Corner Office: Saint Alphonsus Health System CEO Odette Bolano on the importance of taking calculated risks

Odette Bolano, BSN, has served as president and CEO of Boise, Idaho-based Saint Alphonsus Health System since August 2018, and she oversees a five-hospital system with nearly 6,100 employees in two states.

Previously, Ms. Bolano served as president of Boise-based Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and before that, as senior vice president of Kaiser Permanente–East Bay in Oakland, Calif. She also held senior executive positions as president and CEO of St. Joseph Health System in Bryan, Texas, and COO of Carondelet Health Network in Tucson, Ariz.

Throughout her career, Ms. Bolano said she has learned how failure can lead to self-reflection and how healthcare workers make incredible sacrifices to care for patients.  

Here, Ms. Bolano answers Becker's Hospital Review's seven Corner Office questions.

Editor's Note: Responses have been lightly edited.

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

Odette Bolano: I grew up in a household with many people in the medical field. My father is a retired physician. I have many uncles who are physicians. My mother was a medical lab director, and so was her sister. I grew up in a sea of passionate people who wanted to serve. 

Sometimes you're molded by what you experience as a child and growing up. I have two brothers who are doctors — one's an orthopedic surgeon, the other's a dentist. My son is in his fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta. 

There's always been a great yearning to serve in the most personal way, providing compassion, empathy and maybe, at times, impacting people in the most profound way. I think that's what drew me to be in healthcare. I'm a nurse by background. I went into nursing and wanted to be at the bedside to understand from a front-line perspective what it was to be a clinician.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Boise?

OB: The people. Treasure Valley is filled with incredibly friendly, genuine people who meet the definition of what we think a community is. People caring for each other, engaging in activities to serve each other and to serve the community. 

I also enjoy the four seasons and this beautiful topography that this part of the country has to offer. I think I have been blessed building one of the best leadership teams I've ever had. It's quite an honor to serve with them, alongside incredibly dedicated physicians and colleagues. You can feel the commitment to the legacy and our mission when you walk through any of our facilities. It feels different, and I think that's because of the makeup of the community and what the community strives to do.

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

OB: Systemic racism really impacts healthcare. It creates disadvantages for so many and doesn't give them the opportunity to thrive and explore their full potential. If we could solve this overnight, we'd be such a different country.

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

OB: I think being a woman who has great conviction to achieve is what has allowed me to be successful in my career.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

OB: Self-reflection. I enjoy my alone time, but I also enjoy learning from others, especially my two children who are now young adults experiencing life very differently than how I experienced it. 

I love to read and travel. I also have a large extended family that is important to me, that gives me a lot of energy when I'm able to go visit them, primarily in Texas. I think those are the things that help ground me.

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

OB: To move forward, you must be able to take calculated risk, and be willing to fail. Most important lessons in life, and in your professional life, are coming back from a failure and how you choose to respond to that failure. You learn a lot about yourself when you reflect on how you managed a situation, what you learned about yourself and others, but especially about yourself and how it molds you for the next challenge.

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Saint Alphonsus?

OB: How our colleagues have risen to the occasion and the challenge of giving all they can to take care of this community we serve with compassion, grace and understanding, and at times even sacrificing themselves. It's a humbling experience to witness and see what this incredible team has been able to accomplish for this community in the last 60-plus weeks.  


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