One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2017. Furst Group and NuBrick Partners, which comprise the companies of MPI, sponsor the awards.
The career trajectory for Sally Hurt-Deitch was set early – so it’s no surprise to see her as the Market CEO for The Hospitals of Providence, the Tenet Health system that dominates the El Paso market.
At her first job, fresh from earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing, Hurt-Deitch’s boss was close to retirement. So, on top of learning endoscopy and the operating room, and in addition to learning instrumentation and learning how to circulate, her supervisor put her to work on a host of other duties.
“She would come to me and say, ‘Sally, you’re young. You know this stuff. You just graduated from college. Go and do this for me,’ ” Hurt-Deitch remembers.
Her nursing preceptors told the bewildered rookie, “Just go do it.”
Thus, by the end of her first year, in addition to doing cases and being a clinical nurse, Hurt-Deitch got a crash course in how to run every aspect of a department.
“I was doing her payroll and her scheduling,” Hurt-Deitch says. “I’d done her operating budget and her capital budget. I had rewritten all of her policies and procedures. I’d gone through a Joint Commission survey and I was doing all of her Performance Improvement and Quality Improvement.”
An amazing story, yes? It gets better.
When Hurt-Deitch’s boss retired, a group of physicians went to the CEO of the hospital with a request: “We want Sally to be the new director.”
The CEO called her into his office.
“How old are you?”
“I don’t know about this. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you 6 months. Let’s see what you can do.”
Hurt-Deitch sailed through the tryout. She became the assistant chief nursing office two years later and, by the age of 27, she was the CNO.
“When my nursing boss retired, I never even thought, ‘I want this position.’ ” Hurt-Deitch notes. “It grew very fast.”
Hurt-Deitch was born and raised in the El Paso area and, except for a short period when she left to work in Oklahoma, has watched the region grow from a close-up vantage point. Healthcare is personal to her, an attitude that developed unconsciously when she was a child.
At the age of 10, her mother nearly died from idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, an autoimmune disease in which the person’s body destroys its own platelets and thus, the ability for the blood to clot.
“My father was amazing,” Hurt-Deitch says. “He would sneak us up a back staircase at the hospital so we could go see her. He was a football coach and I can remember my mom doing her exercises with my dad coaching her: ‘You’re going to do this. You’re going to come back.’ Watching how he acted around her was very inspiring to me. I had a deep desire to care for people. I think my mother and her experience provided a lot of fuel for that fire, but I think nursing inherently was my calling.”
Hurt-Deitch got to see her mother completely come back from the disease, and her mom has had a front-row view to see her daughter become one of the powerful Latino executives in the country.
The El Paso region is unique in that it is still a border community, one whose economy is still very much based on homeownership as opposed to another economic driver. But Tenet itself has invested more than $1 billion into El Paso in the last 10 years, and Hurt-Deitch says the county has a consumer mindset to healthcare that is no different than the rest of the U.S.
“We are the community choice for healthcare, which is a hugely positive thing – we have about 50 percent of the total market share,” she says. “But people want healthcare in their community. They don’t want to drive 20 or 30 minutes to receive care. They want it right around the corner. The days of having a family physician and going every year for your checkup are disappearing. So, you’re seeing the free-standing ERs and the urgent-care centers proliferating because people are wanting to be treated per health episode, not for their long-term health needs.”
As the Market CEO, Hurt-Deitch oversees the CEOs who lead the three Providence hospitals and one micro-hospital. And, like her early years in healthcare, she utilizes some unorthodox ideas to develop her team.
“We trade positions. One month a year, I will leave and become the CEO of one of our other hospitals. The other CEOs will do the same,” she says. “We can identify a lot of best practices this way. It also helps us to establish stronger relationships with our medical staff and the other directors. At the same time, we may have instances where we need each other to step in and run a meeting for us in our absence.”
In doing so, Hurt-Deitch is infusing her leadership team with the same type of liberty she experienced as a rising star in her 20s.
“I have to be open to listening to them and accepting what they’re saying and allowing them enough freedom to do what they need to do in their hospitals,” she says. “You can look at The Hospitals of Providence and look at the results. What it would show you is a team that is connecting with the community from every standpoint.”
SIDEBAR: Embracing cultural diversity: A personal story
At the recent 2017 Congress presented by the American College of Healthcare Executives, Sally Hurt-Deitch was part of a panel on “Building An Inclusive Culture: Whose Job Is It?”
Her years in El Paso, a predominantly Hispanic region, and her experiences as a healthcare executive gave her plenty of points to ponder.
“El Paso creates this very interesting dynamic because it is a minority-majority community,” she says. “When you’re raised in a minority community, you’re not raised to see color. Your friends were your friends. It was a very inclusive environment, and I was not exposed to anything different until I left El Paso.”
Being looked at differently because of her ethnicity happened when Hurt-Deitch took a job in another state with a large Native American population. At her first meeting with her governing board, one of the directors asked her, “So, what tribe are you from?”
Everyone in the room was a bit stunned and Hurt-Deitch managed to say, “Excuse me?”
“Yeah,” the trustee went on. “Are you Cherokee? Choctaw? Chippewa?”
“There was no malice in it,” Hurt-Deitch says. “He wasn’t trying to malign me in any way. And I laughed and said, ‘I’m from the tribe of Mexicans. We’re from way south of here.’ But there was also a part of me that thought, ‘Who says something like that?’
“I don’t think I ever fully embraced the true meaning of cultural diversity until that point in time.”