“New job, new year, new culture, new environment.” That is the motto Barry Wolfman, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center’s new executive, has jokingly taken on for himself. That’s because Wolfman, named the hospital chief in October, officially stepped into his new role on Jan. 2. A New York native, who first settled in California in the late 1980s, Wolfman said that his first day in his new position felt somewhat like the first day of school. “I can’t say I was nervous, but I certainly wasn’t comfortable,” he said as his first day came to a close. “You get to meet a lot of people. People are judging you. It’s interesting. It’s always fun. I love meeting new people, so, so far, it’s been a great day.” Wolfman, the successor to Patrick Petre, who left St. Joseph in August to become the head of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, has been a hospital executive for the past 25 years. “I’ve had the good fortune of being affiliated with the investor-owned sector,” Wolfman said. “That was with Tenet Healthcare, and I had the good fortune of being involved with a number of hospitals here in California as a regional senior vice president, and I was also senior vice president of our Philadelphia region.” Wolfman led Tenet’s Philadelphia area hospitals from 2000 to 2004, joining Kaiser Permanente as senior vice president of its Metropolitan Los Angeles Area in 2005. In that capacity, Wolfman oversaw a reported 850 physicians on staff, 270 affiliated physicians and more than 8,500 employees. Wolfman discussed how the goals he’s had for Tenet and Kaiser hospitals compare to the vision he’s in the process of forming for Providence St. Joseph Medical Center. “I think goals that I’ve always had are to create a great relationship with the medical staff, create a great relationship with our employees, get to know people, get them to embrace our mission, to do the kind of work that they’ve been doing for years and years and years even better,” he said. “I want to interact with our community and our foundation and our business leaders in the greater Burbank and San Fernando Valley area, so that they recognize what a fine asset we are.” The Business Journal spoke in depth with Wolfman about his first day on the job, the challenges St. Joseph faces and his qualifications to tackle them. Question: What about Providence St. Joseph appealed to you? Answer: I think, for one thing, the strengths of this medical center are its clinical excellence. You got great OB care, great stroke care, a great heart surgery program. We’re building the Disney Cancer Center, so we really look to focus on clinical excellence in cancer and cancer care. It’s got a bariatric surgery program, strong orthopedics and a very strong neonatal intensive care unit. I think the other thing that attracted me,Providence Health and Services System is really outstanding in terms of their commitment to patient care. Q: What enabled you to edge out the competition and be named St. Joseph’s new executive? A: I’ve been in the investor-owned hospital sector. I’ve been in the prepaid medical sector. I’ve been in teaching hospitals, community hospitals. I think I have a really good perspective on what has to get done. I’m very much a people person. I’m very passionate about what I do. I think it shows with the kind of effort that I put forward. Q: What challenges does St. Joseph face? A: I think the challenges that face a lot of hospitals are chronic under-funding and underpayment for health care services, challenges of caring for the uninsured and underinsured. We operate in an era where there’s continued downward pressure on, not just the hospital, but physician reimbursement. Staffing shortages,it’s no secret that there’s a nursing shortage. It’s no secret that we look to retain and attract the best and brightest in our community, whether they’re nurses or pharmacists or lab technicians or other health care professionals, both technical and non-technical, so the challenge is retaining really great employees. The challenge is growing and maintaining our volume of patients and providing great clinical services, always improving. Q: How will you tackle these challenges, the staffing shortage, for example? A: You have to create the right environment for employees to want to stay, so you retain employees at one level and then you try and certainly have appropriate and community-based compensation and good education programs for your staff. You have the right culture that you build with your board and with your medical staff so that employees want to work. Q: What are the cultures like at the various health systems,most notably, Tenet and Kaiser and now Providence,for which you’ve worked? A: Some areas where we differ is what we do with the money that we hopefully earn. Not all hospitals earn money. So many lose because of problems of compensation and uncompensated care. This hospital,we reinvest a large percentage of whatever we make back in the medical center. Not everybody does that. We have the Catholic mission, and that’s not that similar to every hospital. Q: It’s not often that we have the opportunity to interview someone of your stature the first day on the job. Describe your day so far. A: I started my day this morning just making some rounds, visited the physicians’ lounge, wandered around a little bit as a lost new employee. I met with one of our Sisters, one of the matriarchs of the organization this morning and gained her counsel and wisdom. I had a couple of meetings with my leadership team and the department manager team. I had two different meetings to talk to people and introduce myself, and I had a couple of meetings with the regional chief executive and the interim CEO to get caught up on a number of issues. All to end this evening with a dinner with a medical staff member. Q: What’s in store for you over the next few months? A: The next 100 days will be a time for me to listen and learn and begin to formulate a tactical plan, how to make our strengths even better, how to deal with any weaknesses we might have in terms of looking for opportunities to improve, so I think it’s just a time of reflection and to meet people. Q: Any last words? A: For people who report to me, I feel very privileged and honored to have been selected as the CEO or chief executive at Providence St. Joe’s Medical Center. It’s an incredible responsibility and something I take very seriously. Folks that are here hopefully will know that I will give it a 110 percent. SNAPSHOT: Barry Wolfman Title: Executive, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center Age: 50 Education: Bachelor of Science in Management from the State University of New York, Buffalo. Master of Arts in Health Service Administration from George Washington University. Most Admired People: I admire my wife. She’s been a wonderful mother and a wonderful role model. Both my parents. I’m very fortunate to have them both alive, and they taught me a lot about work and work ethic. And I admire my kids. They’re nice, young children and they make me proud. Career Turning Point: Being given the opportunity first to be a CEO of a hospital was a really good step for me. I had just turned 30, which I think is young to be a CEO, but it taught me a lot. Then, I had a series of promotions throughout my career where they’ve forced me to perform at higher and higher levels. Every change I’ve had has forced me to be a better manager and learn how to move organizations forward. Personal: Married, with two children.
Providence Saint Joseph’s New Executive, Barry Wolfman