Doctor named St. Mary’s president

Dr. Brian Davidson discusses his new role as president of St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction. He’s flanked by Knute Knudson, left, chairman of the SCL Health board of directors, and Doug Aden, chairman of the St. Mary’s board of directors (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Dr. Brian Davidson discusses his new role as president of St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction. He’s flanked by Knute Knudson, left, chairman of the SCL Health board of directors, and Doug Aden, chairman of the St. Mary’s board of directors (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Brian Davidson recognized early in his medical training the importance of involving more doctors, nurses and other professionals in decisions about the care they provide.

Along with his other training, Davidson earned a master’s in business administration degree and completed a fellowship in health care administration. He subsequently worked as an anesthesiologist while also taking on leadership roles.

Davidson’s aspiration to work as both a doctor and hospital administrator has been realized in his selection as president of
St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction. He joins a small group of hospital leaders who are also physicians — by one estimate, only 5 percent of top administrators nationwide.

The selection makes permanent the role Davidson had filled since September as both interim president and chief medical officer.

Davidson succeeds Michael McBride, the former chief executive officer of St. Mary’s who resigned to take a position with Catholic Health Initiatives in Houston to serve as president of its suburban hospitals division. A search has begun to find a new chief medical officer at St. Mary’s.

As an administrator, Davidson said he’s eager to take on the challenges of a changing health care industry and the way hospitals are paid for the services they provide. But as a doctor, Davidson said caring for patients remains his top priority. “That’s my focus.”

Davidson joined St. Mary’s as chief medical officer in 2014. He previously worked at the University of Colorado Anschutz medical campus in several positions, including vice chairman of the anesthesiology department and medical director of the operating room.

He earned both a medical degree and MBA from the University of Colorado. He completed an internship in general surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver. He completed a residency in anesthesiology and fellowship in health care administration  at the University of Colorado Hospital.

Davidson was among three finalists considered to become president of St. Mary’s at the conclusion of a national search. The other two finalists were both hospital presidents with experience in multiple positions.

Doug Aden, chairman of the St. Mary’s board of directors, said Davidson demonstrated during his interim duties aptitude, passion and leadership. Moreover,  he was well received by hospital staff and the community, Aden said. “We just began realizing we had the right person right under our nose.”

Knute Knudson, chairman of the board of directors of SCL Health that operates St. Mary’s, agreed. “We thought Brian was clearly the choice.”

Davidson has shown an ability to work with people and address problems collaboratively, Knutson said. He has credibility with other doctors as well as the support of the staff and representatives of organizations in the community with which St. Mary’s works.

Davidson takes over a hospital that over its 120-year history has grown into the largest medical center between Denver and Salt Lake City. St. Mary’s employs a staff of more than 2,000, and 400 physicians provide care in a total of more than 40 specialties.

The top two floors of the 12-story patient tower at St. Mary’s were completed last year. Construction is under way on the 10th and ninth floors, the last of what were initially vacant floors when the tower was erected. At an estimated $65 million, work on the four floors will bring to $340 million the total cost of the Century Project, one of the largest and most expensive in Grand Junction history.

“It’s a nice position to walk into,” Davidson said of a role in which he oversees physicians, staff and facilities that offer what he termed an “unparalleled” level of health care, especially compared to other similarly rural areas.

So it’s a matter of focusing on small, rather than large, changes, he said. “We can focus on being better. … We can move from being very, very good to excellent.”

Providing excellent health care is expensive, though, in terms of paying a skilled work force, buying technologically advanced equipment and providing new medications and therapies, he said.

The health care industry faces a challenge in recouping those costs, Davidson said, when a growing proportion of patients are covered under Medicaid or Medicare and the gap widens between the reimbursement hospitals receive from government programs and private insurance.

Part of the solution will be more collaborative efforts, Davidson said, citing as an example a new health care network in Mesa County named Monument Health. St. Mary’s and Primary Care Partners provide health care services through the network, while Rocky Mountain Health Plans offers health insurance plans for the network to employers as well as families and individuals.

While health care providers have been rewarded in the past for services they provide the sick and injured, the focus and incentives are shifting to a more preventative approach to keeping people healthy, Davidson said. “If people are healthy, we all do better.”