Dr. Karen Duncan is taking JPS Health Network into the future

Dr. Karen Duncan describes the past three years at JPS Health Network in two words: “a roller coaster.” She was named COO of the Tarrant County Safety System on the eve of the pandemic in January 2020. By the end of 2021, she was promoted to president and CEO – becoming the first woman and first black person to lead the network .

Duncan’s new role came with major adjustments. “The biggest learning curve for me was starting to understand the outside environment at the national, state and local level,” she says. Duncan immediately began increasing public engagement, addressing public health and policy and community needs while remaining focused on the employee and patient experience within the health network.

At the helm of JPS, which was founded in 1877, Duncan oversees an extensive system of 25 clinics and a flagship hospital in the Fort Worth medical area with 582 beds and more than 1.7 million annual patient visits. JPS was recently named the best hospital in the country by Washington Monthly for quality care and community access. Duncan, who began her career as a pediatrician (see sidebar), comes to Fort Worth after leadership positions at community hospital systems in Atlanta and Chicago. Most of her roles have been in safety net systems that provide health care to individuals regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

As a woman who came of age amid desegregation and the expansion of women’s rights, Duncan says she feels right at home at JPS, working primarily with uninsured patients to help expand access to health care for the underserved. . “I grew up in a time where you had to fight for where you were,” says Duncan. “I developed the skills that allow me to sit at the table with others and be part of a more inclusive environment.”

In Chicago, Duncan says she learned how to work with strong labor unions, but in Texas her focus is on how public policy affects care delivered in health systems. Politics has affected issues like Medicaid expansion in Texas, and one of Duncan’s biggest challenges is understanding how entities outside the hospital affect the care provided inside.

Although she’s only been with the system for three years, Duncan says she’s found the good part of the pandemic in how it broke down the walls between silos between hospital systems and forced her to foster stronger relationships within the health care community. “We had to rely on others to make things move as fast as they needed to,” she says.

The question now is how to reset, says Duncan. As hospital operations return to normal and the pandemic becomes less of an issue, JPS and other health systems are looking at what they want to keep from the changes made by COVID-19. Increased telehealth with home monitoring of heart failure and diabetes patients are pandemic-era changes that Duncan believes will continue to impact JPS.

Looking ahead, the health care worker shortage is paramount, especially given the explosive growth in North Texas that has tested the capacity of the health care system and diverse patient populations. “I would love to see all the hospital systems come together and partner to understand what the needs are in Tarrant County so that we become more of an integrated health system,” she says.


Will is a senior editor at D chief executive officer magazine and editor of D CEO Healthcare. He has written about health care…

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