Michael Beaver had absolutely no plans to move from San Antonio last month to take the president's position at St. Anthony Hospital. For the previous six years, he'd been more than satisfied serving Methodist Healthcare System as chief operating officer for three hospitals with a combined full-time staff of 4,300.
But when a headhunter called him about the opportunity at Saints, Beaver, a Tulsa native who studied at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma College of Law, quickly became intrigued. The more he researched, he said, the more impressed he was with the accomplishments of St. Anthony and those of its parent company, St. Louis-based SSM Health Care.
SSM, in the early 2000s, was the first health care winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and Beaver knew “you don't just stumble into that award; it takes a real commitment to get there,” he said.
Meanwhile, he appreciated St. Anthony's high ratings in patient satisfaction and employee engagement, renovation of its Midtown facility, and growth strategies, including recent openings of its east and south campuses.
Pair those findings with the fact Beaver's mom and stepfather live in Tulsa and his father-in-law lives in Dallas, and the next thing he knew, he, his wife, Kim, and their three young sons were Oklahoma-bound. They just closed on a home in SE Edmond.
Beaver, 42, sat down Monday with The Oklahoman to talk about his career, including what led him to choose health care over law, and his weathering of Hurricane Katrina as a hospital administrator in New Orleans.
This is an edited transcript:
Q: Will you tell us about your roots?
A: I grew up in Tulsa, the youngest of four children. I have two brothers and a sister, who are four and half years to seven years older. My parents divorced when I was 2, and my mother moved from Dallas — where my dad, a retired Air Force colonel was then based — back to her hometown of Tulsa. She worked longest in the accounting department for Occidental Petroleum and didn't remarry for 11 years. But she had the support of my dad's parents and her father, who lived only blocks from us. A widower, my maternal grandfather would have us — and my seven first cousins — over for dinner every Sunday. He was a great cook. My favorite meal was roast with cooked carrots and potatoes.
Q: What were the highlights of your school days?
A: Sports. I played everything: soccer, baseball, basketball and football, but continued only football in high school at Nathan Hale. It was a given I'd go to OSU, which was the alma mater of my whole family: both parents, aunts, siblings and cousins. I majored in speech communications with plans to go to law school and become a litigator.
Q: What made you switch from law to health care?
A: While in law school at OU, I worked at two firms. One practiced traditional regulatory health care law and the other specialized in medical malpractice and insurance defense. I realized almost immediately that working in health care was more my calling than practicing law. In health care, I decided I could help people, and impact their lives, more than in law or any other profession. So after graduating from law school, I went on to earn a master's in health care administration at what I researched as the best program regionally, Trinity in San Antonio. I paid for both graduate degrees entirely on my own, using student loans.
Q: What was your first job, and how did your career progress from there?
A: I completed a yearlong residency at a hospital in Las Cruces, N.M., near El Paso, which was the sole community provider in the state's poorest county. Then, I worked in health care consulting in Dallas, initially for KPMG, where I gained great experience working with all sizes of hospitals and physician groups nationwide, and then for Tenet Healthcare Corp. Tenet intended to place me in a hospital chief executive position, but I opted for a COO opportunity with a larger facility, Meadowcrest Hospital in New Orleans.
Q: You were working in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. What was that like?
A: It was crazy — mayhem. My hospital is situated on the west bank, so there was no flooding. But we had a limited food supply and there was no air conditioning, electricity or security. Gunshots were sounding all around us, and there was pandemonium and fear. I used to watch similar events on TV and wonder whether I'd sink or swim. I thought I'd be a good leader, but didn't know until then. Meanwhile, colleagues who I thought could meet the challenges, didn't; while those whom I doubted, stepped up. The evacuation, five days later, was like Saigon, with four helicopters on the ground and two circling.
My wife, just two weeks before the storm hit, delivered our second son by c-section. Thankfully, my mom — who was there helping — was able to travel with Kim and the kids to Dallas, where she stayed with her dad. We had no communications with the outside world, so she was worried sick.
The hospital was closed six weeks, after which we rebuilt. I stayed a year post-Katrina as interim chief executive. My predecessor had moved on.
Q: What are your thoughts on health care reform?
A: In some form or fashion, it's necessary, though I don't think we know what it's going to look like yet. Regardless, our challenge is to do more with less and, at the same time, provide the best high quality experience for our patients. Cuts to government reimbursements are going to be tough, because we really have no fat in the system now. But it's going to get tougher, with the prices of salaries and equipment costs continuing to rise. You have to have quality service, leadership and a strong relationship with your medical staff. I believe St. Anthony is well-positioned in all three.