Story by Nikki Kallio

Looking back over Sandi Rochon’s career, it’s easy to trace the pathway of her focus on improving quality and the patient experience.

Rochon’s interest in health care began as an X-ray technology student and led to experience as an instructor and later as an admin­istrator of hospital and clinical service lines in the Chicago area and Northeast Wisconsin.

Now CEO of NeuroSpine Center of Wis­consin, Rochon is evolving into an additional role as Chief Clinicial Integration Officer for NOVO Health. For the past four years, she’s been advising NOVO Health leadership on clinical integration, and her new role is a formalization of that work.

In her new role, Rochon will be primarily responsible for quality, credentialing and compliance, physician recruitment and strategic operations, and she will work with NOVO leaders to develop integrated team-based care initiatives.

“We have a phenomenal hidden jewel of professionals in this area that really, in some ways, are undervalued by the health systems,” Rochon said. “We need organized support for those providers to help them showcase those talents and help them remain independent.”

Tech boom

In the 1980s when Rochon was a high school student in West Virginia, computer technology was evolving rapidly and attracted her interest, but she also wanted to work with people.

“X-ray technology was a nice mesh of computer systems and interaction with people,” she said.

After a technician certificate and a bachelor’s degree, Rochon eventually went on to complete her MBA and be­came the program director of a hospital-based X-ray technology program at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois, in 1994. She moved into leadership roles at Centegra Health System and then to the startup Mercatus Group, which specialized in providing independent physicians an opportunity for real estate, diagnos­tic services and electronic medical records.

“We really focused on keeping indepen­dents independent, so a lot of same passions came through with NOVO as working with that group,” she said.

Rochon went on to the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch until that organization was sold, and then she turned to the Northeast Wisconsin market.

Personal experiences have shaped Rochon’s pathway. In 2013, Rochon’s father passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.

“Just walking through that process and seeing how complicated the health care system is even when you’re a member of the health care system,” Rochon said. “So how do you make that an easier process in a very difficult situation?”

That experience, along with knowing the health care sys­tem wasn’t equipped to handle the growing influx of demen­tia-based diseases, or the spine and orthopedic care needs of a rapidly aging population, led her to pursue a second master’s degree, this time in gerontology.

“I wanted a better understanding of the psychosocial aspects of aging,” Rochon said. “These experiences have influenced me as much as any of the professional roles I’ve had.”

Evolving a system

In her new role, Rochon is working on a number of initia­tives aimed at bolstering both the health of independent providers and the community at large. Part of that is integrating and recruiting new providers, and continuing to develop uni­form quality guidelines and qualifications.

“To this point, we’ve focused everything locally — you know the quality of the organizations you’re working with just by reputation and patient experience,” Rochon said. “To establish guidelines for organizations and markets we aren’t currently a part of is a big undertaking. We’re establishing what that criteria looks like, how we measure it and how we collect that data.”

The patient experience is an essential component of NOVO Health standards. All of its surgery centers are sharply focused on patients, from the time they receive the first phone call from a patient, who can be seen within 24 to 48 hours.

“Once they’re in the system with all of the providers we work with, they’re not lost,” Rochon said. “There’s continuous follow-up and someone there to answer their questions.”

Rochon also is working on a group purchasing plan to help provide a more level ground for the independent providers.

Group purchasing could include infrastructure cost, personal health or medical malpractice insurance or clinic supplies. Leveraging more support on that front helps keep those providers strong.

Rochon also would like to provide a stable platform for electronic health records, access to which has been a point of contention between larger health systems and independent providers, who are often shut out if they don’t give up their independence.

“That’s not good for the community,” Rochon said. “So how can we provide a solution that will allow those organizations to remain indepen­dent?”

Building partnerships

If anyone can find those solutions, it’s Rochon.

“Sandi’s experience is broad — it comes from boots on the ground to strategic planning, and everything in between,” said Dr. Karl Greene of NeuroSpine. “She brings to NOVO not only her competence as a leader and administrator, but also being aware of who people are and how well they fit into a strategy. That is invaluable.”

Rochon’s skills in developing partnerships have success­fully navigated NOVO beyond past tensions between orga­nizations to focus on patient experience. For example, NeuroSpine and Neuroscience Group – NeuroSpine separated from its fellow NOVO founding partner in 2000 – now partner with each other on patient initiatives.

“To be able to come back and partner with them again is exciting, and a great thing for the community,” Rochon said. “It provides the ability for all of the providers to sit down and really talk about the best care for patients.”

NeuroSpine also partners with other physicians within the NOVO network, with the Aurora BayCare system to pro­vide spine surgery and pain management at the Oshkosh Medical Center, and with ThedaCare, which leases space for an MRI machine and in turn leasing time on the MRI.

“Being able to navigate those waters is exciting because we’re able to keep that patient experience moving in the right direction,” Rochon said.