No ‘I’ In Healthcare – Valley Baptist Health System


By Joey Gomez
Photos By Valley Baptist

Leadership is a team approach with only one true priority in mind, the safety of patients. At Valley Baptist Health System, fostering the mentality that everybody has an opportunity to lead in their particular environment is the difference between merely surviving as an organization, or thriving in very difficult times for healthcare as a whole.

Manny Vela, VB President and CEO, and Matthew Stone, the hospital system’s Chief Operating Officer both agree that the basic tenets of a successfully run organization rest on the concept of “servant leadership”.

From a leadership perspective, it means the needs of colleagues and our communities are placed first. The philosophy is the foundation upon which Valley Baptist sits, Vela says.

“I understand I am the CEO/President of the health system. I have no doubt what being held accountable for everything that happens within our organization means and I fully accept that responsibility.  From a support perspective, I am asking our staff to turn the traditional organizational chart upside down and understand that it is the responsibility and obligation of leadership to ensure that support flows up through every level of our organization,” Vela says. “We have embraced the concept of servant leadership throughout our health system.  We are here to serve the Valley Baptist staff so that they can deliver healing care to our patients.”

“From that perspective, what we are trying to do is develop a line of communication where everybody understands that they are an integral part of our entire team.”

Stone says servant leadership boils down to several key factors. It means having the best staff in place to do the job. It also entails fostering an ownership mentality in order to best serve our patients, co-workers and clinicians.   “To me, it’s still about getting the right people, the right equipment at the right place at the right time so people can use them,” Stone says. “The mentality we try to push to all of our leaders is that they need to operate with a sense of urgency. They need to be accountable and take action when it is needed.”

“It means telling them ‘we trust you, and if something doesn’t work out, we are going to take care of you.’ We are going to learn from the situation and make things better,” Stone says.

Following the historic merger between Valley Baptist and Vanguard Health Systems in Sept. 2011 Vela, a former Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for Valley Baptist, transitioned to his current position as CEO in March after his predecessor, James E. Eastham became a Vice President with Vanguard.

Vela acknowledges the foresight of Eastham who at an early stage saw troubled times ahead for healthcare in the Valley, and across the nation.

As of this story’s printing, hospitals are waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the Affordable Care Act. They are also enduring the State of Texas’ difficulty in implementing an 1115 Medicaid Waiver Program

As an organization, Valley Baptist is dealing with different pressure points by way of reduced reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid, noting that about 75 percent of their payer mix is on one or both of those, Vela says.

“The state of healthcare in the Valley and across the nation is pretty much in flux. You have the government appropriately wanting us to move in a more transparent way in regards to outcomes. I think our patients and our communities deserve to know that type information,” Vela says. “We are making efforts to get ahead of the game in that regard and are playing very close attention to the things they want us to look at such as readmission rates, and others, so we are prepared for the future.”

“Having said that, one of the reasons Valley Baptist was looking for a partner last year was we wanted to make sure we were as strong as possible, financially and otherwise, to be able to weather the kinds of changes in healthcare that are coming at us,” Vela added. “Our goal was to put Valley Baptist in the best position to not only survive but to thrive.  It is something we absolutely owed to the communities that we serve.   I have to give credit to my former CEO James Eastham who basically led the charge in making sure we understood our current situation, and then starting the process of outlining what opportunities or options we as an organization needed to consider and evaluate.”

Valley Baptist Health System is an 866-bed faith-based regional health system located in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It is focused on improving the lives of the people it serves by providing high quality health care and medical education throughout South Texas guided by the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus Christ.

Vanguard Health Systems owns and operates 28 acute care and specialty hospitals and complementary facilities and services in Chicago, Phoenix, San Antonio, Detroit and the Rio Grande Valley. The organization’s strategy is to develop locally branded, comprehensive healthcare delivery networks in urban markets. It specializes in creating strategic and operational improvement initiatives including expanding services, strengthening relationships with physicians and managed care organizations, recruiting new physicians and upgrading information systems and other capital.

Stone is a former CEO of a Vanguard Hospital in San Antonio who has a  history of running hospitals very successfully, Vela acknowledged.

“I think the message is that I have the upmost respect for all those folks in our organization who actually lay their hands on patients on a daily basis. I could not be more proud of the fact that my current role allows me to support people who are actually helping heal and comfort those folks in need.  However, I also want those folks who are not clinicians within our organization to understand that I really appreciate what they do on a daily basis as well.  Every single member of our team plays an integral role in our ability to achieve our mission. ” Vela says.

Stone acknowledged that the job means “working around the edges” to make sure the right questions are being asked and ensuring the right possibilities or outcomes are vetted and implemented.  “We are simply there to make sure that our staffs  get the support and resources they need. I think that’s an important thing for all of us to understand,” Stone says. “It goes back to the healing  of nature of what we need to do in this environment. It’s to make sure that the folks who have input or knowledge about some particular process or undertaking have a  seat at the table and an opportunity to be heard.”