Advocating for women and children: Q&A with Luanne Thomas Ewald, FACHE, M.H.A.

August 25, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

Luanne Thomas Ewald, FACHE, M.H.A., was appointed chief operating officer of C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s hospitals on Jan. 6, when the dangers of COVID-19 were not widely known.

As that perception rapidly changed, Ewald found herself having to acclimate to a new position and a complex health care network at the height of a global crisis. Fortunately, her 25 years of health care experience and master’s degree in hospital and health administration served her well during her “baptism by fire” orientation to Michigan Medicine.

Ewald, the former CEO of Detroit Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital of Michigan, is now fully settled into her new role, where she plans, manages and evaluates all administrative, financial and operational goals at C&W, in partnership with Chief Clinical Officer Chris Dickinson, M.D., and Chief Nursing Officer Jesus Cepero, R.N., NEA-BC.

“Settled” may be a relative term, however, since she is already busy supporting the redesign of many methods and processes based on lessons learned from the pandemic which will help the organization quickly adapt to the future state of health care.  

Headlines recently caught up with Ewald and asked about her unique transition to Michigan Medicine, among other questions. Here is what she had to say:

Q: How did the pandemic impact your move to Michigan Medicine and your immediate goals for your new team?

LTE: I definitely acclimated a lot quicker as a result of it. Suddenly I was involved in twice-a-day command center meetings, with leaders from the entire system. Despite the crisis, we all had to come together and it was a wonderful learning experience. It would have taken 12 months to learn what I learned in such a short time because I was thrown into that environment.

I was also part of the team working on the field hospital. To witness how quickly and efficiently things got done in a matter of weeks was awe inspiring and was one of the top experiences in my career.

Q: The pandemic has also been a time when we see tremendous heroism at work. Do you have any examples or stories that stick out in your mind that exemplify that spirit?  

LTE: There were so many examples, but I remember walking into work one morning in April and the staff at Mott had chalked words of encouragement on the walkway and on the windows. At a time when the world was scared, and they were scared, to see everyone come together to make sure we were all lifted up, so together we can support our patients as best we can, it was inspiring to me and I was so proud to be working for Michigan Medicine. 

Q: Do you now see some changes that have taken place as a result of COVID-19 that will be beneficial to the system in the future?  

LTE: Absolutely. We are redesigning how we provide prenatal care, utilizing much more virtual and at-home care. Where once we had 12 to 14 clinical visits, there are now 8 visits, and a lot more of the care is happening within the home. While that may seem like less care is being provided, it is really a best practice because it becomes a lot less stressful for the patient, especially for those who have limited access to child care and transportation to get to our facilities. In addition, the patients become a lot more educated and take more control of their own health.

Q: In your career you’ve become known as an advocate for children and women’s health. What led you to this passion?

LTE: It began in my college days at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Every day, I walked past a hospital and I was very curious what went on behind those four walls. I decided to get a masters in hospital administration. In grad school at Xavier University, I volunteered at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital as a baby cuddler. I worked from midnight to 4 a.m. rocking, feeding and cuddling babies. It was the best job in the world.

I talked to parents and nurses and learned about the struggles some families were going through with prenatal care and a lack of transportation and funds. It struck me that I had to have a career where I could advocate for all women and children. Now I see those experiences every day in what I do here and try to connect our patients with community resources in any way I can.

Q: Do you have any advice for those who are early in their careers and wish to become a leader in health care?

LTE: Seek out projects that aren’t related to your job title and your area of expertise. It will help you determine what skills you have or what you want to improve upon. It also makes you realize what you truly like or don’t like. Volunteer on community boards and hone your skills while you work on community projects. Don’t forget to excel within your current roles, because that will prepare yourself to move up the ladder more than just trying to move up the ladder by who you know. I tell administrators they should make sure to have a listening ear for their staff and always stay humble

Q: It’s probably been tough to get to know your new surroundings due to COVID-19, but what is the one thing in Ann Arbor or on campus that you most want to experience? 

LTE: I spend a lot of time on the 11th floor of Mott looking down on those beautiful gardens in what I think they call the Arb. I can see the pathways and the water and I tell myself, ‘I need to get outside and take a walk.’ One day I will get out there.