Sunday, Aug 18 2013 02:00 PM

Q & A: San Joaquin's new CEO talks faith, life-changing experiences and the hospital's future

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Doug Duffield is the new CEO for San Joaquin Community Hospital in Bakersfield.

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  2. 2 of 2

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Doug Duffield is the new CEO with San Joaquin Community Hospital.

    click to expand click to collapse
BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer

Doug Duffield took the reins as president and CEO of San Joaquin Community Hospital about three weeks ago, thinking about how to redefine the hospital's mission of sacred work as the health care industry also changes.

Duffield came to Bakersfield after 3 1/2 years as president and CEO of Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. He came at a time of growth and on the heels of a trying period at San Joaquin. A federal investigation and construction woes delayed the opening of its new cancer center.

On Friday, Duffield talked to The Californian about how he came to a career in health care after working in the tech industry and how his determination drove him to complete an Ironman race not long after undergoing surgery for a brain aneurysm.

The Q & A was lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.


TBC: You came to health care as a second career. What was your background before and how did you make the switch?


Duffield: (After working with supercomputers at Intel) I went to work in a consulting capacity. My client was Microsoft, and (I) was responsible for the global launches of most of their online service -- medias is what they called them -- at the time. So,, MSN was one of the products and a bunch that probably don't exist today...

I met my wife, Melanie, and we decided that we didn't want to spend the first year of our marriage doing the normal work-a-day thing.... We ran into an old friend of ours, who I had gone to grade school with, and he asked if we would like to volunteer at an outpost hospital in Africa. The timing was just perfect because we had just gotten married in May and by September, we were on a flight to Lesotho...

That's where something clicked and we realized kind of what was missing. I like to say today that the hardest day or toughest day in health care is still better than my best day in high tech because the work matters...


TBC: You've worked for two faith-based health care nonprofits, Adventist Health and Adventist Health Systems, and volunteered for an Adventist hospital. What role does your faith play in your work life?


Duffield: My personal faith causes me to listen to see where God's leading. I personally believe that any organization has different phases and that the skills that are necessary to run an organization change over time. So it's sort of the statement in Esther, 'for such a time as this'... Can my skills, my abilities, my talents, that I believe are God-given, can they be used for the organization's benefit for such a time as this?...

So many people in this country are making decisions on, 'Do I go to the doctor or do I buy groceries? Do I put gas in my car or do I buy the prescriptions that I need?' If we can provide more access points (to health care), that to me is sacred.

I also believe that meeting our budget is sacred as well because we need to be good stewards of our resources. There's fewer and fewer resources today and more and more demands, more and more patients. If we are good stewards, we will continue to be here to serve the community long-term and so to me that is sacred...


TBC: This year the cancer center opening hit some snags. There were construction delays and an ongoing investigation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that threatened the hospital's contract to serve Medicare beneficiaries.

A member of Adventist Health's executive team came down to act as interim CEO and a vice president of organizational excellence was hired. The cancer center opened in April, but how will you keep the hospital from falling into those past problems?


Duffield: What I love about what Sharlet Briggs (formerly the vice president of organizational excellence and now San Joaquin's senior vice president for strategy and performance) does is that her focus every day is to be preparing the organization as though we had an outside regulatory agency coming in on a daily basis. We literally get together every morning and we review the patients from the night before. We get together every day at 11 o'clock for a huddle with our leadership team where we review what's going on today in the organization. There is a hyper focus on the systems and the processes necessary to ensure that patients get good care...

The theme we're using for our planning this year is, 'Every patient, every time.' Every patient to me speaks to the varied demographic and socioeconomic background of the patients that come through our door. As a faith-based organization, we care for anyone that comes into the hospital, regardless of who they are, regardless of their background...

Every time speaks to the need for consistency. When there's critical processes, say in the emergency department, where you need to do a timeout before you start that surgery, that happens every time, it happens consistently....


TBC: What are the strengths of the hospital and where do you think there is room for growth and improvement?


Duffield: I think the strength that exists here is the people themselves. Again, where I want to expand is our definition of sacred work so that we both have that relational culture but we also have a strong culture of accountability. So people not only are doing the things for the right reasons but they have the equipment to be able to do those right things. And so we're going to become much more transparent with how we measure things so we can move away somewhat from the feeling statements of, 'I feel like we're doing a good job,' to knowing that we're doing a good job because the outcomes match the feeling that we have...


TBC: You had a harrowing medical experience (a brain aneurysm) and then went on to run an Ironman 70.3, a modified triathlon, just a few months afterward. How did that experience impact your outlook on work and life?


Duffield: As a patient I was in tremendous discomfort, sometimes pain. I was a long ways away from home. My wife was taking care of our two very young children and couldn't come back and forth every day so it was incredibly lonely. The care I got (at a large academic medical center in Palo Alto) was clinically outstanding but what was missing was the compassion component.

All of those things help drive an understanding of what our patients go through when they're sick. They're lonely, they're afraid, they don't always know what's happening...All of those things drive a passion for improving our health care product...

I was suffering from severe vertigo, the recovery was hard. I just made a decision, I'm not going to be known as the person that had brain surgery, I'm going to be the guy who is known for doing an Ironman. I think it's that tenacity that drives me also today to take control of an environment and help drive toward change that's positive.


TBC: Do you still do Ironmans any more?


Duffield: Yeah, I'm sort of in between because all of my workout gear is in storage right now. So I'll be looking forward to here within about a week and a half we should be in our new house.

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