Meet the Women in the Executive Suite at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital

May 9, 2013 

There’s a lot of woman power at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville that has nothing to do with the fact the hospital was named after a female saint and founded by an order of nuns, the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis.

Its four top executives (Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Nursing Officer), known collectively as the “C-Suite,” are all female, and the larger leadership group is predominantly so, with nine of 11 members being women. But that’s not always been the case at St. Elizabeth’s nor is it commonplace at other hospitals.

CEO Maryann Reese, who grew up in St. Louis, stepped into the top spot at St. Elizabeth’s in early 2011 after serving in a variety of hospital leadership roles in Idaho, Utah and Montana. She said there is a growing number of women hospital CEOs nationwide, “but it’s not 50/50 yet.”

What makes St. Elizabeth’s unique is the preponderance of female leadership. “We have the only all-female C-Suite I know of, but there may be another one out there somewhere.”

Gender blind Reese said there was never a goal at St. Elizabeth’s to break ground with female leadership.

“We didn’t set out to be all female. As positions opened, we just set out to hire the best candidates, and they happened to be female,” she stressed.

But neither did it surprise her since most of the employees at St. Elizabeth’s - like hospitals everywhere - are women. From top to bottom, the 1,300-plus employees are 85 percent female.

She pointed out, “I’m a nurse, and as a nurse, I always worked with a lot of females, and most hospital employees are female. I always wondered why the C-Suite was all-male.”

Reese said the hospital’s board has been very supportive of her and the rest of the leadership team.

“They don’t see gender. They see us as responsible leaders seeking to ensure excellent patient care.”

Patient care: the priority Reese said many hospital leaders start out as clinicians, and she thinks that’s a good thing for patients.

“Our core business is patient care. The focus needs to be on what clinicians need at the bedside to be successful whether they are doctors, nurses, whoever -- including environmental services, food service and security. We make a conscious decision, a conscious effort to make all decisions based on patient care.”

“Our C-Suite people would say they are the least important because they are the furthest away from patient care.”

Gathering input

Research shows female leaders often lead differently than their male counterparts, with women focusing on gathering input and providing support. Reese said this is the leadership style now at St. Elizabeth’s.

On her watch, they have put in councils with representatives from each department.

“We get a lot of input from frontline staff,” she said. “We have to be nimble -- to change as health care changes and empower people working at the bedside everyday. Their voices need to be heard.”

Successes

Truven Health Analytics, formerly Thomson Reuters, named St. Elizabeth’s one of nation’s top 50 cardiovascular hospitals for 2013, the only hospital in the St. Louis region to receive this honor. The hospital is also one of two in the area to receive government payments based on its quality record.

Success has also come in the form of employee satisfaction, which has risen more than 300 percent in the past two years as measured by the annual employee satisfaction survey.

Chief Nursing Officer Shelley Harris said the survey results seem closely tied to the current style of leadership, which is “very bottom-up as opposed to top-down. It’s ‘let’s do this together’ as opposed to ‘I said this is what we are going to do.’”

Radiology technologist Manny Pena, in his 16th year at the hospital’s cath lab, agreed. “There’s been a big turnaround here in the past couple of years. I can’t say enough good about management. They have put the right people in the right places and instituted so many positive things. It’s really increased the dedication and motivation of the staff.”

From his perspective, the fact that hospital leadership is female-dominated is not important; it’s the favorable impact of that leadership on the hospital as a whole. “We don’t look at it as ‘he’ or ‘she’; it’s whether you are a professional who treats your staff the way you want to be treated.”

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