Caitlin Beck Stella talks about her new role as the leader of one of the most prestigious pediatric hospitals in the nation, and the challenges and responsibilities that come with the job.
It's been about five months since Caitlin Beck Stella was named CEO at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Florida.
It's Stella's first job as a CEO, after serving as chief administrative officer at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and Women’s Health. She spoke with HealthLeaders about her new role as the leader of one of the most prestigious pediatric hospitals in the nation, and the challenges and responsibilities that come with the job.
The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
HLM: You've been CEO at Joe D. since July. How's it going?
Stella: It's been wonderful. It's been such a warm welcome from the entire community and the hospital is amazing. We have a wonderful team, so I couldn't be happier.
HLM: There was a nationwide search to fill this job. Why do you think you were picked to lead Joe D.?
Stella: I definitely think it's my energy. I'm a kid at heart and when you come to Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital you feel that we all have a similar heart. I was recruited because I share the love of being with kids and serving families and children. I've been doing it since I was volunteering in high school at a children's hospital. It's just part of what I love to do.
The team here saw in me what they see in themselves. I see it and I feel it every day and my job is to make sure it's protected and that we continue to grow.
HLM: What's been your primary focus in these first few months?
Stella: First and foremost, it's really been understanding the market here, having come from California and a very different environment in a variety of different ways. Also, connecting with my peers and other leaders and other organizations to get to know everyone.
More importantly, it's continuing to build on the amazing legacy with Joe DiMaggio that's been here for over 25 years. We're expanding into Wellington, so we're in growth mode. It's a combination of keeping things growing and then also just getting to know the market.
HLM: What are some of the differences between Florida and California with respect to pediatric healthcare?
Stella: Just the way children's healthcare is managed, paid for etc., such as differences in Medicaid reimbursement. I find a lot of benefits here. We have a pretty good system in Florida from what I know of it so far.
And then, the systems themselves. I've done healthcare consulting, so I've learned that states do things differently and provide care for children that varies slightly in terms of how things are managed for kids who have chronic or complex needs. It's nuances around system, infrastructure, how things get done, how things are handled.
I would say that in Florida, in general, I've found it to be a very pleasant state. California was a little bit of the beast in terms of efficiency and bureaucracy.
HLM: This is your first CEO job. How is it different?
Stella: My focus as a chief administrative officer was more about business and operational oversight. Now I view my role as being the leader of the pack, if you will, in terms of keeping the priorities on track and making sure that the family-centered environment continues to grow and is supported and it's part of how we train, and part of how we onboard.
I'm very conscious of maintaining the culture here because it's the thing we're most known for and it's the thing that families love really. I had a little kid the other day crying in the valet area as I was walking in and I stopped to ask "why are you crying?" and his mom said he doesn't want to leave. We're doing something right when he doesn’t want to leave the hospital.
HLM: What will be your focus going forward?
Stella: I've described this organization like someone just handed me the keys to a Ferrari. It's already high-performing, well-run, well-oiled. All I have to do is figure out where we want to go with it. I've spent a lot of time studying the market, but I'm still in learning mode.
Growth is definitely part of our plan. Not only are we growing up—we're adding four stories to our hospital as our services continue to grow—but also bringing care closer to home. Having everything in Hollywood located at the main hospital doesn't work for all families, so we have to make sure that our services are available. We'll definitely be expanding our footprint.
Also, looking at programs and services that the community and children here need. We're looking to see if there are there gaps in care or ways to partner with other institutions to serve families better.
HLM: What are some of the unique challenges that pediatric health systems face?
Stella: Nationally, the big differentiator between a children's health system and an adult health system is payer oriented. Medicare is the primary payer in adult hospitals, and Medicaid is the primary payer in children's hospital. Medicaid does not reimburse for care in the same way as Medicare does, so most children's hospitals can't survive without philanthropy.
We're all in the same boat. Every year there are cuts to Medicaid either at the federal or state level. No matter where the cuts are coming from, we feel it. More and more we need to look for philanthropic support to continue to grow.
My husband grew up here and so I've known this about people in South Florida: They're wonderful people. They're generous, kind, want to be involved. I've had people reaching out to me, asking "how can I help?" Anyone I've met, once they know that I'm working at Joe DiMaggio, they're like, "I want to get involved. What can I do?" The fact that the reaction has been so supportive tells me that, as we have increasing needs, our community will be there to help.
What other challenges do you foresee?
Stella: I look at them as opportunities. Some of them have to do with training future generations of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, etc.
In this market there is a predicted shortage of healthcare professionals. Making sure that we have training programs in place is important. We have a graduate medical education program. We have residents. We have a new teaching program, we have a nursing residency program, and we have other training programs coming online to be able to meet those workforce needs.
Pediatrics in general, tends to have shortages. Pediatrics is already a specialty and then to sub-specialize with pediatric nurses, neurosurgeons or cardiologists, etc., that takes even more time and training. We have to plan to be able to sustain the pipeline, whether that means fellowships or other things. We want to be a destination for teaching as that will continue to grow our workforce.
What metrics will you use to determine success?
Stella: Patient experience is what we're known for here. It differentiates us from children's hospitals here and beyond nationally. We have outstanding patient experience and patient satisfaction scores. I want to make sure we maintain that. Beyond that, looking at things that every CEO is looking at; market share, being top of mind when families need us. We'll definitely be watching all kinds of things.
Another priority is to make sure that, as we grow our services, we're making our care experience easy and seamless for parents, especially for the new generation of parents who are looking for easy access to information, appointments, using technology.
“I was recruited because I share the love of being with kids and serving families and children.”
Caitlin Beck Stella, CEO of Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.
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