February 2019 Magazine

Calling the Shots: New CEOs Take the Reins of Arkansas Health Care Organizations


Several of Arkansas’ hospitals and health care organizations installed new leadership in 2018. AMP talked to these chief executives to learn a little bit more about their goals, the challenges of providing quality, cost-effective care in the current marketplace and the leadership skills they bring to their new assignments.

Northwest Health • Springdale, AR
“Doing the right thing for the patients is always the right thing for the social side of what we do.”

Until a few months ago, about all Denten Park knew about Arkansas was the reputation of Springdale-based Northwest Health, a five-network hospital covering the fastest-growing corner of the state. But all it took was setting foot in Arkansas to win over the executive, who’d spent the entirety of his career in the American West from Utah to New Mexico.

“I thought, well I’m just going to go take a look at (Arkansas),” he says. “I came out here and immediately fell in love with the region and with the people. It’s tough to feel bad about living in a place like Northwest Arkansas. It made it pretty simple for me to say this is the right place to spend some time.”

Park comes to the CEO role from a similar position with Mountain View Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces, N.M., where he served since 2009. He said the two health care entities have in common the challenges of an evolving industry.

“I think you can look at any health system across the country and see that we are absolutely moving away from hospital care as much as possible,” he says. “We’re moving to more of a wellness approach to help patients avoid hospital care. That’s not different here than it is in other locations.

“To do that effectively, we have to have plenty of access points to help ensure patients can get into primary care when they need it, get into urgent care if they want to and then as a last resort, use the hospital and the resources that are needed here.”

Park also says leading with social consciousness is a hallmark of all successful health care entities, especially in the era of outcome-based medicine.

“Doing the right thing for patients is always the right thing for the social side of what we do,” he says, “but it’s also right for the business side of what we do.”


Siloam Springs Regional Hospital
“It’s very important for the CEO to realize that the hospital is a resource to the community.”

In this, his third CEO post of a long and distinguished career, Adam Bracks understands one key to running a successful local hospital – relationships within the community.

“It’s very important for the CEO to realize that the hospital is a resource to the community,” he says. “I take the responsibility very seriously that our hospital, and my role, adds value to the people and the communities we serve. It remains my focus on a daily basis.”

Bracks notes the Siloam Springs organization has other things in common with his previous stops in Missouri and Oklahoma, namely a focus on primary care. He said on this measurement, his new assignment scores very high.

“During the interview process, and also when I first got here, I was very impressed with the engagement, the knowledge, the pride of all stakeholders at the hospital whether it be the leadership team or the employees, the physicians, the board of directors,” he says.

“Their pride, their focus on quality absolutely attracted me to this facility. I see my role as nurturing that by utilizing the engagement of all the stakeholders to move this hospital forward.”

Operationally speaking, Bracks says the goal is to handle the fundamentals of health care as efficiently as possible without sacrificing quality.

“Primary care is critical; I want to increase the options and the choices available to patients within that community,” he says. “I also want to look at available specialty services. I’ve been here four weeks, and we continue to assess needs. My goal is to add specialty services to the region or enable a seamless transfer to those specialty services at nearby sister facilities.”

A native of Australia, Bracks boasts 17 years of health care leadership experience as well as significant clinical experience, serving as director of rehabilitation services and occupational medicine and primary care at SkyRidge Medical Center in Cleveland, Tenn.


Northwest Medical Center-Springdale
“Patient experience has become uniquely important, to deliver a powerful and impactful experience and a better outcome for them at one of our facilities.”

Historically, one wouldn’t equate a degree in hospitality management with a career in health care administration. But that was then, and this is now, says Hans Driessnack, the new chief executive with Northwest Medical Center-Springdale, especially since trends in the health care industry have made customer service more important than ever before.

“Today in hospitals and health care, patients have more choice of where they can go than anywhere else before in history,” he says. “It’s because of the information that’s available out there; it’s less taboo to talk about your health care experience to your neighbor, your friend, your family. Today, that information is available, and people are willing to talk about it and not just go directly where their physician or health care network directs them.

“Patient experience has become uniquely important, to deliver a powerful and impactful experience and a better outcome for them at one of our facilities.”

Driessnack earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama and received an MBA from the University of Indiana Kelley School of Business. He took over the Springdale post in November after previously serving in leadership roles in health care systems in New Mexico and Illinois.

He says in an era of heightened choice and competition, technology is one way to help community hospitals such as his successfully meet the challenges of the marketplace against much larger entities.

“We have lately added a lot of different options to have technology serve as a convenience and an access point to our health care facilities,” he says. “I think it’s taken away some of the trepidation around the access to health care. I think technology is uniquely engaging the population on how to access it when they need to access it.”


Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville
“By leading through others, I can affect the care of a whole hospital.”

The first role Steve Badger played in the health care field was as a nurse, a role that indelibly shaped the remainder of his career.

“Having a background in nursing and being at the bedside, for me, was something that was very exciting,” he says. “It was very fulfilling, and it was an awesome experience to be able to look back on a day of hard work and say I really helped this individual.

“What moved me into (administration) is, when I was working as a singular nurse, I could affect the care of one person. Now, by leading through others, I can affect the care of a whole hospital, a whole community, a whole town and that’s something that just excites me.”

Badger took over the top spot for the Bentonville hospital in September after four years with Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, ultimately as its Senior Operations Officer. He says here, as there, the challenge of staffing is primary, and that experience has taught him attracting and retaining quality employees transcends mere pay levels.

“Compensation is a very small part of attracting staff and what keeps them engaged and happy in place,” he says. “It’s more about working in a culture of safety, a culture where they can provide care, where they can provide a patient experience that is unequaled and frankly be part of a team that’s making a difference in lives. That’s what I think drives nurses specifically.”

Badger says he found the Bentonville hospital’s foundational elements to be of excellent quality, and he’s eager to take the organization to the next level in service to the community.

“I’ve been tasked with building upon a foundation to continue to enhance what we’re offering,” he says. “First through prevention, meaning, keeping people out of the hospital who shouldn’t be there or don’t need to be there. Then enhancing the acute care that we have – the systems, the providers, the specialties in place. That’s what we’re looking to build upon and enhance regarding the community here in Northwest Arkansas.”


White River Medical Center • Batesville, AR
“One of our greatest assets is when you have local staff that you can recruit and employ and the dedication and esprit de corps they bring.”

As a member of the staff of White River Medical Center for the better part of seven years, Gary Paxson has had the opportunity to see the operations side of the Batesville-based hospital from a variety of angles. He says this multifaceted experience has made the transition to the CEO role, effective January 1, a seamless one.

“One of our greatest assets is when you have local staff that you can recruit and employ and the dedication and esprit de corps they bring,” he says. “It’s the attitude of ‘Hey, this is our community. I want to work here. I want to protect that.’ It’s great.”

Paxson began his career here in 2012 in the role of chief information officer. Three years later he was named chief quality officer and a year ago was named administrator. As a former ICU nurse, he has the kind of multi-faceted professional background that allows him perspective into a variety of operational areas.

“Nursing was a great venue to work in, something that’s incredibly impactful and meaningful and rewarding,” he says. “First, having the compassion, the empathy and perspective to take care of people at one of the most trying times of their life. That gave me great experiences, great opportunities at the bedside to impact an individual.

Paxson says for everything that’s changed in health care, the fundamentals remain essentially the same.

“The X factor is how we treat them,” he says. “It’s a constant reminder to staff, to employees, to myself, every day that it’s not about us. It’s about (patients). Everything that we do, decisions that we make on the design of units to employee benefits, it’s all about that patient.
“Having been at that bedside years ago will always tie me back to why I do what I do, what drives me. It really is to create an environment where when they come in, we take care of them well clinically, but they also have a great experience.”


Saline Memorial Hospital • Benton, AR
“We will be known for our quality and understanding what the definition of quality is.”

Having just taken over the top executive post in November, Michael Stewart has yet to fully identify all of the challenges and opportunities at Saline Memorial Hospital. But he’s already crafted an overarching strategy for the Benton organization.

“I can tell you this: There are three things that I’ve shared with the team that are must-haves that we’re going to be focused on here in the next 24 to 36 months,” he says. “The first is quality. We will be known for our quality and understanding what the definition of quality is and making sure we promote the definition of quality.

“The second thing which every industry is dealing with right now is what I would call talent management, or, recruiting and retention of physicians. We’re going to continue to recruit top-notch physicians, continue to recruit staff, and then make sure that we keep them. And the last thing that we’re going to be focused on is being good stewards of the resources we’re given.”

Stewart says from what he’s seen thus far, the staff is more than up for the goals he’s outlined. He said the staff’s positive attitude toward constant improvement is the hospital’s competitive advantage.

“The number one thing that attracted me (here) was the fact that I had a team member that I worked with previously who said that this is a great group of people,” he says. “In fact, what made me sign the deal was when I met the team here. Everyone was fully engaged in wanting to continue to move the needle for the organization.

“When I looked at that, I liked the fact that (the hospital) had a rich history and I liked the fact that the community itself was a community that is growing and has a lot of opportunity to really leverage the skill set of our team.”

This is Stewart’s second Arkansas assignment; he spent two years as the COO/administrator for Northwest Health System in Springdale as well as held executive leadership roles at hospitals in California, Texas and Florida.


Unity Health • Searcy, AR
“Unity has done a really good job with a grow-your-own mentality.”

For Steven Webb, the opportunity to lead Unity Health in Searcy was more than a great professional opportunity. It was also a personal privilege that enabled him to return and serve his hometown.

“It’s been really nice for me,” he says. “I was born here, but my dad’s a minister, and we moved all over the state. I think I had the opportunity to go to nine different schools before I graduated from high school. I never really had a home growing up.

“The only stable place was my grandparents who lived (in Searcy); both sides of my grandparents lived here. Searcy was the only stability I had. It has some really good memories for me.”

Most of Webb’s career experience has been served in Arkansas leading up to his installment as president/CEO at the Searcy hospital in July. He said while the organization has a great reputation in the region, the challenge of maintaining qualified staff across all specialties is constant.

“We’ve got a really good group of physicians, but we have a lot of gaps in our physicians that we need to continue to fill,” he says. “We’ve got physicians that are approaching retirement, so recruiting is an area that we have a lot of focus on.

“Last year we were able to recruit 21 providers to come to our hospital. We’ve already signed providers for this year and next year, but it’s going to continue to be a challenge for us.”

Webb says one way the hospital has been successful in its recruitment efforts is by creating residency programs which give the organization an in with budding young physicians.

“Unity has done a really good job with a grow-your-own mentality,” he says. “Before I got here, we had started a residency program in internal medicine, family practice and programs in emergency medicine and psychiatry. That’s how we’ve continued to grow our medical staff internally. We have really established a pathway to recruit physicians to essentially be on a three-year interview with us. That’s been good.”

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