose likability factor was as bright as his smile.

IB: First things first: What are your comments on the Supreme Court’s decision on ACA subsidies?
It’s huge. It probably provided security and a big relief to those with insurance right now; and overall for the industry, it’s one more sign that there may be some stability related to ACA. That’s the good news. I do believe there is work that should continue in a bipartisan way to improve the law’s weaknesses, such as overall financing, but one thing to celebrate is that hospital associations believe all Americans should have access to insurance, so we’ll always be very supportive of giving people access to good health care.



IB: Has the ACA changed SSM and Dean’s business?
With the federal exchange, Dean Health Plan has picked up 18,000 to 20,000 new lives through the health exchange in the last year. Among that group, compared to the underinsured or uninsured population, I’m seeing signs that health literacy is rising while the cost of services is lowering. That’s an indication that we’re moving in the right direction.

IB: So much has changed in health care. Will all the mergers and consolidations truly benefit the consumer?
The honest answer is it really still needs to be determined. A lot of prognosticators have different theories. [Everyone] agrees that the costs of health care are unsustainable, and everyone is racing to figure out what the formula is to make health care affordable. No one’s figured that out yet, but the first one to do so will make a meaningful difference in the country’s health care delivery system.

IB: You have two master’s degrees in health administration-related fields, and your career track has taken you to Florida, Virginia, Missouri, and Kansas. What brought you to Madison?
It was the idea of working in an integrated delivery network, where an insurance health plan, clinics, doctors, specialists, hospitals, and post-acute facilities (e.g., nursing homes/hospice) all work under one legal structure. There aren’t many out there. I believe it’s the best way to deliver on the value proposition of maintaining your quality at a low cost to pass savings on to consumers.

I came into this position to facilitate the integration of SSM Health business units with Dean Health System, and I’ve intentionally decided to move slower, rather than faster, so I can take the time to assess what is needed from a health care perspective in the community.

IB: What’s your biggest challenge?
Being more accessible to our 8,000 employees. SSM has 60 clinics in 21 counties, three wholly owned hospitals, and a health care plan that covers over 400,000 people. That’s the toughest part.

IB: What do you really enjoy about what you do?
I am inspired every day by working for an organization whose mission statement says that through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing presence of God. There aren’t many organizations that would put God in their mission statements. As a Catholic, that was a large part of me choosing SSM Health Care.

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