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Del. Healthcare Association CEO Smith to step down

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Wayne Smith, president and CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association, will step down from the industry leadership role next year after 15 years with DHA. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER — Wayne Smith, who has been at the helm of the Delaware Healthcare Association for the past 15 years, has announced he will step down in the new year.

As president and CEO of the state’s top hospital trade group, Wayne has served as a chief lobbyist for Delaware’s health care systems when it comes to policy on a state and federal level since 2007. He has also worked with health care systems on statewide safety and quality issues, including serving as a key point person during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith, 60, told the Delaware Business Times it was time to move on based on the advice of a good friend and former ChristianaCare President and CEO Bob Laskowski: everyone should stay in one position for 10 years.

“I’ve overstayed by five. It’s been a great ride, but it’s time to have a change of pace,” Smith said. “I’m not sure what the next chapter is, but I’ll be looking for something challenging and meaningful for the community, that will give me the flexibility to be with those who I love.”

He will continue to serve in an advisory role until February 2023. The Delaware Healthcare Association Board is tasked with hiring his replacement, which would include contracting a headhunting firm for a nationwide search, and could extend beyond Smith’s final days. The board will have the final decision on the next CEO and president.

Smith’s journey to the top trade association’s role was a winding path, as he first started in construction, working his way up to executive vice president role at local leading firm George & Lynch. He later transitioned to a leadership role at financial advisory firm Janney Montgomery Scott. 

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, he juggled his career with a political role, serving as Republican representative for the Brandywine Hundred. There in the statehouse, he too worked his way up the ladder and became House Majority Leader, until he stepped down in 2007 to head the Delaware Healthcare Association.

“Over Wayne’s tenure and with his leadership, we’ve maintained a very positive environment in which to deliver hospital services. Wayne leaves a strong association with dedicated and talented staff,” said Penny Short, the president of TidalHealth Nanticoke Hospital and the chair of the Delaware Healthcare Association board.

Over the past decade and a half, he learned the ropes of where policy intersected with health care, particularly with Medicaid and Medicare. Over time, the association members have contended with payment reform models, pushed by the Affordable Care Act and federal systems to aid with uninsured patients. 

“We’ve gone from a system that had local variations to the ACA, and now we’re really starting to see a broadening of opportunities for providers. We’re seeing telehealth and home visits. We’re seeing health care systems really sit and think about the social issues at play when it comes to health,” Smith said. “The focus over the years, we’ve seen the approach become more on how to prevent patients from going to the hospital in the first place. What care is needed to catch these issues? It’s an evolving landscape.”

Among his proudest moments at the Delaware Healthcare Association, Smith pointed to his role during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it allowed him, the association and its members to carry out some of its most rewarding work.

That work includes establishing a hospital relief fund, launching rapid certified nursing assistant (CNA) training initiatives for National Guard members, and recent efforts to funnel more than 200 licensed nurses to local hospitals during the pediatric RSV and flu surge.

“I got to do things that never would occur in ‘normal’ times… this was important and significant stuff that had to turn on a dime because of crises in front of us. Gov. John Carney and his team have been great partners with these creative and timely actions,” Smith added.

Looking to the future of Delaware’s health care landscape, Smith said the greatest challenge would be the aging demographics.

“Delaware is the fifth oldest state. When people move to Boulder, Colo., it’s usually younger people who will need treatment for a sprained ankle. Here, it’s people in their retirement years that may need a knee replacement,” he said. “The issue of our time will be how to provide expansive treatment but also how to address how high the costs may get.”

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