A familiar face has been named the new president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AzHHA). Laurie Liles assumed her new role on Sept. 7, succeeding John Rivers, who will be available as a consultant until his retirement becomes official in January.
Selected by the AzHHA board of directors on June 3 after an extensive national search, Liles is a natural for the position, having most recently served as senior vice president of public affairs for the organization. In that role, Liles was the association’s chief lobbyist, putting her in charge of legislative and regulatory advocacy, and making her a familiar face at the state Capitol.
In fact, when she joined the association in 1991, Liles already was well known and respected at the Legislature. She was an intern at the Arizona House of Representatives in 1985, and in 1986 joined the House research staff. It was her first real job coming out of college, where she had majored in political science at Northern Arizona University.
The years at AzHHA that Liles spent lobbying lawmakers have given her a solid foundation for the tasks ahead. She also worked closely with the chief executive officers of AzHHA-member hospitals throughout the state.
“My role as chief lobbyist has given me a great deal of exposure to the challenging issues our members face,” Liles says. “It also enabled me to advance their interests with the regulatory entities they interact with.”
While she savors the experience and knowledge she gained as a lobbyist, Liles doesn’t plan on visiting the Capitol on a regular basis anymore.
“As the head of an advocacy organization, I will be ultimately responsible for accomplishing our advocacy goals,” she says, adding she will work closely with her staff and her replacement, who will tend to the day-to-day duties of lobbying.
Myriad challenges lie ahead, but No. 1 on Liles’ list is not unique to hospitals or the health care industry: the economy.
“The recession has been hard on everyone, and hospitals are no exception to that,” Liles says. “Our members continue to provide high-quality care, and the challenge going forward is to maintain that quality as resources become more and more precious.”
Arizona’s fiscal crisis is expected to continue for the next few years, Liles says, and as the state slowly recovers hospitals will be particularly vulnerable to any government-imposed cuts to Medicare and the state’s Medicaid program, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). The question remains how the state will pay for ever-expanding AHCCCS rolls. Enhanced federal matching funds, which faced some opposition in Congress, would ease the burden.
A close second in priorities is implementation of the new federal health care reform law. Fortunately, Liles has maintained a close working relationship with Arizona’s congressional delegation, particularly staff members who deal with health care issues. In addition to e-mails and phone calls, Liles has made it a practice to meet in Washington, D.C., with congressional members a couple of times a year.
Norm Botsford, chairman of the AzHHA board of directors, cited the federal health care law when he announced Liles’ appointment.
“The state’s health care community and citizens will be well served by Ms. Liles’ leadership as we begin the process of implementing the historic health care reforms signed into law by President Obama.” he stated.
But one of the challenges facing Liles and hospital administrators throughout the state does have a silver lining. Asked what good news hospitals can expect in the year ahead, Liles took a long pause before saying: “The really positive news for health care is the increased coverage that the federal health reform legislation brings. Having 32 million more Americans who previously had no insurance be covered is a positive development, but with it comes challenges of providing care for them.”