First of all, I want to thank everyone who took the time to read and comment on last month’s blog post regarding my experience with my Dad’s end-of-life care and the exceptional healthcare individuals encountered throughout the journey. The response has been overwhelming, and while it was never intended to be something that got picked up outside the internal blog post, I am gratified to know it touched so many. Also, I’d like to extend a special thanks to those who took time to write me personally to share their own stories.
It’s been a while since that last post, and for good reason. I just returned from an extended vacation with my wife, celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. This was a “bucket list” trip that I planned for a long time and surprised my wife with earlier this year. I had already drafted an extensive post about our journey, but late last night I decided to shelve that for something much more important.
While overseas, on July 4, I received the tragic news that one of our hospital CEOs – Donnie Frederic, of Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Russellville, Ark. – had passed away after suffering a major heart attack while vacationing in Montreal with his wife. My heart immediately sank because I knew that Capella, Saint Mary’s and the Russellville community had lost a great one. I had no idea just how great, however, until I had the honor of attending his memorial service.
To be honest, I never got to know Donnie on a personal level as well as I would have liked. That said, I have long been an admirer of his accomplishments in his all-too-short two-year tenure, which culminated with winning Capella’s CEO Leadership Award for leadership excellence in just his second year at the helm of the Russellville hospital.
Leadership… everyone talks about it, but few can actually define it. Within the Capella world, we often acknowledge the abstract nature of it by describing a truly effective leader as someone who “gets it.”
But what do I mean when I describe someone as “getting it”?
I am talking about leaders who speak softly but lead firmly; leaders who value and invest in their relationships with both physicians and employees; leaders who are relatable, transparent and not afraid to occasionally be vulnerable with those they lead; and most importantly, leaders who have a passion for what they do and a compassion for whom they serve.
Make no mistake, Donnie Frederic absolutely GOT IT. I assumed this before. I know it for sure now.
Dr. Finley Turner, elder community statesman and retired CMO of Saint Mary’s, described Donnie as the “nicest man he had ever met.” Since I, like many others, have long considered Dr. Turner himself to be the nicest person I have ever met, this was like Moses paying tribute to the depth of Elijah’s faith.
I heard Tim Copeland, Chief Quality Officer of Saint Mary’s, speak of how Donnie would attend every new employee orientation, to meet new employees personally. Donnie used this time with the new hires to describe what he called the “Mama Standard of Care” – that we treat each patient as if they were our mama.
I heard Wendell VanEs, longtime CFO of Saint Mary’s, describe how Donnie would celebrate successes with staff by randomly throwing beads in meetings (a nod to his Louisiana roots).
And I heard stories of how Donnie humbly acknowledged his own human limitations by insisting that department and administrative staff meetings begin – and end – with prayer, seeking wisdom and guidance while acknowledging the sanctity of our calling. For those who don’t know, Saint Mary’s is ironically not a faith-based organization, but Donnie assured that is was indeed faith-filled.
And lastly, I heard Tim Copeland describe how deeply Donnie loved his wife and soul mate, Jeanne, and how good it was for the staff to see this – fully understanding that any man who could so thoroughly love and treasure his wife was someone who valued what was important and could be deeply trusted.
As I said earlier, my heart sank when I learned of Donnie’s passing, knowing the void it would create for Saint Mary’s and the broader Russellville community. After I attended the memorial service honoring this incredible man, I still feel that way, but I also feel something else – a sense of true optimism and gratitude. Another measure of “getting it” – of truly effective leadership – is that values must transcend the individual himself and endure beyond the leader’s presence. Based on the impact he made during his short tenure, I have no doubt that Saint Mary’s will honor Donnie’s legacy by building on what he started.
In summing up Donnie’s legacy at Saint Mary’s, I want to return to something Tim Copeland, our Chief Quality Officer, shared. At those meetings with new employees, Donnie would always share what he called the “four things” – four traits he wanted to engrain in his hospital. They were:
- Passion. Be passionate about your job. Because regardless of whether you are serving patients directly or not, your role is of utmost importance to people in times of their greatest need.
- Pride. Take pride in yourself, pride in your work and pride in being part of the Saint Mary’s team.
- Compassion. Have compassion for all – patients, families, co-workers – and always serve with a loving spirit.
- Teamwork. Like with anything else in life, it takes a team to deliver quality care. Always be a positively contributing team member.
I hope we all uphold ourselves to Donnie’s “four things.” Rest in Peace, Donnie. You are truly missed! (Matthew 25:21)