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Title: Vice President and General Counsel Location: Houston Age: 48 Healthy Hybrid Like most CEOs searching for a general counsel, Mark A. Wallace wanted a leader, an effective team player who could establish credibility and communicate with his board of directors. Unlike most executives, Wallace just happened to have that person already on his board of directors. Wallace says he and the board at Texas Children’s Hospital deliberated long and hard about whom they would choose to build the organization’s legal operations, and fellow board member Ann Barnett Stern fit the bill. “I just thought that she had the core set of characteristics that make people successful,” Wallace says. Stern’s competence, selflessness, commitment to the hospital’s mission and ethics spoke volumes to Wallace, even though Stern had no in-house experience or health law background. Stern has proven Wallace right by separating legal matters from risk management, hiring all-new insurance brokers, centralizing and organizing outside firms, establishing a better event-reporting system, and bringing regulatory and corporate compliance up to snuff in short order. She also impressed him with her staff choices. “The most important responsibility and the greatest challenge is to find and hire the best people,” Wallace says. Stern has not only accomplished that while building a strong infrastructure, but she’s also a magnet for talent. People are clamoring to work for her, Wallace says. Stern says Wallace told her the highest priority of the job was to get some control over the legal work. Once she had that in hand, he asked her how much money they were going to save with in-house lawyers handling employment, contract and compliance work, as well as reviewing outside counsel bills. “I said, “That’s not my decision, that’s a question of what the hospital wants to do next year � buying land, expanding. Your expenses are not going to be going down, they’ll just be managed,’ ” Stern says. Money spent on the front end by hiring four new directors to oversee risk management, audit, compliance and legal, and bringing in consultants to help with Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance, is expensive. But it’s not as expensive as dealing with medical-malpractice claims. Those claims have dropped significantly since Stern took over in 2002, and the hospital had only five filed against it in the first half of this year. Stern credits tort reform for the drop. Her colleagues also credit her new event-reporting system and the risk-management director she hired. Stern says the hardest risks to assess are the near misses. “Nothing happened; you don’t want to tell anybody, but it could have happened,” she says. But if you can capture that data, and figure out how to avoid the same circumstances before something does happen, then you can increase patient safety, she says.

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