Odette Bolano was hired Dec. 21 as president of the Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.
Bolano started her career as a nurse with a bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University, but she said she always knew she would strive to go into health administration and leadership. She earned a master’s in health services administration from the University of Houston and worked at Ascension Health, as president and CEO of St. Joseph Health System, and as senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., before accepting the Saint Alphonsus position last fall.
At the not-for-profit Saint Alphonsus, Bolano oversees a Catholic hospital licensed for 384 beds. Saint Alphonsus is part of Trinity Health in Livonia, Mich., a company that operates 92 hospitals and 120 continuing care facilities, home care agencies and outpatient centers in 21 states.
Idaho Business Review spent some time with Bolano learning about her background and the beliefs she brings to Saint Alphonsus. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was your path to health care administration?
I went into nursing knowing I wanted to be in a leadership role. For me, it was important to understand the clinical side if I was to be a healthcare leader. My whole family is in health care; my brother and father are doctors, my son is at Emory University doing his residency for general surgery, and mother was a director of lab services. One brother is a financial planner, but that’s it.
What was your first foray into administration?
When I got into nursing, I did ICU critical care and then moved over to perioperative services. Then I was asked by a group of physicians to help build a surgery center outside of Houston in 1983. Those doctors were way ahead of their time. That was a big challenge; I didn’t know about surgery centers at the time. I learned a tremendous amount.
I saw that I thrived at regulatory administration. After I learned the business, I became proficient at providing the regulatory background to ensure they could become accredited and looking at efficiencies.
After that, I decided I wanted to get back into the hospital environment, and I began a senior leader role. I became a director of nursing and had multiple areas of responsibility.
When you’re getting started, especially working for a for-profit organization, if you want progress in your career, you are going to move around. My goal was always to take the challenges of new positions and learn and really push myself.
Then I started my CEO track and joined Tenant as CEO, another for-profit, and was in the for-profit world for 11 years.
How is the for-profit hospital world different from the not-for-profit?
The for-profit hospitals are very, very focused on operations and outcomes. I think the difference was much larger 10-15 years ago.
Colombia HCA was really focused on significant growth. They were answering to Wall Street on a monthly basis, so there was just a significant expectation about driving results, financially and operationally.
You have said you moved from Kaiser to Saint Alphonsus because you wanted to be the leader of a Catholic hospital. Why?
I’m a cradle Catholic. It was important for me to at least experience Catholic health care based on my faith.
The for-profits gave me my foundation. I learned a tremendous amount there. But for me it was about, “Can I get into an organization where I can truly live my values and express those with a community?” Healthcare is taking care of people, treating people with dignity, being the soul of a community and serving. Those were the really important things for me, to be able to carry out and live my faith as part of what I did 14 hours a day.
Kaiser was huge, a wonderful experience. I learned a tremendous amount. Organizations that are still not fully integrated are still learning what it means to try to take care of population health, and Kaiser has been doing it for 40 years.
Sometimes you make decisions based on your values and what’s important to you, and I do believe that as a Catholic system, Trinity as a whole has the right vision of where we need to go with healthcare, which is really focused on population health.
Isn’t every health system focused on that?
Different people are taking different avenues to get to what healthcare is trying to be in the 21st century.
The Affordable Care Act is now 6 years old. What has changed?
Our health care system was built on sick care, and we only paid for interventions for diseases. Unlike European countries that were focused on prevention and wellness, we didn’t incentivize well care. We didn’t pay for those things. We’re now paying for that.
Different populations have had different experiences and with a nation that’s been really focused on sick care and not focused on wellness and prevention til probably the last 10 years, it’s going to take a lot of time to change communities and cultures.
There’s still so much to do. Community members who are vulnerable and live in poverty don’t have the access they need to stay healthy and well. It’s going to take generations to really influence that in a significant way.
Is the Treasure Valley doing a good job of this?
Everybody loves it here because there is the focus on outdoor activity. A couple of my doctors say they go skiing in the morning and see patients in the afternoon. That’s somebody who is really committed to outdoor activity and staying healthy.
You see people on their bikes, and if you talk to people in general, how did they get here, they love the outdoors. I have talked to doctors who have come from what they feel is a very competitive, very aggressive environment, and they come here and find there is a lot of respect for some balance in life. People have family time, and time to do activities, and I have found a lot of services are not open on Saturday and Sunday. That says a lot about the community and their commitment and their time off.
How are things between Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s these days?
The Treasure Valley and Canyon County and the whole surrounding area is large enough to really need more than one health system. I think that Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s can prosper and partner together in certain areas to meet the needs of the community. This isn’t a one-health-system region.
Our focus right now is to make sure that the spectrum of services we’re providing to community is as robust and high quality as they can be, with enough providers that we can meet the growing population.
We are working on how we deploy population health; that has a myriad of different connotations for people. We’re focused on identifying and taking care of the most vulnerable patients who are highly complex and chronic.