5 questions with outgoing AtlantiCare CEO David Tilton

After 29 years of service at Egg Harbor Township, N.J.-based AtlantiCare, a member of Geisinger Health System, President and CEO David P. Tilton retired June 30. Mr. Tilton recently shared his "retirement" plans with Becker's Hospital Review.

He will be joining the Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System executive leadership team as executive vice president and chief integration officer.

"Since AtlantiCare's joining ceremony with Geisinger in October, I have been drawn to Dr. Feinberg's leadership as well as his plans for the future," said Tilton of David Feinberg, MD, president and CEO, Geisinger Health System. "I've also enjoyed being a member of the Geisinger leadership team. In my new role, I will work with the Geisinger family to lead the performance excellence efforts and contribute to the further development of the Geisinger leadership system."

A leader who is truly committed to lifelong learning and personal development, Mr. Tilton has shepherded AtlantiCare through many momentous achievements, including strategic, robust growth and expansion and receipt of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2009, the nation's highest presidential award for quality.

Mr. Tilton has served in various key roles throughout his tenure with AtlantiCare. He became president in CEO in 2007, succeeding his mentor, George Lynn. Previously, Mr. Tilton served as AtlantiCare's executive vice president and COO since 2005 after working for 12 years as president of both AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center campuses.

Lori Herndon, RN, AtlantiCare's executive vice president and AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center president and CEO, will succeed Mr. Tilton.

Here, Mr. Tilton took the time to answer Becker's Hospital Review's five questions.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

1. What are you most proud of during your tenure at AtlantiCare?

The Baldrige Award has been a part of our life for the last decade. Receiving that award in 2009 was a pretty proud moment for our organization because it reflected the hard work, commitment and learning by everyone that works here. The Baldrige Award is the pinnacle of the quality measures in our country. It's been an outstanding achievement by us and we're proud of that.

It's had such a positive impact. We see it in our patient outcomes, as well as the work environment. When I look back, one of the things I've focused so hard on is creating a work environment that people enjoy. We have a remarkable culture that allows people to thrive.

2. If there is one thing you could change or do over again, what would it be and why?

I would have joined a learning organization like AtlantiCare earlier in my career. I didn't understand those kinds of things when I was younger. Learning organizations can change the direction of your career, challenge you to think differently, offer you personal development and hold you accountable. I've had some conversations with my own sons to provide them guidance in terms of the direction of their careers and where they might work.

Over the past 20 years, we've made learning part of our leadership system. We challenge ourselves to become better. The way we do that is by learning together. We do 360-degree evaluations and offer leadership development programs to drive the mindset of servant leadership throughout the enterprise. You don't stop learning when you get out of college — it's the beginning of the next phase of learning at work

3. If you could impart any single piece of wisdom or advice to budding healthcare executives, what would it be?

The main thing I would say is lead with humility and try to demonstrate every day how much you care about the people who work in your organization. My experience has shown me if you do that, your entire team and organization will help you succeed. They need to know their leader cares.

As the hospital business gets larger and more complex, you run the risk of losing sight of the most important purpose we have — serving patients. Get close to patients as much as possible, look them in the eyes, listen to them very carefully and pay attention to their needs. Walk in their shoes. You can grow stronger and more vision-focused by spending time with patients.

Another piece of advice: If you get the chance to manage your kid's little league team, do it. Our work can consume everything we do. You can't recreate those moments. My own son has found the time to manage his kid's little league team. You can create that correct essential balance in your life; work will always be there, but that little league team won't be.

4. What is your fondest memory of your career? 

I have many, but the moment I remember most clearly, that will stay with me forever, was when Vice President Biden presented us with the Baldrige Award. Many friends, board members and staff were in the audience, and we also had hundreds of our staff watching a live broadcast of my acceptance speech back home. We had viewing stations set up at the hospitals and ambulatory sites. As I was looking into the camera, I spoke to the staff. I thought about how they worked so hard to make this possible, and how even though we were hundreds of miles apart, we were sharing that moment together.

5. What do you plan to do after June 30 in addition to your new role with Geisinger? 

I plan on spending more time with my family because they're beginning to be spread out across the country, as well as with my friends. I also plan to continue learning and growing as a person and as a leader. Then I'll also find other ways to give back to my community.

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