Corner Office: Erik G. Wexler, CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health, Southern California Region

Erik G. Wexler has held senior leadership positions at several major health systems, but it was only upon arriving at Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health that he understood how a faith-based mission can treat patients beyond their physical needs.

Mr. Wexler joined Providence in 2016 a regional chief executive. Providence operates 51 hospitals across seven states, with 13 hospitals in the Southern California Region. He previously served as CEO of Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare's Northeast Region, worked for Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanguard Health System, and was senior vice president of LifeBridge Health System in Baltimore.

Mr. Wexler earned his bachelor's degree and master's degree in business administration from the University of Hartford in Connecticut. He recently spoke with Becker's and answered 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?

Erik Wexler: When I was in college, I was a security officer at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Conn. I often worked in the emergency department and saw firsthand the vulnerability and fear of people in need. I felt compelled to help. I imagined each person I saw was my own loved one and that I would do anything possible to comfort them. So I have dedicated a large part of my life to helping others as a way of giving back to those in my community and to society in general.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Southern California?

EW: We love California. My wife Stephanie and I have two little dogs that we often go out walking and hiking with because the weather is always pretty predictable here. What we find special about California is the lifestyle. It is not a sedentary lifestyle. There's a lot of great restaurants to go to, but there's a lot of great sites to see within an hour or two of Los Angeles. It's one of the best places we've lived in all of our lives.

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

EW: I think I would eliminate the conflict between payers and providers. I have no doubt both parties desire to exceed the expectations of those they're responsible for, but efforts to drive down costs have still not resulted in alignment and shared incentives. From my perspective, our collective goal should be to keep people healthy and out of the hospital while working together to deliver care closer to home, mostly in the ambulatory setting. Care can even be provided in the household itself.

Q: What is your greatest talent or skill outside the C-Suite?

EW: Well I'm a fitness freak, so I work out about five days a week. I like to keep my body in motion, whether it's hiking, biking, walking my dogs or even running errands. Stephanie is a cancer survivor, so we learned about the threat of serious illness. The benefit of a scary experience like that is that it has inspired us to keep ourselves healthy, eat well and use fitness and exercise as a way of having balance and mental health as well.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

EW: We own a 42-foot motor home, and one of the ways we revitalize ourselves is by going into national parks or far-off places and completely disconnecting. When I'm on vacation, I do not answer business emails. I turn that off and count on others to make sure everything carries forward in an appropriate fashion. I think revitalization is only achieved when you can fully dedicate your time to yourself and your loved ones. So the RV gives me the opportunity to explore the Western United States and keep myself balanced.

We got the RV when we moved to the West Coast. We used to rent RVs when we lived in the Northeast, but one of the beauties of living in Southern California is you get to really use an RV year-round. We just came back from Albuquerque, N.M.

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

EW: The most important piece of advice I have gotten was over 30 years ago from a man by the name of John DiBella, who was chairman and CEO of a major bank in Connecticut. I was just a young professional at the time and had the opportunity to visit with him in his office. At the end of the meeting, he offered one piece of advice, which is this: No matter who calls you or writes to you, respond to them within 24 hours or less.

If you do that, it will show them the respect that they deserve and boost their opinion of you and in your professionalism. So for the past 30-plus years, every phone call, email and letter that I get — no matter who it's from — is responded to within 24 hours or less, unless I'm on vacation. If I'm on vacation, there is a note that says I'll get back to you when I return.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Providence St. Joseph so far?

EW: The challenge of bringing together Providence Health and Services and St. Joseph Health in Southern California was an extraordinary achievement for my entire team. This is not something that one individual can do on their own. Everybody has to want unity. I would say in 2018, that was certainly a highlight. On a personal note, my own achievement has been understanding our faith-based mission. It is important not only for delivering compassionate care, but for giving patients and caregivers the spiritual opportunity to fully connect with well-rounded, whole-person care.

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