Akron General Welcomes Experienced Chief Nurse With Diverse Background

Patient-centered leader has a passion for high reliability

Cleveland Clinic Akron General’s new chief nursing officer (CNO), Kelli Saucerman-Howard, DNP, RN, has spent much of her nearly 35-year healthcare career in leadership positions.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services Policy

Her experience has taught her that successful leadership requires a few core skills, including transparency, visibility and active listening. “Nurse leaders are most effective when they round on staff to hear firsthand what caregivers feel is important,” she says. “Caregivers appreciate having the opportunity to connect with hospital leaders.”

Some of the strategies Saucerman-Howard employs include meeting new nurses at orientation and during their residency training, holding CNO huddles during shift changes, and hosting “Koffee with Kelli,” one-on-one conversations that encourage caregivers to share thoughts, ideas and solutions.

In her first weeks as Akron General’s CNO, Saucerman-Howard has spent many hours meeting and connecting with nursing staff while rounding on inpatient units and at outpatient facilities.

“Akron General has a great atmosphere and culture,” she says. “I love the energy of our caregivers. There’s a real sense of commitment to the community and our patients.”

She is also holding meetings with her new leadership team, including meet-and-greets with nurse managers and weekly nurse director meetings.

“I’m very relational and collaborative,” Saucerman-Howard says. “When I make my nurse executive council agendas, I keep things interactive and engaging. Everyone is charged with bringing something to the table, and we continually have dynamic conversations.”

Advertising Policy

Analyzing current and future states

Saucerman-Howard comes to Cleveland Clinic from Creighton University Medical Center – Bergan Mercy in Omaha, Neb., where she served as CNO and vice president of patient care services for four years. Embracing her new role, she says her current priority is determining the needs of her nursing team. In addition to rounding, she is using shared governance and meet-and-greet events to capture nurses’ thoughts and opinions.

Long-term, she aims to drive Akron General forward on its high-reliability journey. Saucerman-Howard says her passion for helping healthcare organizations meet their reliability goals was ignited in 2013 when she read the Chassin and Loeb article, “High-Reliability Health Care: Getting There from Here.” “Assessing an organization’s culture of safety by utilizing the framework in that article as a roadmap resonated with me,” she explains.

With extensive experience on the topic, Saucerman-Howard is an expert in care quality and patient safety. At Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, she was executive director of patient safety and reliability, and directed patient safety and reliability initiatives, projects and processes at four acute care hospitals. Since arriving at Cleveland Clinic, she says she has been impressed with the health system’s culture of safety.

“Cleveland Clinic’s commitment to quality care is evident through leadership engagement, process improvement initiatives and confirmation, and the ongoing high-reliability training that occurs across the enterprise,” Saucerman-Howard says. “I look forward to helping Akron General continue to create exceptional patient outcomes and experiences.”

Shaping the next generation

Patient-centered decision-making is something Saucerman-Howard keeps at the forefront of her leadership strategy. She also finds great value in developing lifelong learning routines. When mentoring new nurse leaders, she encourages them to lean on the wisdom found in leadership books and share their findings with those they lead.

“Reviewing articles with your team can inspire robust discussions and spark innovation and creativity,” Saucerman-Howard says. “The process can also provide new leaders with the tools they need to develop in their leadership journey.”

Advertising Policy

Throughout her career, Saucerman-Howard has had several mentors who have fostered her career growth. She now aims to do the same for others.

“Having a positive influence on the next generation of healthcare leaders is one way that I can give back to the profession,” she says. “When someone can give you advice based on their own personal experiences, you can use that guidance to forge your own path. The great thing about nursing is that everyone’s path is different.”

In addition to finding at least one mentor, Saucerman-Howard encourages nurses to join local and national professional organizations and get involved in the communities they serve.

“One of my mentors encouraged me to expand my participation to a national organization, and it has proven to be one of the most impactful professional development experiences of my career,” she says. “I’ve met thought leaders from around the world, collaborated on ways to impact health equity locally and nationally, and developed a network of extraordinary colleagues who provide invaluable support.”

Saucerman-Howard serves on the board of the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research and lends her expertise to the Gallup CNO roundtable, the Beryl Institute nurse executive council and other organizations.

“I recommend nurses talk to colleagues who have served on a national board, find out how they can participate, and follow their passion,” she adds.