MYRTLE BEACH — Most of the staff at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center don’t know yet that their new chief executive officer likes a good laugh.
“He’s laid back enough that you could joke around with him,” said Stephanie Bowen, who was the director of marketing during Mark Sims’ tenure at TriCare StoneCrest Medical Center in Smyrna, Tenn. StoneCrest is owned by HCA, the same company that owns Grand Strand Regional.
Nothing’s off limits either, Sims said Wednesday afternoon, just a day after he’d reported for duty at his new post in Myrtle Beach. As long as it’s in good taste.
Sims, 46, replaced former Grand Strand CEO Doug White, who retired in September after 18 years as the medical center’s leader, and to hear Bowen describe Sims, he sounds at lot like his predecessor.
He’s highly-skilled at identifying and leading a leadership team, she said, focused on employee satisfaction, knows how to create and maintain a good work culture, has an open-door policy and allows his staff a level of autonomy in making decisions.
“He wasn’t a micromanager,” she said.
He also has a very firm handshake and an engaged, but non-judgmental look in his eyes when he meets someone new.
Which is something he’ll be doing a lot as he settles into the new job and tries to meet as many of its 1,100 employees as possible.
“I really want to understand why people want to work here, why physicians want to practice here,” he said.
He’ll assume that the staff has the education and training to do their jobs right, so what he’ll be looking for is their enthusiasm about their jobs and a strong commitment to customer service. He wants a staff that’s focused on the personal rewards of helping people and who are engaged in their jobs, which he said are essential “to keep the momentum going.”
White compiled an impressive record at Grand Strand. During that time, the medical center added more than 100 new beds, established specialty-care clinics, built a South Strand care center, added staff and physicians, and gained accolades for a number of initiatives, including being recognized as providing the best cardiac care in South Carolina for each of the last four years.
Sims, though, established a resume of his own during his four years at StoneCrest, a 10-year-old, 107-bed HCA hospital south of Nashville, Tenn. It received an outstanding achievement award from the Commission on Cancer and got a certificate of distinction for primary stroke centers and was named a top performer on key quality measures, both of the latter by The Joint Commission.
A restaurant of his own
The son of a U.S. Army officer, Sims was born in Tennessee and grew up in Panama; El Paso, Texas; Huntsville, Ala., and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where his father was an instructor.
If he had it to do over again, he said, he probably would have gone to West Point, if he could have gotten in. But academics weren’t a primary concern during his high school years in Huntsville and he chose to do his undergraduate studies at the University of Alabama.
At the time, he said, he had worked as a waiter in Huntsville restaurants and thought he might like to have his own restaurant. But he met Jodi, his wife-to-be, during his sophomore year at Alabama and his outlook on life became more serious and more practical.
After graduation, he got a job with a company that provided foodservice for hospitals and worked in northwest Mississippi. Eventually, he transferred to an HCA hospital in Nashville, as director of foodservice and enrolled in Belmont University’s After 6 program for a graduate degree in hospital management. The After 6 program had a nighttime class schedule that allowed Sims to work while pursuing his degree.
Sims said that his choice of Belmont had nothing to do with the fact that its graduate school of business administration is named after one of HCA’s founders, who was a major contributor to the school. And no, he said, he didn’t get any scholarship money from HCA because he was a company employee while he got his graduate degree.
He hadn’t really thought about a career in hospitals until he worked in one.
“I realized very quickly I just loved being in a hospital environment,” he said.
StoneCrest was the third HCA hospital in Tennessee he led before moving to the Grand Strand, and although all were considerably smaller than where he is now, he’s not sure that size changes a lot of the basics of hospital administration.
“From the clinical standpoint and what we do day-to-day,” he said, “I don’t think it’s that different.”
Sims said he thinks it’ll take him a month or two to get his feet planted firmly at Grand Strand and to be able to assess not only how it does what it’s doing, but where he believes it should head in the future.
He acknowledged that the emergence of a national healthcare program is likely going to lead to greater scrutiny on how and what hospitals charge for their services.
HCA wants its hospitals’ fees to be as transparent as possible, and Sims said Grand Strand will provide its best estimate of costs a patient can expect if the patients ask for it. It is up to patients to become more proactive about the costs of healthcare and to push all medical providers to tell them upfront what they’ll pay for care, he said.
Sims said that after his initiation phase at Grand Strand, he plans to give the staff his vision of the future and what the hospital has to do to take advantage of it. He said he knows that there could be pushback then from some on the staff who feel differently, but the differences hopefully can be resolved so that each side feels positive about it.
He said that his ability to see the big picture is one of his top three strengths, and that certainly includes determining the future direction for a medical center. The other two are building a strong leadership team and having a consistent energy level at work.
Sims said that he’s found there is a high quality of life here and plenty of opportunities for him and his family – wife and two sons, aged 10 and 14 – to be outdoors, which all enjoy. It is his first time living on a coastline.
“It’s beautiful,” he said of this area.
Jodi Sims and their boys are still in Tennessee, and Mark Sims said it looks now as though they won’t move before school is out next spring.
By that time, his staff at Grand Strand no doubt will know their new boss a lot better and have relaxed with his style. Healthcare jobs are very serious, Sims said, and perhaps because of that, the workplace needs to be as relaxed as possible.
“By and large,” he said, “I’m ready to have some fun with things.”
And possibly by the spring, some of his employees will have the same strong feelings about him as Bowen, his former marketing director. Before Sims left StoneCrest, Bowen had taken a job at a larger HCA facility in the Nashville area. Sims was the best manager she’s worked for, she said, and StoneCrest a great place to do it.
“I cried for two weeks when I had to leave there,” she said.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.