Corner Office: CHI Franciscan Health CEO Ketul J. Patel on connecting your mission to every level of the organization

As CEO of Tacoma, Wash.-based CHI Franciscan Health, Ketul J. Patel works with an eye to the future while keeping the inclusive mission of the health system' 19th century founders top of mind.

Prior to becoming CEO of CHI Franciscan and senior vice president of divisional operations for the Pacific Northwest Region of Catholic Health Initiatives, Mr. Patel served as executive vice president, chief strategy officer and COO at Hackensack (N.J) University Health Network. He also served as vice president of operations for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Magee-Women's Hospital; senior vice president at Franciscan Health Alliance St. James Health in Chicago; and vice president for strategic planning and business development at Sharp HealthCare in San Diego.

Mr. Patel holds master's degrees in health administration and business administration from the University of Pittsburgh, a bachelor's degree from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University, and recently spoke with Becker's to answer our seven "Corner Office" questions.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for length and style

Question: What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

Ketul Patel: My father is a retired internist and my mother, who passed away a few years ago, was also a physician. I was born in Kenya, and in the early part of my life, my parents used to go to remote parts of the country to provide healthcare. I still have vivid memories of the work they did with adults and children, and those things helped shape me as a person. Coming from a medical family, I always wanted to get involved in the healthcare field and that's really what drove my interest.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Tacoma?

KP: I have lived in many parts of the country, from New York City to San Diego and Chicago. They are all glorious cities, but Tacoma and the entire Puget Sound area is majestic; you have the Cascade Mountain Range on one side, the Olympic Mountains on the other with the water surrounding you. I get a chance to get on the water from time to time and I hike when I can. Seeing firsthand how beautiful the environment is from the trails is very special.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

KP: Healthcare leaders are truly here to take care of people, and people trust their lives to us. If I could eliminate all safety and quality problems that affect our patients, I think that would be incredible. At CHI Franciscan, we are focused on that, and our top strategic priority is ensuring we are among the top pioneers in quality, patient safety and patient experience. One of the first things I did here was make sure our entire organization knew that these three measures are our No. 1 priority. We've also introduced a program called Safety First, where we have huddles every morning throughout every part of the organization to go over patient care needs at a unit level and at every outpatient center. That's how we drive patient safety, quality and experience.

Q: What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

KP: Having the ability to see different cultures and backgrounds has given me a different perspective while also keeping me grounded about who I am. I was brought up in a very humble family that was focused on values, and when you also have the ability to see different parts of the world it makes you a better person. That kind of experience has not only helped shape who I am as a person but helped me shape our organization. A diverse set of viewpoints keeps you open to ideas, and to me those are the kinds of skills that have shaped my leadership abilities.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

KP: I have a 25-year-old son who lives in Philadelphia, and I really treasure spending time with him and the rest of my family. I also have a brother who's a cardiac surgeon in Michigan with a family of three. I enjoy living the Northwest lifestyle; I stay active, I eat healthy and I sleep when I can, though it's not always as much as I'd like. The surrounding area is so beautiful I've yet to get up to Mount Rainier, but it's something I want to do in the next year. I also played tennis when I was in college and have picked that up again.

Q: What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

KP: One piece of advice I received is to be open to change, and what I mean by that is to be adaptable and collaborative. In my entire 25 years in healthcare, the one constant is change. There's healthcare reform in different generations, with different philosophies, but change is constant.

When I did my administrative fellowship at the age of 22, the board chairman there told me, 'You need to live your life as an executive on an elevator.' At first, I didn't understand what that meant, but I realized that if you don't find a way to connect to every level of the organization, you're not going to succeed. By doing that you get to know what's really going on with the frontline staff in every part of the organization. As you connect with different parts of the organization, you see different viewpoints.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at CHI Franciscan so far?

KP: There are so many of them, but these aren't really my achievements. We have a great team here and it goes all the way from our front-line staff to our leadership team. One hundred twenty-seven years ago, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia started St. Joseph Medical Center here in Tacoma, and I spend a lot of time with them just to get an idea of who they are and to ensure we are true to their original mission.

Some of our achievements include investing half a billion dollars on service expansion, and we've also forged a partnership with Seattle-based Virginia Mason Medical Center. That partnership will have a huge impact for us. We are anchored in Tacoma in the shadows of Seattle, but we've never really had a presence in Seattle. This partnership allows us to have a presence there, and Virginia Mason brings strong quality, patient experience and outcomes while we bring a lot of geographic scale.

But our biggest achievement as a system is really that I'm so proud of our front-line staff and clinicians, and proud of the work we do every day.

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