Les Hirsch’s accent gives him away before he even has a chance to tell people he’s from the East Coast.
But people at Exempla Healthcare’s Saint Joseph Hospital knew where Hirsch came from long before he arrived here in August.
Dubbed a "turnaround specialist" for his work at an unprofitable New Jersey Hospital, Hirsch’s reputation proceeds him.
Hirsch takes over for CEO Jeff Selberg, who has been the CEO of St. Joseph’s as well as the entire Exempla system. Selberg remains the chief executive officer of Exempla Healthcare.
Charged with trying to make St. Joseph’s the premiere downtown hospital in Denver, Hirsch’s job is to take the hospital to another level and not simply resuscitate it back to life.
"Every organization is unique," the New Jersey native said. "There’s no cookie-cutter approach."
By all accounts, Hirsch’s arrival on the scene at St. Joseph’s has been a smooth one.
"The trust is growing by leaps and bounds," Chief Nurse Executive Barbara Wertz said of the transition. "There isn’t a sense of that he’s coming in to turn it around, but to be a part of the organization. Do we want to get better? Absolutely. We felt he was the man that could help."
Hirsch’s track record has been impressive. He helped bring Cooper Health System in Camden, New Jersey back to profitability after the system lost $16.7 million and was projecting a $19 million loss for 1999.
His $30 million restructuring plan trimmed a small amount of the work force, but brought the hospital back into the black the next year, realizing an almost $8 million profit.
The situation is different in Denver where St. Joseph’s reportedly turned a profit the last two years.
"I’ve learned a lot in the last 25 years," Hirsch said. "I’ve had a lot of lessons. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that your greatest resource or asset, and tend to look at it as a resource, is people ... People are resources.
"The only way you can be a strong leader and manager is to really, truly realize the value of people."
Hirsch said even when he’s had to make the tough decisions that have ultimately cost people their jobs, he’s always strived to made those decisions "with a great sense of humanity, caring and concern."
"To be given the opportunity to lead an organization is really an honor," he said. "It’s not a right. To me, when somebody places their trust in me ... that’s a great honor. One thing I’ve learned is to not take that for granted."
"We’ve been through - like many hospitals in the country - a financial turnaround the last couple of years," the 50-year-old Hirsch said. "This organization is positioned very well to move forward as it looks to the future. Our vision is one of pre-eminence, not just to say we are pre-eminent but to measure how we are pre-eminent. Our vision is to create an environment that would be just a wow. If you’re a nurse looking for a place to work, we want to be a place the nursing community and professional nurses look at St. Joe’s and says ‘Wow, I can really advance my career there.’"
Wertz agrees that this is already happening.
"Just the fact we’ve been able to do recruitment says we are in a good position here at St. Joe’s. Even during the nursing shortage we made decisions that were good for our staff and good for our patients. If we didn’t have enough nurses, we closed some beds down. When we looked for contract labor, we didn’t use day-to-day agency people. We used traveler’s that would work 26-week contracts. We felt the continuity and quality to our patients was very, very high.
"I think we are attractive."
Hirsch has spent 25 years in the healthcare industry. He has worked as the Associate Executive Director of Operations at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York and as the Vice President at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey. He spent 14 years at Cooper in New Jersey.
The Catholic hospital leads the state in the number of babies delivered each year. As far as staff retention, Wertz said that one in eight nurses has been at the hospital for 10 years.
That’s what Hirsch would like to think of St. Joseph’s Hospital as being - attractive to all.
"I believe St. Joseph’s is an excellent institution," he said. "This hospital is very rich in that history and tradition. It’s a ministry of healthcare. It’s not so much the business of healthcare, but the healing ministry associated with healthcare. I’m proud to be a leader of this organization."