Since he was a child, Ketul Patel has seen the difference a caring doctor and nurse can make.
Patel, the new CEO for Tacoma’s CHI Franciscan Health, spent the first eight years of his life heading to remote parts of Kenya with his parents as they provided health care for some of the country’s poorest people. His father, a doctor, and his mother, a maternal/fetal nurse, took Patel and his older brother with them on these weekend work trips.
“We have very very vivid memories of what we saw there,” Patel said in an interview this week. “This really shaped what I wanted to do. I’ve never forgotten that.”
Patel succeeds Joe Wilczek, who retired after 17 years at the helm of the faith-based health system that had three hospitals when he started. Now, Franciscan employs almost 12,500 people and operates seven hospitals.
Before arriving in Tacoma, Patel was a senior executive with Hackensack University Health Network and its University Medical Center in New Jersey. That system employs about 11,300 people.
On Monday, Patel marked his first full week on the job. He received his first formal tour of St. Joseph Medical Center that day, where he introduced himself to employees by just his first name then asked them for their “wish list.”
Before the tour, The News Tribune sat down with Patel. This interview has been condensed and edited.
Clinical quality is at the forefront. The local board and (parent company Catholic Health Initiatives) always have been very clear about that. We have to continue to rise in prominence there. We have opportunities in the further integration of Highline Medical Center in Burien and Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton.
Outside of that, I’m here to shape some of that vision for the entire organization.
One of the things all of us will see is that health care continues to evolve. We have to change with the times. Access has to change. Virtual care is outstanding here.
We need to grow our primary and specialty care. We need to be in different places. The region’s growing, so you have to find new places to put middle-level providers, and that’s important to us.
My mom has had some health issues over the past few years. She’s in chronic renal failure. She’s had some challenges with lung capacity. It wakes you up. You see things from a family member’s eyes. When you see a nurse or aide walk in the door and truly connect with a family member, those small things go a very long way. Seeing it from a son’s eyes, that has a tremendous impact.
Franciscan would not be who we are without the caregivers that we have. I’m really pleased with everything they do here.
When I was a child, and still to some extent, East Africa has a lot of political strife. My father wanted to find a safe environment for us as well as a good education, so he brought us to the United States. He had to re-do his residency at the age of 40. To me that’s very humbling. We learned how to work hard and not take things for granted.
We moved to Johnstown, Penn. At the time there was a surplus of primary care doctors, so my father had to find a place willing to take a foreign medical graduate and allow them to come into the country. He thrived in Johnstown. After his residency, he landed a partnership in a practice in town.
You want to make sure people are open to you. But no one’s bashful here. People welcome me and then ask questions. That’s great.