ACHE16: Dos and don'ts for the CEO when moving to a new position, organization

CHI St. Luke Health's CEO offers advice to senior execs on the transition to a new health system

CHICAGO -- The high rate of CEO turnover creates new opportunities for hospital and health system senior executives--but also comes with potential pitfalls.

No one knows that better than Michael H, Covert, who took over as president and CEO of CHI (Catholic Health Initiatives) St. Luke's Health in Houston 18 months ago, after spending 12 years as CEO at Palomar Health in San Diego.

Covert (right) has gone through nine transitions over the course of his career, which includes 35 years as a CEO and five years as a chief operating officer.

And his most recent move--joining the Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the nation's largest non-profit faith-based health systems--has involved learning and adapting to a new corporate culture, as well as getting to know its hospitals, its boards, region and people who work for the organization and within the community. 

"This is a journey," he told attendees Wednesday at the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress. "You have to be mindful of potential pitfalls. This is true more for senior leaders because there is pressure to justify your selection and you've got to do it early. But you have to explore what's around you."

There are still items on his orientation list that he has to complete. And the role is bigger than he imagined it would be when he took the position a year and a half ago. When he started, CHI St. Luke's had five hospitals and a joint venture with Baylor, an academic medical center. But since he took over, the system has grown to include 16 hospitals.

"So it was not in a steady state coming into the organization," he said.

His position also includes three roles: In addition to serving as the head of St. Luke's Health System, he also is the regional marked-based officer in Texas and senior vice president of operations for CHI in Denver, where he spends a third of his time.