One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)
Anthony “Tony” Armada’s physician father and pharmacist mother emigrated from the Philippines with their children, some suitcases, and a few thousand dollars. The impact they’ve made on healthcare in their adopted country has grown exponentially over the last several decades.
“Everyone is passionate about what they do, right?” says Armada, with a laugh, from his office at Swedish Health Services in Seattle, where he’s the CEO of one of the Northwest’s largest health systems. “The more you can make meaningful changes for the benefit of others, the better off you are.”
Armada’s parents saw all of their children make a difference in healthcare. Armada’s oldest brother owns a research consulting firm that works with pharmaceutical companies. Two other brothers are physicians and his two sisters are nurses.
“Delivering care and being a servant leader are just in my genetic code,” he says. “To see the impact you can make on the lives of the people who entrust their care to you is an awesome privilege.”
Previously, Armada had been a leader with several of healthcare’s premier organizations throughout his career, including Kaiser Permanente, the Baldrige Award-winning Henry Ford Health System, and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and Children’s Hospital. Those experiences have informed the mantra by which he operates: “Always the best.”
“I come at this from a very simplistic vantage point,” he says. “What’s really cool about ‘always the best’ is that it’s individual as well as organizational. I always encourage people I engage with to reflect on that time when you actually bested your best: What did that feel like?
“It’s very energetic – it comes with a passion. And then people start getting onto this bandwagon of always wanting to best their best.”
Armada has also been active as an industry leader promoting diversity in the C-suite. He chaired the board for the American Hospital Association’s Institute for Diversity in Healthcare Management and led the Asian Healthcare Leaders Association. He continues to be active with diversity and inclusion initiatives for the American College of Healthcare Executives and also serves with AHA’s Equity of Care Committee.
“I think there’s been some positive progress in diversity, but it’s still not enough,” he says. “If the eventual goal is to have leadership that represents the makeup of the communities we serve, then the efforts of minority leaders become more impactful and more meaningful.”
Armada’s impact has been felt at numerous healthcare providers. At Henry Ford, Armada was part of the leadership team that went through the Baldrige experience, an exercise he brought to Lutheran General in 2010. In four years, he and his team turned the facility into a Top 100 hospital and Everest Award winner accolades from Truven Health Analytics. It also was named one of the 100 Great Hospitals by Becker’s Hospital Review. In 2012, its first year to apply for a Baldrige Award, Lutheran General won Silver honors.
“People who want to do Baldrige because of some kind of recognition are missing the boat, I think,” Armada says. “It is a framework that creates discipline and organizational excellence. Baldrige doesn’t tell you what to do; it asks a lot of questions. But if you have answers to the questions, you will be a best-in-class organization.”
He plans to bring the Baldrige process to Swedish, where he became the fourth CEO in two years, a similar situation to the role he undertook at Lutheran General.
He views Swedish as a venerable organization with a rich heritage and dedicated caregivers (physicians and employees) that can achieve that best-in-class status with leadership and commitment.
Swedish had gone through a tremendous amount of leadership change and also organizational change relative to an affiliation with Providence Health Services.
“Amidst all of that,” Armada adds, “we need to position ourselves for the future, which is about high performance and reliability, cost and quality transparency, and a patient experience that is excellent but goes beyond to meet unexpressed needs and wishes. At the same time, we need to create an avenue that articulates and emphasizes all of the wonderful clinical institutes and enterprise models that we have.”
The challenges didn’t give him any pause about taking the role. “It actually confirmed for me,” Armada says, “that this is the right organization that I want to take to the next level.”