EP 24: CIO’s: Mary Alice Annecharico and Donna Roach Lead Change

The percentage of women serving and leading as Chief Information Officers (CIO’s) for major organizations is still in the dismal single digits.  But in this episode, Diva Tech Talk had the privilege of interviewing two of them:  Mary Alice Annecharico, Senior VP and CIO for Henry Ford Health Systems, and Donna Roach, CIO for Via Christi Health Systems.  Here are their stories and some leadership lessons.

Mary Alice shared that her enthusiasm for healthcare started at the tender age of three years old, and explained how she evolved into leading one of Detroit’s largest health systems. She was always passionate about being a nurse; it was an “innate part” of who she was. Early in her career, she worked in a critical care unit that began using computers. A new leader complimented her on having a spirit for change and then she was asked to help develop the organization's computer-based electronic records.

“I looked at him and said: I can’t do that! I’m a nurse,” she said. “But then I embraced the idea.” Mary Alice has a Bachelor of Science Degree as a Registered Nurse, and a Master’s in Health Science. As long as she could still work in healthcare, she embraced leading technology changes.

Now, Mary Alice, is working for Henry Ford Health Systems which is celebrating 100 years of healthcare service. She says it’s her favorite job. She leads the organization’s technology services, supporting and stewarding the investments they place in technology and manages a staff of over 600 people.

“We truly have fun. It’s a balance of technology, relationship-building, and delivering health services,” she said.

Henry Ford Health System used to create it’s own electronic medical records --- a system that worked well for  25 years. With the advent of healthcare reform, they partnered with EPIC to implement a clinical transformational journey. In just 16 months, they have replaced all systems for clinical care, in record time, to achieve much higher levels of efficiency and success.

What are Mary Alice’s lessons and advice? If you have a problem to solve, you need everyone at the table to make transformational change. Mary Alice advises that you be authentic, and be brave to build trust and create change. Being energetic and motivated is a characteristic that helps create change. Mary Alice also says she’s committed to being a lifelong learner.

Mary Alice overcame some challenges along her path to becoming a CIO. Whether they are “event changers” or part of your day-to-day basics, Mary Alice says that a CIO can’t know it all. You have to be a part of a team to work together to solve problems and execute.

“Challenge is exciting. I’m not afraid of it,” Mary Alice said. “Sometimes the culture of an organization doesn’t enable you to be who you are. Be brave enough and true to yourself to realize it.”

Top advice she offers for women: look for internships and opportunities for mentors. She recognizes external STEM programs who help women connect and grow with mentorship. The journey should be lifelong. A technology you like can be associated with so many challenges in your career/mission. Don’t be afraid to learn and try it!

“For so many years women put ourselves in our own cocoon. Being able to reach out to others who are as impassioned as you, that’s really important,” she said. “There’s no longer a glass ceiling. It’s exciting.”

You can connect with Mary Alice Annecharico at 313-874-9587, any time. Her personal email address is amaryalice10@gmail.com.

For the second half of this episode we spoke with our second CIO, Donna Roach. Donna has been in healthcare IT for over thirty years. She has a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in Health Administration.

Donna said she’s grateful to have had so much support and guidance in her career. Jobs where she had to stretch her capabilities were the most fulfilling to her. One of these projects was in Illinois as a project manager for a new technology implementation. She really helped to implement a new clinical information system. 

“Those are the fun times. When you bring people together and work really hard,” she said. “And I had a baby in between!”  She reflected on the three reasons this made a good experience: good teamwork, challenging work, and a culture that supported her growth.

Donna was the CIO for three hospitals in Kalamazoo for three years before she took her current role at Via Christi Health Systems. She was given the opportunity to serve at the new hospital in Wichita, Kansas. Donna shared how they adopted Ascension Health Systems value-driven processes to support the mission. The organization is faith-based and focuses on service, which also inspires Donna’s fulfillment in her work.

Donna now manages over 150 people, who work within the Ascension system. She thinks that a couple of strengths that have helped her to succeed are creative thinking, and having strong convictions about fostering innovative ideas. She’s also a big relationship builder and networker.

“My daughter always gives me a hard time. She tells me I’m such a ‘people person.’ I thought I was an introvert,” she said. “But I like building teams, and bringing people to the table.”

Part of Donna’s network is her church, her community, and being on the board of CHIME (the College of Health Information Management Executives). She said that joining that board was a big move for her, because she’s always been a passionate supporter of the organization

Donna has noticed the times where she has been the only woman at the table, and was asked to take notes. “I’m not your note taker,” she said. Early on, she had to push through that sort of discriminatory expectation. Now, being a women CIO isn’t something that is on her mind as much. She encourages women entering the industry to not get too caught up with gender. She’s had great mentors who are both men and woman.

When it comes to leadership, Donna suggests that you put yourself out there to develop your relationships and networks. Be purposeful in creating your network, and be willing to give back and volunteer for others. Don’t be afraid of failure or of others who might disagree with you.

“Sometimes we’re more concerned with confirming that we’re not using our skills, our creative skills, to bring them to the table,” she said.

Throughout her career, Donna reflected on how grateful she is to have had a supportive family around her. Sometimes, career moves can be difficult and really impact your family. Knowing how important family is can help you make certain that decisions are supporting your family as much as you are supporting yourself.

You can connect with Donna Roach at donna.roach@via-christi.org.

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Diva Tech Talk Team

Podcast Divas