Meet the new CEO of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- To say this Newsmaker has one of the most important and far-reaching jobs in the Piedmont would probably be an understatement.

Dr. Julie Freischlag is the new chief executive officer of the Piedmont Triad’s largest employer, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

It’s her job to -- among other things -- make sure the medical center’s nearly 13,500 employees have what they need to do their jobs and do them well, that thousands of patients get the medical care they need, that the medical school is educating future doctors and that the institution is at the forefront of medical research and innovation.

She’s also a nationally-recognized vascular surgeon who has also worked as an administrator at Johns Hopkins and the University of California Davis. So she’s not intimidated by WFBMC’s size.

“No, Hopkins was that size,” she told me during a recent interview. “And actually I think is what’s great about this is then people have more access.”

Patient access is something that’s been a big story for the medical center in recent years. It’s opened up new facilities in places like Clemmons and Davie County. It purchased Cornerstone Health Care of High Point last year. Most recently, it joined forces with the Wilkes Regional Medical Center in North Wilkesboro.

“Patients and their families would like their care close to home,” she said.

But like most hospitals across the country, Wake Forest Baptist is having to do more with less. The care it didn’t get reimbursed for last year was more than $15.7 million as a result of treating patients covered by Medicare, Medicaid and other programs.

And given the fact that health care reform appears to be in a state of flux right now, I asked what she, as a CEO, would like to get from Washington.

“I think we need to come to one place where I think health care is a right in this country. It’s not a privilege,” she said. “So each state needs to figure out how they’re going to deliver health care to everyone in their state. And it’s going to be different from state to state. I’ve practiced in multiple states.”

“How are we going to make that happen? And then looking at preventative ways, how can you reimburse us for preventative ways to prevent illness so we can stay healthy.”

Continuing to look for and support new revenue streams -- like the work happening at the WFBMC’s Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem -- will be a priority. Here, products like new vaccines are researched, developed and sold to private companies which get them to patients’ bedsides faster.

“I never want [people] to say 10 years from now I forgot about innovation,” she said. “And research is the piece that’s going lead to something new that we do. And patients need to know that maybe it won’t affect them. But it could affect their children, their grandchildren that we came up with something new.”

“And it also gives you hope. It really makes everybody know that we’re leading to something new and different. And hope is really why we come to work every day.”

To read more about Dr. Julie Freischlag, click here.