Some would say it was a sort of cruel April Fools’ Day prank: being formally approved by the University of California Office of the President as UCI Health’s CEO on April 1, 2020, just days after the state of California had shut down due to the global pandemic. What a time to take the helm of a health system! The irony is that this thought only came to me many months later, only after I dove right in. I knew I could help, and throughout my career, I have always been the one who remains calm, not reactive, about the crisis at hand – although that characteristic was tested time and time again over the last year.
I was fortunate to have been hired from within, as it reduced the normal onboarding and flattened the learning curve; frankly, there was no time for that anyway. As leaders, we get to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and we immediately went to work transitioning from the interim CEO and prior leaders to ensure that nothing got dropped during a time of great uncertainty.
Right after taking the role, I began to preach the need to get back to basics – focused on our teammates and on communication – even if there were unknowns, and there were many in the early days and weeks of this pandemic. Sometimes leading isn’t just leaping to action. Instead, we took a very measured approach, based in science and in facts, to our decision-making and then over-communicated the “why” behind each decision as a way to connect the dots for our teammates.
We worked quickly to establish formal and consistent communications from my office to keep our co-workers and clinical faculty informed, which culminated in a daily email that they have come to rely upon. And so much was not yet known, or the science and information was changing – sometimes daily. We positioned UCI Health as a trusted partner and “the source of truth” not only to our co-workers but across broader Orange County as well.
“Sometimes leading isn’t just leaping to action. Instead, we took a very measured approach, based in science and in facts, to our decision-making.”
In spite of the pandemic, UCI Health continued our work to improve the health of our community. Within days, we established a robust telehealth network to allow our patients to continue to get the care they needed.
We launched a litany of co-worker support initiatives aimed at keeping our teammates healthy and well, including partnering with providers at the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute and opening an on-site commissary that collaborated with local supermarkets and grocery purveyors to provide food and staples for our co-workers – at a time when you had to wait hours in line for the chance to purchase toilet paper or a box of pasta. We created a partnership to start on-site child care because day care centers were closed around the community; we provided hotel rooms as needed; and through the tireless work of our amazing supply chain team, we were able to always have the necessary personal protective equipment readily available.
We invested heavily in rapid testing capabilities, and our laboratory team worked around the clock to make sure we received test results safely and quickly while other organizations were waiting weeks for results.
I have so many incredible stories and memories from the last year. I was asked early on if we could transfer a patient who was a UCI Health co-worker to our facility from an outlying hospital because we were the leaders and participants in the remdesivir trial and this patient was an ideal candidate. We worked to rapidly transfer that very sick co-worker to our ICU, and I was thrilled to visit her just a few days later as she was recovering in her room.
Later that same week, I started delivering groceries from our commissary to co-workers who had tested positive or were quarantining at home. It was a privilege for me and several other of my executive team colleagues to deliver and serve these co-workers and their families during their most vulnerable time of need.
There have been so many clinical accomplishments – too many to list here – but in the end, our teams not only survived but thrived.
Recently, we received preliminary data indicating that UCI Health patient outcomes were among the best from academic medical centers not only in the state but across the country, proving yet again that UCI Health is expert at providing the most complex care for our community.
In addition to these results, we continued to transform ourselves by launching several new initiatives, programs and ambulatory clinic locations during the pandemic. We started the county’s only ventricular assist device program for heart failure patients and bone marrow transplant program for oncology patients – reducing barriers to care by improving access and reducing the distance Orange County patients have to travel for these lifesaving therapies.
We opened two new ambulatory clinic locations in Newport Beach and Anaheim to further expand and bring our UCI Health experts closer to where you live. And we launched At Home With UCI Health, allowing us to discharge patients earlier and monitor them safely at home.
We also received regental approval to build a new medical center in Irvine that will include a 144-bed hospital, an ambulatory care center, a cancer center and a center for advanced care.
All of this and more were completed during a global pandemic. Imagine what we can and will do as we move out of crisis mode and back to playing offense. Imagine the impact we will have on the health of our community together.
The future is bright, and I am so fortunate to have been asked to be CEO at what I believe was the perfect time! Being at the helm of this incredible organization has given me the greatest opportunity to serve our co-workers, the organization and the community. I am so proud of every single one of our UCI Health teammates.
I am deeply humbled to have the support of our campus leaders and incredible co-workers and physician colleagues. Together, we did not hesitate but ran to the fight.