Over the years and through fiscal ups and downs, the goal of Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) has always been to strengthen communities through bold outreach services and holistic programs for vulnerable populations.
It has been helping older adults with mental illness, children, youth, and adults with developmental disabilities and homeless recovery since 1955. It also provides workforce development training as well as a varietyof clinical services, including: psychological testing, behavior modification planning, individual and family therapy, and psychiatric care.
This is a mission that Linda Little is committed to upholding since being named president and chief executive officer of NSO in 2018. A native Detroiter who hails from the eastside, Little, who succeeded Sheila Clay once she retired after 22 years at the Detroit nonprofit, has a record of service that is second to none.
Little’s career in the healthcare industry spans more than 20 years. She is a registered nurse, with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Detroit Mercy and a Master of Business Administration in Development from Wayne State University.
Described by those who have worked alongside her as a strong, focused, and effective leader but equally impressive is how Little is able to meld the businessof healthcare with humanity and genuine care for people. This no doubt can be attributed to her time as a Critical Care/Trauma Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse where she undoubtedly had to make tough decisions on a daily basis.
“Linda is a rare find. She has the heart of the nurse, a profession she CHOSE over attending medical school. She consciously made the choice to serve patients,” said Ramona Pearson former interim chief financial officer for NSO. “This is important to note because servant leadership is the ultimate form of leadership any organization (especially a nonprofit) could have. Linda believes, as I do, that the leaders who get the most out of their people are the leaders who care the most about their people.”
As a nurse in the intensive care unit Little saw people affected by trauma on a daily basis and learned how to care for them, how to lessen the pain of their experience whether it be through administering medication or just talking to them. The time spent in ICU strengthened her compassion, a trait for which she has become well known.
“Nursing is where I learned the holistic approach to caring for others. It taught me a sense of humility and respect for any and every person that I was honored to touch. This work really resonated with my core values and encouraged humanity looking at the spiritual nature as well as the physical nature and every aspect”
Little would eventually leave the midnight nursing shifts behind and move on to case management where she gained more insight into the greater impact she could have. This would lead to a series of career moves throughout the healthcare industry that afforded her the opportunity to learn various facets of healthcare and healthcare management. Little was the Chief Clinical Officer of Total Health Care where she implemented a population health management strategy to improve health outcomes and operational efficiency.
Before joining Total Health Care, Little held several leadership positions at Tenet-Detroit Medical Center. She served as Regional Vice President, Care Management & Utilization Management, where she was responsible for system integration of services to optimize services and revenues. She was also actively involved in preparing the DMC for notable changes in the Affordable Care Act. Little developed and cultivated a care continuum strategy for the organization which now serves as system-wide Transitions of Care program and a platform for its ACO. She also served as the project lead for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation’s (CMMI) Bundled Payment for Care Improvement Initiative.
Although fairly new to the role of president and CEO, Little is very familiar with the NSO havingserved as chief strategy officer and served as board member for almost 10 years.
Considered by many as one of the most talented, results-driven executives in the health and human service industry today, Little is proof that collaborative, inspiring leadership can overcome any obstacle.
And obstacles are just what Little encountered upon taking the reins at NSO. According to the CEO report, some of the things she had to contend with were the departure of a long-tenured executive team, 22 percent employee vacancy rate (50+ open positions), uncertainty with Clay project due to the Illitch’s reversal of the Tumaini sale, mandated shift in business model from majority funder which was 70 percent of revenue, and last but not least of all the NSO had been running at a deficit for 3 years.
“Linda is especially good at seeing what is on the horizon and effecting plans and actions to assure NSO is not left behind in the competition for mental health and broader healthcare dollars,” said Pearson. “For example, upon learning that certain services were being billed at less than cost, Linda got on the phone, called the CEO of the organization being billed and simply expressed the need to bill more appropriate and ‘voila!’ rates were adjusted and deficits were gone. Upon learning that billable tasks were occurring and not being timely billed, she presented the facts to the unit leader and gave them the opportunity to address the issue, [in a] timely [manner], and execute the job responsibly and properly. “
In less than a year the NSO is now operating with asurplus of $1.5 millionunder Little’s leadership. It has narrowed the employee vacancy rate significantly from 22 percent to 6 percent. The Clay Project was split into two phases to make it more manageable. With Phase I (Apartments) to open by summer 2020, and Phase II (Housing Assistance and Service Center) anticipated to be completed by summer 2021.
“Linda possesses the skills necessary to take NSO into a new day. She is a connector, she understands the [importance of] having open communication among leadership, staff and the board”, says NSO board member and Developing Partner of Karasi Development, Dr. Ray C. Johnson. “She was able to make such notable strides because she knows the importance of collaborative relationships. I am very excited about her plans for the NSO going forward.”
Little is not stopping there. She has crafted, and is currently executing, her 3- year strategic plan and has also adopted a truly holistic care model that is aimed at eliminating the hurdles that prevent people from living their best lives.
Studies have shown that your zip code absolutely determines your life span. The social determinants of health have shown that the health promoting factors found in one’s living and working conditions (such as the distribution of income, wealth, influence, and power) rather than individual risk factors (such as behavioral risk factors or genetics) influence the risk for a diseaseor vulnerability to injury. Many social programs are changing their approach in hopes of changing the narrative.
Little knows the data well and is steadfast in working to improve the conditions of the population serviced by NSO.
“We are addressing the social determinants of health. Its been statistically proven when people have so many compounding issues that they face every day, their priority is not their health. We are focused on addressing those barriers,” said Little. “My role is to develop and deliver a holistic model of care so that we are using our experience to address social determinants to improve the health education and economic stability of our communities.”
Little’s tireless commitment to the well-being of others is what has driven her desire to stay in Detroit. “It is vital that I work in service of my community and focus on the issues that concern them and find ways to do my part to advance the community at large.”
It seems that Little has established that NSO needs new solutions in order to meet the ever-changing needs of the community. A champion of the “we can do this” style of thinking, she is showing no signs of slowing down as she looks to grow with the possibilities turning into realities.