Sally Deitch, CEO Tenet Healthcare, Mid-South Group discusses what's next.
Sally Deitch, RN, has always welcomed a good challenge, and she has recently had a handful.
As chief executive officer of Tenet Healthcare Corporation's Mid-South Group, she was involved throughout 2020 finalizing details of a $350-million sale of Tenet's Memphis-based St. Francis Hospital and Bartlett-based St. Francis Hospital to Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.
"The sale was announced in November of 2019, but we had to focus on taking care of our patients, and then the pandemic hit," she recalled. "That changed our focus and attention and impacted everything from government shutdowns to dealing with the surgeons at the hospitals.
"We had to change from one direction to another in December 2020 when the deal fell through, but we still had to focus on what was in front of us and that was taking care of our patients. It created a very challenging environment from an operational standpoint. If it wasn't hard enough recruiting staff when you're in the process of a sale, throw in the pandemic on top of that and, well, everybody's looking for somebody. It created unique challenges for the facility."
The sale - with six MedPost urgent care centers and physician practices affiliated with the two hospitals - fell through after 12 months of challenges from other Memphis healthcare providers. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission moved to block the sale for antitrust concerns.
Faced with lengthy litigation, Methodist and Tenet decided to drop the planned sale and go their separate ways.
Dallas-based Tenet has 110,000 employees, 65 hospitals and some 500 other healthcare facilities nationwide. Deitch has been with Tenet for 13 years.
"After the change of plans, our number one goal was to make sure the community understood that Tenet's commitment to, not only Memphis but to these other hospitals, would remain steadfast," she said. "Tenet is not looking for another buyer and we are not going to shut down facilities.
"These (St. Francis) hospitals are financially stable, and always have been, so it really is a focus on making sure that our physicians and our community knows the hospitals are viable and will remain here for a very long time."
She said there are several large, long-term programs in development that will underscore that commitment from Tenet, as well as from the medical community. "I can't talk about them yet because we're working out some contracts," she added, "but it will reinvigorate the hospitals."
Deitch also aims to create partnerships in the community, perhaps capitalizing on their somewhat smaller profile in the Memphis medical market.
"We are, what some might say, like Switzerland: we will never be the giant provider in town," she said. "We are the number three provider in town, but we have a lot to offer."
Deitch said short-term goals are all about staffing.
"My colleagues in the community are all experiencing the same challenge, and that is a nursing shortage," she said. "The pandemic gave nurses the ability to go out and take contract jobs and travel and make a lot of money, which really created a challenge to hire nurses who wanted to remain in Memphis. Our number one short-term goal is to build back the employee base and make sure we can deliver on what we say we're going to do.
"It's always the chicken-or-the-egg question: Can you hire people before you have programs up, or vice versa? We'll make sure we're addressing that."
As CEO, she describes her management style as situational.
"It really depends on what the needs are," she said. "I love to grow teams and I love to coach people to the next level of their career and watch them grow, and I have very high expectations on how they perform.
"If you need me to micro-manage you, I can, though that's not my preference. It's not something I like to do, but I also don't like to be completely hands-off and leave you to your own devices and let you do things that I don't think are congruent with where the organization is going."
Deitch, a native of El Paso, Texas, comes from a family of educators and nurses. Her father was a high school football coach for nearly 40 years and won three Texas state championships, including back-to-back titles before his retirement in 2017.
She has an undergraduate nursing degree and a master's degree in nursing administration from the University of Texas-El Paso, and a master's degree in healthcare administration from Trinity University.
"Nursing has just always been in my DNA," she said. Her first job was as a staff nurse at an El Paso hospital in 1990. "There was never a point where I said 'Oh, I want to be an administrator.' I actually was exposed from a department leadership level when I was right out of school. My director was a year from retirement, and I think I'd been in the department three months and one day she said, 'You're young. You're new. You just got out of school. You should know this.'"
Deitch was 23. Her preceptors told her to just do whatever the director asked.
"By the time I was done with my first year I had done our capital budget, our operating budget, her scheduling, payroll, rewrote her policies and procedures, did performance improvement for the department, and had gone through a regulatory survey," she recalled. "When she retired the next year, it was a surgeon who went to the CEO and said 'We want Sally to be the next director (of endoscopy services and the operating room.)"
The CEO was skeptical.
"The first words out of his mouth were, 'How old are you?'" said Deitch. "I can remember thinking 'I don't think you're allowed to ask me that.' But he said 'I'll give you a chance. I'll give you six months.' I just always wanted to be a bedside nurse, so I worked a half day in clinical and half day on the administrative side. Then I became chief nursing officer at 27, and then chief operating officer when I was 31. Now, I've been in a CEO role for 20 years.
"The majority of my life has been in some kind of administrative role, yet I feel like a nurse and think like a nurse."
Deitch has worked or run hospitals in El Paso, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Memphis, and four in South Carolina.
She and her husband have five boys, ranging from seventh grade to college. Her main free-time activity, when there is such a time, is playing golf.
"I've heard Memphis described many times as a big, small town," Deitch said. "I think there's a lot of truth to that. It's also a very gracious big, small town. It's been very much a pleasure not only being here, but really becoming part of the community."