Mike McBride: St. Mary’s CEO’s career has led him to the place he’s meant to be

Portrait 2011 — Volume 2: Hot Right Now

St. Mary’s CEO Mike McBride prepares for his usual daily rounds of the hospital.on

St.Mary’s Hospital CEO Mike McBride, right talking with ER Doc Francis Raley

At a 50-bed hospital in Pocahontas, Ark., if there’s snow on the sidewalk and nobody else around to deal with it, the CEO grabs a shovel. If there’s trash (or worse) on the floor and the CEO sees it, then the CEO cleans it up.

At age 27, Mike McBride was that CEO. His trajectory into health care administration had brought him and his wife, Lesli, to a tiny town in northeast Arkansas where running a hospital meant learning quickly and adapting.

“In a rural hospital you have to be a jack-of-all-trades,” he said. “It was a wonderful place to learn.”

That education helped build the foundation for a career that, in September, brought McBride, 46, to St. Mary’s Hospital as CEO. He came at a time of tremendous change in American health care, when questions of coverage and access are argued at a national level but will be put into effect locally.

“Internally (at St. Mary’s), we’re preparing,” he said, “knowing we’re going to be asked to take care of more people with the same or less reimbursement. So, we’re looking at balancing the best health care with the lowest cost.”

McBride said the Grand Valley is exceptional for its collaborative model of care, and it’s one of the reasons that led him to St. Mary’s. It fit, he said, with what he feels is a calling to do the work he’s doing.

“A number of years ago he was at a seminar and the speaker talked about bringing your vocation and your avocation into line, and he’s like, ‘I’ve done that,’ ” Lesli recalled. “I remember him saying ... I get to serve people, I get to facilitate opportunities for healing and service and ministry. He feels very blessed that he gets to go to a job and have a career in which he can also combine his faith and his beliefs and his compassion for people.”

He does admit, however, that health care administration isn’t a career to dream about as a young boy. Growing up in Illinois and Texas, he said he didn’t have a clear vision of what he wanted to be when he grew up. His father was a professor of computer science at Baylor University, but he know that field wasn’t for him.

When he entered Baylor — his father accepted a job at the university partly so McBride and his six siblings could get free tuition — he took a vocational aptitude test and learned he was suited for health care leadership or military leadership. The suggestion of health care leadership struck a chord and he knew he’d found his career path.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from Baylor, he took a year off, then entered Trinity University in San Antonio to pursue a master’s degree in health care administration. Part of his studies was a 12-month residency at Methodist Hospital of Dallas, “where they rotate you through every department in a hospital,” he explained. “It’s a good experience for a year to learn the inner workings of a hospital and the complexity of health care organizations.”

His residency included night shifts in the emergency room and every step in the organ transplant process, as well as the minutia of billing and accounting, constantly changing health care laws, human resources management, physical facilities management and every other day-to-day element that builds a health care organization.

After earning his degree, he was offered a job at Methodist Hospital, but realized “I’d be a small fish in a big pond there,” he said. “At that point, my wife and I were flexible, so we could relocate.”

He went to work as an assistant administrator at a 150-bed hospital in Big Spring, Texas, with the understanding that within 12 to 18 months he’d be ready for a leadership position. Eighteen months later he was offered the CEO position at the hospital in Pocahontas, Ark., where he spent three years. 

From there, he went to a 100-bed Presbyterian hospital in Kaufman, Texas, as president/CEO. This brought certain changes because the hospitals in Big Spring and Pocahontas were for-profit, “so it was a little more difficult to focus on long-term planning because you first are looking at short-term returns for the shareholders,” he said. Working within a not-for-profit religious health care system allowed for greater big-picture thinking.

After working in Kaufman, he became president of McCuiston Regional Medical Center in Paris, Texas, a 200-bed hospital. At the time, there were two 200-bed hospitals in Paris, which was too much hospital for the area, he said, so the two merged and in 2001 McBride became chief operating officer of CHRISTUS St. Joseph’s Health System in Paris. It was his entry into Catholic health care.

“I am a practicing Catholic,” he said, “so for me it was back to that issue of calling.”

The position in Paris led McBride and his family back to San Antonio, where he served for eight years as regional vice president/administrator for CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital — City Centre and CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital — Medical Center, overseeing 602 beds and 2,000 employees on those two campuses.

He enjoyed the experience there, he said, “but San Antonio is a very competitive health care environment. The physicians had many for-profit ventures and little loyalty to the hospitals, so it was difficult to collaborate on common goals.”

One of the reasons he was drawn to St. Mary’s, he said, is that “physicians seem to have ownership in the hospital. There’s a commitment and a loyalty here.”

Since coming to St. Mary’s as CEO on Sept. 20, McBride said he has been working with area health care providers and community leaders, including the Mesa County Health Care Leadership Consortium, to map plans for building healthy communities. He particularly noted the $11.8 million grant given to the Colorado Beacon Consortium, of which St. Mary’s is a part, by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant was given to improve chronic disease care in Grand Junction.

“We’re looking at how can we really distinguish Grand Junction as a healthy community,” he said, adding that includes not just access to health care, but fostering a community of people who practice healthy habits. A collaborative model is particularly important, he said, because often the roots of health problems are social, so the entire community must be involved in solving them.

He said he believes Grand Junction is a community with the potential to set a national example.

“If we can figure out some creative model of access for our community that demonstrably impacts health care outcomes, we can really distinguish Grand Junction as a healthy community and create a model that can be duplicated,” he said.

Grand Junction is a place that people choose to make home, he said, and feel a loyalty to its continued improvement. It’s a connection that he already feels, Lesli said, not just to St. Mary’s and to the people, but to the landscape itself. They’re learning how to ski, she said, and McBride recently got a Jeep. They hope to begin exploring trails, and both are dedicated runners who have participated in local races.

“I’ve noticed he really enjoys the Grand Junction community,” said Dan Prinster, St. Mary’s vice president of planning and business development. “He has an opportunity to meet a lot of different community members and has grown to appreciate the culture in this community, to have people working together to solve problems.”

The McBrides’ kids — Sara, 22; Katherine, 21; Philip, 19; and Ann Claire, 16 — are in Texas, but visit Colorado when they get the chance, and Lesli commutes between Grand Junction and San Antonio while Ann Claire finishes high school.

“Being in Grand Junction and being at St. Mary’s is a great opportunity,” Lesli said. “I do think it’s a perfect fit.”

“I do think it gets back to that idea of calling,” McBride said. “I really feel that this is where I’m supposed to be.”


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