Living Like a Leader: A day with CHI Franciscan CEO Ketul Patel

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"There's a piece of advice I received from a board chairman when I started my career: to live your life like you're riding an elevator … he told me if you want to be a successful executive, you must live your life in an elevator, so you are connecting at every level of the organization."

Ketul Patel holds two healthcare executive roles, that require him to travel often. However, he must also ensure that organizational goals are addressed locally.

This is not always easy, but he has developed methods of finding balance and navigating the day-to-day pressures.

Mr. Patel serves as CEO of Tacoma, Wash.-based CHI Franciscan and senior vice president of divisional operations for CommonSpirit Health. Mr. Patel has executive oversight and leadership over the Pacific Northwest Division which comprises CHI Franciscan — one of Washington state's largest health systems — and two hospitals in Oregon.

Mr. Patel is responsible for 13 acute care facilities, more than 200 primary and specialty care clinics and a clinically integrated network. Across those facilities, Mr. Patel oversees more than 12,000 employees, including 4,000 providers.
Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health is one of the nation's largest nonprofit health systems, formed through the merger of San Francisco-based Dignity Health and Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives.

Before joining CHI Franciscan, Mr. Patel was 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 spoke with Becker's Hospital Review for our "Living Like a Leader" series, which examines the daily routines of influential decision-makers to offer readers an idea of how they manage their energy, teams and time.

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

Question: What's the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Ketul Patel: In the morning I like to spend time going to the gym and getting a good workout in or making myself breakfast. From there, I get caught up on the national news and what's happening in our organization to make sure my day flows in a productive way.

Q: Do you get any work done before you get to the office?

KP:  I  usually scan all my emails [before getting into the office] and  the top news, particularly from Becker'’s and other news organizations.  

Q: What's the first thing you do when you get to work?

KP: When I'm here in Tacoma, I come into the office and catch up with most of my executive team to find out if there's anything major going on in their divisions, and secondly, I spend time with my assistant Ruth to make sure we have a good cadence for the day. At the same time, if events have shifted in my schedule from the day before, we catch up to make sure things are moving in the right direction.

Q: Is there anything that makes your physical office setup unique?

KP:  When I first started at CHI Franciscan, I wanted our regional execs to be in one office. Many of them were scattered in different parts of our system, but I felt it was important for us to build a cohesive team and for us to be together. Along those lines, I purposely put myself right in the center of our team [logistically], so there are a lot of opportunities for discussions and conversations to occur throughout the day.

The other thing we've done is, every single one of our offices has glass or windows, which I think promotes transparency to the organization and anybody who is visiting. Those  implemented design elements were  very intentional.

Q: How much of your time is spent with direct reports?

KP: I think that ebbs and flows depending on the day. I have so many meetings during the day, and many of them include my direct reports. I have an agenda meeting with each of my direct reports once a month. There's [also] a lot of discussion that regularly occurs because of how our office is set up.

Q: How much time do you spend with your clinical staff?

KP: I have two roles requiring me to travel sometimes. [But] I tend to round as much as I can. There's a piece of advice I received from a board chairman when I started my career: to live your life like you're riding an elevator. I didn't quite understand what he meant by that, and he told me if you want to be a successful executive, you must live your life in an elevator, so you are connecting at every level of the organization. If you're able to really relate to front-line staff, management and board members, you'll be able to lead the organization much more effectively. So I make a point to round as often as I can.

Q: What do you like to have done before lunch?

KP: My schedule is different every single day. Because we're part of a national system, there are times we have conference calls occurring in four different time zones, which can take me all the way to lunch. Typically, in the morning we want to make sure that if there are any big issues needing our attention, we address them early in the day.

Q: How do you think your routine differs from that of other healthcare executives?

KP: Most people in my role as CEO are usually focused in one region, while my division covers both the states of Washington and Oregon. I also have to travel for national meetings in San Francisco and Chicago.

Q: What would you say is the hardest part of your day?

KP: Many of us have days full of meetings that are back-to-back, and I think that becomes challenging because sometimes I don't have the ability to have "heads-up" time to truly think through important issues without interruptions. For me, that's probably the hardest part of any day.

Q: What's the most rewarding part of your day?

KP: My 26-year-old son, Dane, is getting married this summer. We're just ecstatic about the young lady, Eleni, who is coming into our lives and who is already a daughter to me. Getting so close to the wedding, it's truly been fun for me to be part of their journey. On any given day, connecting with them is so rewarding.

Q: How do you like to unwind when you get home?

KP: If I haven't worked out in the morning, then I make sure to exercise at night. It revitalizes me, and I've committed to fitness as part of my lifestyle. I'm also learning to cook and eat healthy meals. Additionally, because I'm on the West Coast and most of my family is on the East Coast, if I'm home early enough, I'll spend some time connecting with them.

Also, the Pacific Northwest offers a great lifestyle, and when I’m home, I enjoy the outdoors, the restaurants, and the different sites throughout the Puget Sound.


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