Breaking Barriers 

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A profound transformation is underway at South Texas Health System McAllen. Steering this change is the facility’s new CEO, Emma Maria Monte-Ewing, whose appointment marks a milestone as the first Latina to helm the South Texas Health System’s largest acute care facility, initially launched as McAllen Municipal Hospital in 1919. With a resounding history spanning more than two decades, Montes-Ewing’s career has grown, and her leadership experience is considered more than a personal achievement. It’s a leap forward in diversity and progressive administration in healthcare.

Her journey started in Peru, where she was born and raised. In this country, residents received socialized medicine and as a child, she didn’t like going to hospitals. However, her interest was piqued when her grandmother became ill after receiving a shot that was administered incorrectly, leading to infection.

Montes-Ewing would observe the nurse who would make daily visits to her grandmother and care for the wound. Over time, she was fascinated by how the infection subsided. Her grandmother made a healthy recovery, which sparked an interest in Montes-Ewing, and she knew she wanted to work in health care.

She moved to the United States, learned English, and her education evolved. She entered the healthcare industry as a licensed physical therapist assistant specializing in wound care, eventually becoming a supervisor.

“I later partnered with a physician who was the medical director for the wound care center, and we were so passionate about healing people, using tools that we had at the time, from hyperbaric therapy to maggot therapy – it was amazing.”

The company she was working for at the time was creating a pipeline for CEOs and she set her eyes on becoming part of that program. After receiving her master’s degree, Montes-Ewing was invited to apply to the program.

Her journey to the pinnacle of hospital administration is varied, with rich experience in healthcare management and her ability to nurture high-performing teams, drive revenue growth in competitive markets, and foster the overall strength of healthcare organizations. Before her new role, Montes-Ewing honed her skills through roles of escalating responsibility in hospital administration, making impactful contributions within the communities she has served.

Her work has not gone unnoticed. In addition to earning her facilities national recognition, Montes-Ewing has also served in various professional organizations. Her honors include:

  • Doctors Hospital of Laredo was the recipient of the Service Excellence Award for 2022, as presented by parent company Universal Health Services (UHS)
  • Recipient of the Russ McEwen Community Hero Award in 2017
  • Board Member of the Big Spring Chamber of Commerce
  • Board Member at Howard Community College
  • Board president of the local American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) chapter.
  • Earned Regent’s Award in 2013.
  • Served as the Alliance for Women and Children Board president in 2009 (formerly known as YWCA).

These prestigious recognitions and awards are a testament to Montes-Ewing’s exceptional ability to lead with empathy, excellence, and effectiveness.

“It’s been an amazing experience, but I’m not going to say it was an easy one. It’s highly competitive. Many people start, but not everybody finishes,” says Montes-Ewing. “Luckily, I have been blessed with great mentors throughout my career who were instrumental in my development and success. I am very thankful to all of them.”

“Through the highs and lows, my experiences have helped me mold me and get me to where I am today, and I have learned from the struggles and failures that sometimes can be paralyzing and demotivating. Even if a door gets slammed in your face or there’s a rejection letter, there’s always something to learn from it.”

Montes-Ewing admits to facing many obstacles but has used them as stepping stones on her professional journey. She’s looking to use everything she’s learned thus far to help the people in the region.

“There are a lot of great things happening in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s an amazing place with so many opportunities, but we still have the issue of being underserved,” she said.

Tapping into her experience creating a workforce committed to serving growing communities and her ability to engage current physicians while recruiting additional ones, she’s confident she can help create better access to much-needed healthcare in our communities.

She also recognizes the shortage of healthcare professionals after the pandemic. She’s familiar with the excellent nursing, allied health, and medical programs in the area. She believes we’re set up for success in the future.

“As an industry, everybody’s facing that deficit,” she said. “We’ll continue to work on being able to recruit specialists that want to come here and help us expand services and programs, as well as primary care physicians with a passion for providing quality, compassionate care in underserved communities like ours. We’ll work to retain Valley-born physicians and get them to see the value of staying in the communities they grew up in. Together, we can all build a great health care system.”

Montes-Ewing added that a way to combat the shortage is by launching recruitment programs, like the recently launched South Texas Health System GME Consortium, a graduate medical education (GME) program expected to bring 200-300 medical residents to the region to complete their education.

“We’re super excited because this creates additional future physicians that we will train in our system while helping them see how they can help our region flourish through expanded healthcare access.”

Montes-Ewing aims to nurture an environment where healthcare excellence is the norm, not the exception. Her leadership is not just about maintaining standards but elevating them and ensuring that STHS not only meets but exceeds the health care needs of the Rio Grande Valley’s diverse population.

Montes-Ewing aims to provide more healthcare opportunities while creating a culture driven by service excellence and bringing functionality to the organization by strengthening community and workplace relationships.

“When patients come to South Texas Health System McAllen, we are about creating effective communication, creating trust and mutual respect,” Montes-Ewing said. “Those three things are the pillars of every functional relationship.”

Leaders like Montes-Ewing are pivotal in a world where health care is more crucial than ever. Her journey is more than a personal success story. It’s a testament to the power of inclusive, compassionate, and visionary leadership. Montes-Ewing is determined to continue the growth at STHS McAllen and bring a promising future where healthcare is defined by excellence, inclusivity, and an unwavering commitment to community well-being.

“When we’re able to solve problems, we can see things that didn’t go as planned and work together to fix it,” she said.

“When we do that, we can reach the stars. We can evolve, strategize, and see where the opportunities lie.”

Selene Guerrero