St. Mary’s new marathon man: Hospital CEO takes long-term view

Michael McBride, the new president and CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, oversees an operation that includes helicopter transportation for emergency care.

Michael McBride frequently finds himself on the run — whether its keeping pace with a hectic schedule as a hospital administrator or training to compete in his next marathon.

One thing has everything to do with the other.

Outside of work, McBride runs to relieve stress and stay fit. But there’s also some perspective to be gained from running long distances that applies to running a hospital, he says: “We’re in this for the long haul. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

McBride takes a similar view as the new president and chief executive officer of St. Mary’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center in Grand Junction. Health care reforms, an aging population and advances in medical technology all portend changes in the ways

St. Mary’s cares for patients, he says. At the same time, substantially expanded facilities and a collaborative approach with other health care providers has positioned the hospital to serve Western Colorado over the long term.

McBride says a 20-year career in the health care industry has taught him the ultimate goal remains unchanged: “If we put the patient’s best interest in mind, that will help us make the right decision.”

McBride began his latest role in late September, succeeding Robert Ladenburger as only the second lay administrator at St. Mary’s in the more than 100-year history of a hospital founded by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kan. Ladenburger served as president and CEO of St. Mary’s for more than a decade before leaving in early 2010 to assume the same role with Exempla Health Systems in Denver. The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System also operates the Exempla system and its three Denver-area hospitals.

McBride brings to his duties more than 20 years of experience in the health care industry, including a stint as regional vice president and administrator of two hospitals in San Antonio. He also served as chief operating officer of a health care system in Paris, Texas, and held executive leadership positions with other medical centers in Texas and Arkansas.

McBride trained to become a health care administrator while attending college. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Baylor University in Waco, Texas as well as a master’s degree in health care administration from Trinity University in San Antonio. He completed an administrative residency program at Methodist Hospitals in Dallas.McBride says the administrative residency program familiarized him with every department of a hospital and prepared him well for his career.

McBride initially considered going to medical school. But he determined through career counseling that if was going to work in health care, it should be as an administrator rather than a doctor. “It felt like a good fit.”

After 20 years, it still does, he says. In fact, he considers his work something of a calling. “It has a real sense of mission and purpose.” He says he’s especially enjoyed working in nonprofit Catholic health care systems that emphasize a ministry of healing.

After eight years of overseeing two hospitals in San Antonio, McBride says the opportunity to come to St. Mary’s in Grand Junction offered a welcome change. “I was looking for some new challenges and something different.”

McBride says he was drawn to St. Mary’s for a number of reasons, including its operation as a Catholic nonprofit hospital and its prominent role in delivering health care to a large region. In addition, St. Mary’s offers services and programs that usually aren’t available in hospitals in smaller metropolitan areas, among them blood processing, cancer care and heart surgery.

What’s more, McBride says he had read about the collaborative health care system in Mesa County of which St. Mary’s is an integral part and was intrigued by that process.

A study conducted by Dartmouth College researchers found the average cost of care per Medicare patient in Grand Junction in 2006 was about $5,900 —

30 percent below the national average. A story that appeared in New Yorker magazine subsequently contrasted the cost of care for Medicare patients in Grand Junction to those in McAllen, Texas, where the average cost of nearly $15,000 per patient was among the highest in the nation.

The Mesa County system has gained national attention as a possible model for health care reforms.

McBride says a competitive market in San Antonio with three health care systems created what he described as a “fairly ruthless” atmosphere.

The situation is far different in Mesa County, he says, with its nonprofit hospitals, nonprofit health care organizations and a not-for-profit health benefits provider.

As president and CEO of St. Mary’s, McBride says he serves as a leader of the medical staff and hospital board as well as a liaison between St. Mary’s and the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System. He says he’s responsible for achieving strategic objectives and providing quality services.

But at the same time, McBride says his role includes service in motivating and helping hospital staff. “How can I serve others? How can I break down barriers to make their jobs easier? How can I serve them so they can serve others?”

McBride takes over administration of St. Mary’s shortly after the completion of the Century Project, the largest addition to the hospital in its history. The $276 million project included a 12-story patient tower as well as extensive remodeling of hospital facilities.

With ample space for patients — and room in the tower to turn several empty floors into additional space — St. Mary’s will be able to serve Western Colorado well into the 21st century, McBride says. “We’re extremely well-positioned in terms of capacity for the future.”

No additional physical facilities are planned in the near term, he says.

What will expand, he says, is the role the St. Mary’s plays in providing health care services, including services delivered beyond the walls of the hospital.

An aging baby boom generation, obesity and such chronic diseases as diabetes all present challenges, McBride says.

Meanwhile, reforms are needed in the broader health care system in the United States, he says. “Health care has to change. It has to be reformed in some fashion.”

The industry must deliver on the move toward pay for performance, he says, but also faces the prospect of receiving less pay in the form of government reimbursements for caring for more people.

It’s possible to realize savings through reduced administrative burdens, common billing forms and electronic medical records, he says. Tort reform can help, too, in lowering malpractice insurance premiums as well as the unnecessary costs associated with practicing defensive medicine to avoid litigation. At the same time, though, individuals must take more responsibility for maintaining good health and incentives must be put in place to encourage them to do so.

McBride says he’s learned over the course of his career a number of truths about health care: that new technology costs money and, immutably, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But the end result of the process should remain the same: to provide the highest quality care at the lowest possible cost.

In the meantime, McBride will keep on running — on the job as well as outside of the office.

Shortly after moving to the Grand Valley, he competed in the Rim Rock Run, a more than 22-mile race up and over the Colorado National Monument. And he was pleased with his time, too, in completing the grueling event in less than four hours despite the more than mile-high change in elevation between San Antonio and Grand Junction.

Running a hospital and running in a marathon actually have a lot in common, McBride says. “It’s all about being methodical in your training and following a plan. Plans can change, but you strive for your long-term goal.”