New CEO raises ‘conductor’ baton

FOLLOW THE LEADER<br> New CEO Debi Yancer is confident that, if everyone pulls together, Enloe Medical Center can again be a hospital Chico is proud of.

New CEO Debi Yancer is confident that, if everyone pulls together, Enloe Medical Center can again be a hospital Chico is proud of.

Photo By Robert Speer

The executive offices at Enloe Medical Center are located on the Esplanade side of the building. Getting there from the main entrance, at Fifth and Magnolia avenues, requires traversing the hospital’s first floor from one side to the other, through long, windowless corridors filled with nurses, doctors and technicians going about their business, before finally entering the hushed confines of the administrative suite.

The office of Enloe’s new chief executive officer, Debi Yancer, is a light-filled room whose floor-to-ceiling windows provide a soothing view of the flowering plants and shrubs on the hospital’s east side. Yancer’s desk is at one end, a small meeting table at the other, near the door.

Yancer has occupied this space since she started work on March 26, though she began leading the hospital via e-mail and telephone while she was still on the East Coast, finishing up her job as head of a hospital there.

Yancer, who’s 53, is a cheerful woman who makes small talk easily and is quick to laugh. But she’s also sharply focused and exudes confidence that the troubled hospital can turn itself around.

“I’m very optimistic,” she said Thursday (March 29), during one of a series of media interviews that day. “We have a lot of good people here, and there’s a lot of good care going on.”

She fell in love with Chico the first day she was here, she said, and believes the community deserves a strong hospital. She intends to deliver it. “[The hospital is] having a little trouble now,” she said, “but we can work on that.”

Without being asked, she broached one of the more troubling matters facing Enloe, the current investigations into the unexplained deaths of three patients, possibly because of anesthesiology failures—the type of problems known in industry jargon as “sentinel events.”

“All hospitals in America have sentinel events,” Yancer said. “It’s what you do with them that counts.”

As comfortable as Yancer appears to be in her executive office, she is equally at home in the other areas of the hospital. As someone who began her career as a nurse, she is the first “permanent” CEO with clinical training and experience since the hospital’s founder, Dr. N. T. Enloe. That background, she said, influences her approach to such things as the sentinel events and problems with the anesthesia staff. Both require that a full assessment be done—something Yancer ordered even before she arrived in Chico.

“The anesthesiology is the presenting symptom,” she said, “and it may indicate that there are other things wrong with the hospital as a whole.”

Asked whether she had a plan after only four days in town, she replied, “I always have a plan. I’m a planning person.” Leading a hospital requires having a chess player’s ability to think ahead, she said. “You have to be a master of prioritizing.”

Her highest priority, she continued, is “to help the community regain confidence in this hospital.” Fundamentally, she wants to “reshape the culture of the hospital” so that success is seen as “a daily thing, so that learning is a daily thing. … If we do that well, everything happens.”

Throughout her career, she said, she gravitated toward management because she saw that it was the key to patient care. In her first job, as an intensive-care nurse, she worked in a mismanaged unit, and she realized that no matter how good her nursing was, without good management she couldn’t provide quality care.

A hospital is a collection of interdependent units, she explained, and when any of them is dysfunctional, the others are affected and patient care suffers. This understanding is what led her ultimately to become a chief executive officer: It was the only way she could be sure all aspects of a hospital were functioning properly and patient care was as good as possible.

“I know how to run a hospital from bedside to boardroom,” she explained, adding that being CEO is like being the conductor of an orchestra: “I don’t make any music myself, but I do enable everybody else to make music.”

There is no easy way to restore the public’s confidence, Yancer said. It has to be done from the inside out, by working on a day-to-day basis to provide superb patient care. Such an approach is also basic to assuring that the hospital is financially successful. As she likes to tell the clinical staffers, “You can’t have a mission if you don’t have a margin.”

She and the hospital’s trustees have “an understanding” that there won’t be “too many cooks in the kitchen” and that they will let her do her job without interference. She in turn has pledged to keep them fully apprised of significant developments.

She also wants to have a “respectful working relationship” with the hospital’s unions. “I approach the unions the way I approach any relationship,” she said. “We have a common interest, which is the welfare of the employees, and I hope to focus on that.”

She continued: “I’m really happy to be here. We have great potential, as long as we get everybody pulling in the same direction.”