The Ortolano File


  • Executive director, American Society for Health Care Engineering and the American Society for Health Care Risk Management, Chicago.
  • Senior director of customer and member experience, Institute of Real Estate Management, Chicago.
  • Director of external affairs, American Osteopathic Foundation, Chicago.
  • Division of member engagement, American Osteopathic Foundation.


  • American Society of Association Executives, current member.
  • Association Forum, current member.
  • Alzheimer’s Association, junior board member, 2011-2015.


  • Bachelor of arts in community education with a minor in sociology, Illinois State University, Normal, Ill.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ortolano stepped into the role of executive director of the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) and the American Society for Health Care Risk Management last year. This month, she talks with HFM about ASHE’s key strengths, the benefits of membership and how it continues to push the field forward.

How has your previous experience prepared you for the executive director role of two professional membership groups? 

My career in association management has centered around membership growth and program development working with legal, real estate and health care organizations. 

A huge part of being prepared for this line of work is, first and foremost, getting to know your members, and that starts with relationship-building. One of the first things I do when I start at a new organization is identify key people I can talk to and learn from. 

Understanding your members’ needs and being able to work with them to solve problems in the field is crucial to success. You need to know what your members do and what they want, and find ways to make their jobs easier, recognized and respected. 

As the great Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There is power in numbers, and there is power in unity.” 

Organizations like ASHE bring together people from all over the country, with different backgrounds, thoughts and ideas. Having so many people working together really makes a difference. It is our job as association professionals to harness that to help make the field better. 

Also in my previous experience, I have had oversight of certification processes and gone through redesigns of the processes to earn a certification and evaluation of requirements. I’m familiar with the tools necessary to ensure these certifications are valid in the marketplace. Fortunately for ASHE, the American Hospital Association (AHA) Certification Center is designed to help facilitate that process. We cyclically perform testing maintenance and job task analysis research. 

Designing programs and services to meet member needs has been something I have always enjoyed doing and have found great success in. The key is to use the data you collect from your customers to drive your product. Being able to build programming that is valuable to multiple audiences is what makes an organization different than others.  

Each organization I have worked for has made me stronger and given me a solid background to help ASHE grow and become stronger each year. 

How does ASHE help to enrich various career disciplines within its membership while also fostering collaboration? 

ASHE uniquely looks at the facility in a holistic way, and there are so many aspects to this role within a hospital or health system. ASHE has really embraced the fact that planning, design and construction should be integrated within the education that we offer. 

One way we do this is through the Certified Healthcare Constructor (CHC) for those focused on the planning, design and construction process (including facility additions and renovations), and financial stewardship. Also, the Certified Health Care Physical Environment Worker is designed to educate contractors, subcontractors and other workers. 

The International Summit & Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction (PDC Summit) is another great example of how we help enrich this type of education. The PDC Summit brings together thousands of people working in all disciplines of health care planning, design and construction. It is a great opportunity for professionals to share findings and identify solutions to challenges and best practices. 

What are key attributes that have led to ASHE’s position as a leader in the field? 

We couldn’t do what we do as an organization without our members and the wealth of knowledge they possess. The countless hours of teaching, developing resources, speaking, advocating and writing is incredible. 

It is no surprise that ASHE has an above average net promoter score. A net promoter score is designed to give an organization insight as to the likelihood that someone would recommend the organization and/or the service we provide. Our members are ambassadors, teachers and mentors, and they continue to help us grow. Because they are so well trained, they also continue to shine within their organizations, which shows the value. 

Our strategic plan is designed to be our “true north.” One of the items we are really focused on is creating a welcoming environment. By doing this, we are enhancing our offerings, providing more avenues for participation and building our pipeline. The more diversity, the better. We need everyone’s perspective. 

What are some of the issues confronting members today as we move beyond the pandemic years?

Health care is no different than other fields in some of the challenges we are facing today — workforce being a big one. Not only are we seeing individuals with a breadth of deep knowledge retiring, there is also turnover. Having strong succession plans and identifying talent is a huge priority. 

Offering education pathways for individuals to explore career opportunities in facilities management continues to be a priority for ASHE. We are developing a new handbook series designed to be comprehensive in nature, most recently releasing Introduction to Health Care Facilities Management. This resource helps orient newer professionals to help them succeed in their roles. 

Education is key, but ASHE also has a keen eye on how to integrate new professionals to make sure they feel welcome and connected, and receive value. As I mentioned before, often professionals find out about ASHE through our existing members. We are trying new ways of engagement to make sure we’re relevant to existing and new generations. 

Also, ASHE’s dedication to reducing the carbon footprint and supporting more sustainable health care facilities is one we continue to build on. Our resources are tailored for hospitals, which have unique energy needs due to around-the-clock operation and energy-intensive medical equipment. 

ASHE’s Energy to Care Program helps hospitals track sustainability metrics, become more efficient, and redirect energy and water savings toward patient care. Energy to Care challenges, awards, hosted programs and publications raise awareness about the importance of sustainability in health care. ASHE’s efforts have contributed to increased efficiency in hospitals across the country.

How does ASHE stay ahead of these challenges and provide members needed support to navigate new waters? 

I mentioned some of the ways in which we’re addressing these challenges, and I use the word “some” because ASHE has a wealth of resources and education designed to help facilities managers be well-rounded and key contributors to the success of their respective health care settings. 

A couple of ways in which we’re continuing to address the workforce issue is not only helping new professionals find their way, but also opening the door for professionals in tangential roles to consider facilities management as a career choice. 

ASHE also completed an acquisition of the Mechanic Evaluation and Certification for Healthcare (MECH) and is offering it through the AHA Certification Center. One of the most recognized certifications in the field, MECH is a benchmark for evaluating the core skills used by health care maintenance mechanics and technicians. This aligns with our mission in developing the health care physical environment workforce through competency-based education.