Hospital names ‘dynamic leader’ as chief of staff

July 5, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Dr. Lily JungHenson (left) and Anna Jung, 86, arrive at Swedish/Issaquah on June 30 so the chief of staff’s proud mother can visit her daughter’s new office. By Greg Farrar

Dr. Lily JungHenson built a national reputation as a multiple sclerosis expert as innovations in treatment transformed the disease from a death sentence to a more manageable condition.

The longtime neurologist chose the specialty due in part to the challenge as neurology and treatments evolve. Now, JungHenson is about to embark on another challenge as chief of staff at Swedish/Issaquah.

“I’m a big fan of Swedish. It’s evolved into a health-care system that really cares about patients. It’s not just lip service,” she said. “There are a lot of people in leadership positions who want to do the right thing and who are very motivated.”

JungHenson, a Mercer Island resident, is responsible for leading the 200-member medical staff. The chief of staff is responsible for procedures, such as credentialing — evaluating qualifications and practice history — for medical staff members, and ensuring physicians and other health-care professionals gel as a team. (The staff is expected to include about 200 physicians after the entire hospital comes online in November.)

Dr. John Milne, vice president of medical affairs for Swedish/Issaquah and the emergency and ambulatory care centers in Redmond and Mill Creek, said leaders chose JungHenson because she has exceptional people skills.

“Lily, from my perspective, is a passionate, dynamic leader, and is really someone who has the ability to engage, inspire and energize staff,” he said.

The modern hospital, much like MS treatments, has evolved since JungHenson started practicing medicine. For patients, earlier MS diagnoses lead to improved outcomes for patients.

Swedish/Issaquah, hospital executives said in introducing the facility to the community, is meant to do the same for health care.

“It’s about efficiency. It’s about my patients not having to go halfway across town to access the care that they need. I can just walk down the hall and say, ‘Hey, Dr. So-and-so, would you mind seeing my patient?’” JungHenson said. “That’s the provision of continuity of care that is really the core of the patient experience. I’m really excited about it.”

The hospital is built to last for a century. JungHenson can impart a lasting influence on medical staff members for years to come.

“I see my role as developing the culture for the medical staff,” she said. “What does it mean to be part of the medical staff at Swedish/Issaquah?”

Hospital offers high-tech healing

JungHenson joined the hospital system as a physician 21 years ago and, as she built a career, she also experienced Swedish as a patient when she delivered both of her children at the hospital.

The knowledge shaped how she approached the chief of staff role as the Issaquah hospital prepared to open.

“One of the beautiful things about Swedish/Issaquah, which I’m really excited about is, because we’re building a hospital from the ground up and bringing together a new medical staff — some of whom are from the community and have not been traditionally part of Swedish, and some of whom are Swedish employees, like me, and have been for a long time — I think it’s really a wonderful opportunity to tie together a lot of people with talent and grow a wonderful medical staff,” she said.

JungHenson appreciates high-tech — electronic patient records, for instance — and old-fashioned — a compassionate bedside manner — elements in equal measure. Swedish/Issaquah, she said, is meant to combine established practices and innovations in order to speed patients’ healing.

“It’s really exciting the way the hospital has been designed, in that we’re trying to figure out how to most efficiently manage the patient’s course, so that there isn’t redundancy, so that there isn’t waste,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful adventure that we’re going on.”

Wellness is doctor’s focus for patients

Come late summer, just before the season changes to a mushy gray, JungHenson calls on colleagues, patients and others to join the effort to fund MS research.

The fundraiser is no evening-gown-and-black-tie affair. Instead, JungHenson and company pedal across Evergreen State countryside each year for Bike MS as a team called the Swedish Smyelin Babes.

Swedish, of course, is for the hospital, smyelin is a riff on myelin, a nerve insulation destroyed in MS, and babes, JungHenson explained, is a unisex term.

The ride offers a snapshot for patients and colleagues. JungHenson is comfortable as a leader, deploys a playful sense of humor to put patients at ease, and understands how recreation and medicine can — and should — coexist.

“We all have an obligation to be really proactive about taking care of ourselves, making sure that we do all of the preventative health things that we’re supposed to do, like mammograms and colonoscopies and what-not as you get older,” she said.

Similar messages about preventative care underpin discussions between the doctor and patients. Concern sometimes prompts JungHenson to surreptitiously snatch patients’ cigarette packs during appointments.

“I’m shameless,” she said.

JungHenson, a runner in addition to being a longtime cyclist, also encourages patients to put aside excuses and exercise, just as she does.

“It’s not pretty. I’m not a fast runner. I run like a little old lady,” she said. “But it’s all about taking care of yourself.”

‘She turned every stone for me’

JungHenson met Dan McFadden after the Redmond resident returned from a trip to the Amazon last fall.

The neurologist soon confronted a medical mystery. The cause behind McFadden’s inexplicable pain, tingling extremities and rash remained elusive, but JungHenson persevered.

“That jungle is a Petri dish for strange, little pathogens that they may not even test for. She’s really had to search high and low, and has done all kinds of tests on me to look for it,” he said. “We know it’s there, because of the symptoms. We just can’t find the cause of it. She hasn’t given up. She hasn’t said, ‘Well, that’s all I can do.’”

McFadden initially assumed a chigger bite caused the strange symptoms, but the trigger is still unknown. The search for a diagnosis prompted JungHenson to reach out to other specialists.

“She turned every stone for me from a neurological perspective, but also worked to get me in to see an infectious disease doctor and is now taking a look at other possible causes,” he said.

The effort also represents collaboration between doctor and patient.

“I think of the patient-physician interaction as being a place where we figure out what’s going on, come up with a medical explanation for what’s happening and then coming up with a plan that I’m comfortable with but, more importantly, what the patient’s comfortable with,” JungHenson said.

Excelling in ‘a difficult specialty’

Such challenges led JungHenson to consider a career in neurology and specialize in MS. Neurology is a complicated field, and she also treats dementia, encephalopathy and stroke patients.

“My first very patient in my neurology rotation as a medical resident at Northwestern University in Chicago was a multiple sclerosis patient,” she recalled.

Then, little more than 20 years ago, MS diagnoses represented a worst-case scenario. No Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments for the disease existed.

“Neurology is a difficult specialty. The whole gist of what we do is, we figure out where the problem is, where the lesion is. In multiple sclerosis, because you have multiple lesions, it becomes very, very complicated,” JungHenson said. “As a young medical student trying to learn neurology, I was totally overwhelmed by this patient. It really was a very hard patient for me to figure out and learn how to take care of.”

The options later expanded for MS patients. Nowadays, physicians can offer eight FDA-approved therapies for the disease. Even as treatments entered the marketplace, nothing can substitute for patient empowerment and knowledge — tenets JungHenson advocates to patients.

“I take care of some very amazing people who, despite their disability, have really conquered their disease mentally,” she said. “I get a lot of motivation and inspiration from my patients.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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