Reminiscing about running Enloe
With anecdotes telling of Enloe Medical Center going from happy family to dysfunctional family in the space of a decade, it’s no wonder some in the community are feeling nostalgic for the days of Jim Sweeney, Enloe’s CEO from 1967 until his retirement in 1995 at age 63.
His successor, Phil Wolfe, is paid much more and is neither as visible nor as well-liked by the general staff as was Sweeney.
“He was very personable, nice man, cared about everybody—remembered your name, your kids’ names, when you had your babies at Enloe,” remembered Registered Nurse Delores Sellers.
Sweeney set his schedule to be out on the hospital floors in the mornings, when doctors were making their rounds, “so if they had something they wanted to gripe about I’d be available. I’d always try to go to lunch in the doctors’ lounge so if they wanted to bend my ear, they could do it. But I guess times are different now. Bank presidents used to sit in the lobby.”
The contrast is so stark some employees refer to Enloe management today as “the Phil and Dan show,” seeing current leaders Wolfe and Dan Neumeister as out of touch with employees and less caring about them as people.
Sweeney, his days now focused on dominos, grandchildren and cardiac rehabilitation, recalled his 28 years leading Enloe. He would not criticize the current leadership, offering only a diplomatic “times change” when the most controversial topics were broached.
Toward the end of Sweeney’s tenure, a shift to a more corporate model seemed to be inevitable. Perhaps, reflected one nurse, Sweeney was an administrator from a different time who “stayed in the saddle too long.”
“I was probably older than just about anyone anymore,” Sweeney said. “You kind of get where you want it your way. … I had a feeling that they [the board of directors] were looking for someone who was maybe more [modern].”
Some nurses cautioned that it’s easy to romanticize Sweeney now. As folksy and sweet as he was, he was also very much a businessman (one worker used the word “cutthroat"), and he fought against unionization, too, feeling that unions only stand in the way of communication between management and employees. He didn’t embrace computers but liked to be first with such medical technology as radiation care or a pulmonary function lab.
But he wasn’t lofty by any means. He preferred be called Enloe’s “administrator,” not CEO or president, because “I just thought it was more reflective of a hospital.” While the role of today’s board of directors is hard to pin down, it was very clear in Sweeney’s day. He saw the nonprofit hospital as a charity first and foremost. “They’re set up and established to take care of the needy.” Board members such as “Tommy” Enloe and Harlan Adams were very active, and they were called “trustees,” not “directors,” because “all of the money that they’re sitting on is charity money. They’re holding that hospital in trust for the community.”
There were hard times financially, but government subsidies were higher, and the city would step in with a bond election when things got really dire. Or, Sweeney remembered, “all the management would take a cut in pay. I even had managers offer to quit to save money.”
Wheras Enloe now enjoys a monopoly, Sweeney said he used to pick up the phone and coordinate with Chico Community Hospital’s chief, saying things like, “'We added the last beds, now you add the next.’ We didn’t really duplicate [services] when it came down to it. We could have merged anytime we wanted, [but] it was nice for the people that had their choice.”
The previous administration, remembered 19-year nurse Dennis Sweetland, was “kind of a monarchy but a friendly sort of monarchy.
“The feel is very corporate now," he said.