Q&A:  Award-winning CEO on Running a Small Hospital

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , December 5, 2012

HLM: What changed at VVMC when you took over as CEO?

"We had a strategic planning meeting with the board about the time I was transitioning from chief medical officer to CEO. They came out of this big session with a big (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis which said that people weren't nice, service wasn't good, quality was low, the community doesn't think we have a good product.

They said 'let's go out and develop service lines and new marketing.' I basically said 'OK,' and then transitioned and said 'no we aren't going to do that. We need to improve all of these other things first. It matters much more.' So it was a 180-degree turn really from where we were going before."

HLM: What special skills are needed to be an effective leader at a smaller hospital?

"It is imperative that you are—and it sounds cliché—a man or a woman of the people. That includes all of the constituents of the hospital as well as the community. It means trying to walk a day in their shoes. I spent a lot of time just walking around, being in different departments and in different areas of the community. Not there to preach or orate, but to listen and get to know people on a personal level.

That is an advantage in a smaller hospital. I have about 800 employees in total and I may not know all their first names but I recognize all of them, talk to all of them, have conversations about their children, about the community, about sports, or whatever happens to be their interest.

But it's about their interests. Not 'Hey I'm Dr. Bleicher, CEO. What are you doing for me?' It was totally flipping it. Obviously if you have 5,000 employees that makes it a lot more difficult. But if you only have 800 you need to do that."

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