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Leadership from the Heart

February 2012

Lyle Sheldon, President and CEO
Upper Chesapeake Health

Compassion. Excellence. Integrity. These words represent the legacy of Upper Chesapeake Health (UCH) under the leadership of Lyle Sheldon, president and CEO. This not-for-profit, community based, two-hospital system thrives under Sheldon’s steady guidance.

Meeting with I95 Business in the volunteer services offices, the uncharacteristically CEO-like environment of everyday folks is the atmosphere of norm for Sheldon. He spends his time attending community and charity meetings, collaborating with senior hospital staff and speaking to many volunteers by name.

His energy and enthusiasm are part of the reason for the thriving atmosphere of excellence at UCH. Operating with a $450-million budget and anchored with a staff of 3,000, including 600 physicians and 950 volunteers, UCH’s facilities continue to expand in an effort to meet the community’s healthcare needs.

Groundbreaking History
Sheldon started work at Upper Chesapeake in 1987 after his early hospital administration career sent him to Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina. With an undergraduate degree from Rutgers and graduate work at George Washington University in Hospital Administration, Sheldon worked for the Veterans Administration, for-profits and non-profits. Responding to a newspaper ad, he landed in Harford County as chief operating officer of Upper Chesapeake Health.

He arrived during the transition from Fallston General Hospital. Among his first major projects, Sheldon directed the UCH hospital construction and groundbreaking in 2000, after five years of exhaustive planning. He also oversees Harford Memorial in downtown Havre de Grace and has overseen additional groundbreakings for expansions in Bel Air, as well as the Cancer Center and the Bob Hooper House, a hospice facility in Forest Hill.

“Our hope and our dream is the fifth groundbreaking of some property in Havre de Grace,” Sheldon announces.

Future Expansion Sites
In Havre de Grace, UCH owns approximately 97 acres at the intersection of Route 155 and I-95 on the Bulle Rock property and plans to build in the near future. Other activities include fundraising campaigns to raise capital for large-scale projects. Sheldon says UCH will raise dollars for brick and mortar, as well as establish an endowment for services at the future Cancer Center, slated for opening in late 2013.

Sheldon says that the new Cancer Center is the biggest change coming from a facility standpoint. He points out his good fortune of seeing the evolution of the new organization. “Collectively, we believe that this Cancer Center opening is one of those milestones that will show what Upper Chesapeake Health is all about,” he states.

Lyle Sheldon (left) is a hands-on CEO who has steadied UCH through several expansions. He is pictured here with Dr. Kim Russell, family practitioner, and Dr. Angela M. Poppe Ries, a physician specializing in palliative care.

Combining the multi-disciplinary physician, diagnostic testing, treatment and navigational support component under one roof, the Cancer Center will allow services to expand. Sheldon maintains that UCH is “trying to create an experience that gives folks the hope, healing and comfort that they need without driving too far to get it.”

Three phases of the Cancer Center project include additional parking completed last fall, then construction of a town road, including another access point to the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center (UCMC) campus from Route 24, and the construction of the Cancer Center building itself. The future 75,259-square-foot multidisciplinary, comprehensive Cancer Center will give patients immediate access to medical oncologists and deliver timely treatment plans.

“Hope and healing: close to home” is the tagline for the new Cancer Center. Sheldon believes that the new facility will keep more patients in the county; he estimates that 80-90 percent of the services that people need are available in Harford County.

Ambassadors for UCH
The upcoming expansion means UCH’s employment forecast is positive as well. Sheldon says the hospitals hired an average of 400 new team members every year. “One year, we hired 800 people,” Sheldon says. Participating in successful projects allows a certain amount of satisfaction in the achievements of any organization. Sheldon’s UCH is no exception. “There’s a tremendous amount of pride that all of us that associate with Upper Chesapeake Health have. I ask people to wear the name badge with pride but also be ambassadors for us. The impact that we can make is so important,” Sheldon says.

Culture of Excellence
Sheldon describes the culture of excellence mission at UCH as putting the focus of patient, family and community in the center. He says that employees have a certain amount of responsibility but that it’s the experiences that people have that are invaluable.

The public recognizes the blue cross and red banner logo that’s synonymous with Upper Chesapeake Health (UCH). It stands for UCH’s commitment to providing “unparalleled health care, close to home.” Patient, family and community are central, but focus on patient safety, quality care, service, the well being of team members, physicians and volunteers all directly impact that core focus. Other values such as quality care for body, mind and spirit will result in financial strength and growth. He says that it’s important to always come back to the core values of excellence in his organization. To make the commitment to provide the best care “every patient, every encounter, every day” is the simplest way to success because every experience a patient has adds up quickly to establish their reputation. “People come to UCH when they see the blue cross sign. They notice if we are polite, kind, attentive and clean and that’s what they base their opinion on,” he says.

Sheldon believes that quality care for body mind and spirit will result in financial strength and growth. UCH’s service theme involves creating a healing and compassionate environment. The vision is “to become the preferred, integrated healthcare system creating the healthiest community in Maryland.” UCH’s core values are to strive for excellence, compassion integrity, respect, responsibility and trust. “Regarding quality … through the work of a great deal of people [UCH] was recognized at the state and national level for our outcomes. The trophy case [in the lobby] is representative of quality outcome results that continue to be awarded every year,” Sheldon adds.

Live Here, Work Here
With over 85 percent of employees living in Harford County or Cecil County, it’s clear that being close to home is more important than ever to team members. In addition to the basic employment economic impact of the 3,000-person team at UCH, supply vendors and contractors are continuously relied upon for the operational needs of the hospitals. Sheldon recognizes that more than half of employees in management are promoted from within – “a culture of grooming individuals for growth opportunities,” he says. With a low 5 percent team member turnover rate, the salary budget hovers around $146 million for budget year 2012.

Forging Valued-Added Partnerships
UCH has strategic, long-term partnerships with the University of Maryland Medical System and Sheppard Pratt Health System. Calling the relationships “the power of partnership,” Sheldon says the UM alliance occurred in 2009 after surveying the needs of the community.

“Our feeling was that the county would be better served if we had a partnership with another Maryland hospital facility. The University of Maryland School of Medicine is affiliated and half the physicians in the county train there,” Sheldon recognizes. “We can continue to expand our clinical programs, specialty services and physician recruitment.”

With the onset of healthcare reform, Sheldon is quick to point out the critical importance of maintaining the relationships with community physicians from an educational standpoint. “Our growing relationship with the University of Maryland School of Medicine allows recruitment of specialists that complete the healthcare needs. Currently, over 15 pediatric specialists come to our Bel Air campus to provide consultations and follow-up care,” Sheldon says.

From a service standpoint and a healthcare reform point of view, Sheldon views his team’s capabilities as well equipped to respond to future challenges.

Community Health Initiatives
The heart of a community is always involvement and outreach support. Sheldon, together with his wife Donna, four children and one grandchild, is extremely active in Boy Scout activities, church and community organizations and says it’s his “good fortune” to live in this area for 24 years. He emphasizes commitments to the YMCA, Healthy Harford, Boys and Girls Club, the ARC, the IronBirds, Harford Community College and more.

Sheldon feels that a community is driven by a number of factors: the schools, the faith based, the community organizations and the health care. He contemplates the impact of helping the community as a whole. Sheldon says Upper Chesapeake Health feels it is very important to make both a social statement and a medical statement to the community.

“Healthy Harford is a community initiative about making Harford County a healthier county,” Sheldon states. “We are a leading partner in this collaborative for many years with Harford County Schools, the Health Department and local businesses who share the vision.”

Lyle Sheldon speaks with volunteers (L-R) Madalyn Petroff of Perry Hall and Dolores Nacci of New Park, PA.

No Typical Day

One day is completely different than the next. In the morning of I95 Business’s interview with Sheldon, he attended a Harford County Chamber of Commerce prayer breakfast, followed by a planning meeting for the cancer building project, a birthday luncheon, then a quarterly staff meeting. It’s literally nonstop for Sheldon as the scope of his daily activities changes constantly. He’s involved in strategic planning, focusing on the quality of the hospitals as well as promoting the physician team member relationships.

“I take the responsibility of representing Upper Chesapeake Health very seriously,” Sheldon emphasizes. This might mean serving breakfast from 5 to 6am at an annual holiday meal for all staff. Comfortable with reaching out to hospital staff and volunteers, Sheldon encourages anyone that is comfortable with him to use his first name. And he tends to know people’s names as well as the details in their lives.
“I think it’s important to have that connectivity,” he points out.

Leadership in Action
Sheldon’s personal approach to his position is leadership by example. He shares his mantra that “you live where you work and you work where you live.” “I enjoy what I do. I get up at 4:30am and I stay up late to 10:30pm. It’s a long day. I try to be a humble servant,” Sheldon mentions. One of Sheldon’s longtime friends and work collaborator is Steven Anderson, whom he met in 1999 when Anderson worked at Fallston General Hospital when it was acquired by Upper Chesapeake Health. “Lyle is a passionate guy, especially when it comes to health care,” says Anderson, director of volunteer services. He explains how quickly UCH has evolved in the 12 years he’s worked with Sheldon. “If anyone would have told me that in 12 years, we would be here … I wouldn’t have believed it. This journey has materialized so quickly and health care has advanced in the community,” Anderson says. “When you are working with [Sheldon] it even isn’t so much work because he inspires people to raise their game,” Anderson explains. “I’ve always admired his integrity, honesty and passion for health care.”

The Time to Care
Anderson says that Sheldon leads UCH by inspiring people. “You can’t help it when you’re a senior leader but to be inspired by the example given by him,” he shares. Recalling a story about a woman who received help carrying items to a patient’s room, Anderson shares how she wanted to communicate her thanks for hallway assistance. She pointed to “that man” (Sheldon) as the unidentified person who reached out. Anderson says “that is an example of the small details” that Sheldon cares about. Anderson emphasizes, “If there’s the smallest piece of trash on the floor, Lyle picks it up, and that’s not your typical CEO. He believes what he says, lives it and leads by example. I am really honored to be working with him.”

Mind-body Connection
The spiritual connection is widely acknowledged at UCH as the Continuing Chaplaincy Education (CCE) program meets monthly for spiritual care volunteers and community clergy. Public speakers are invited from faith communities on a variety of spiritual and healthcare topics such as advance directives, bioethics and pastoral care. Education and orientation is also provided for Stephens Ministers and bereavement support is readily accessible. “We will treat 300,000 patients over the year. The impact we have as an employer together with the number of patients we treat is significant from a social, service and a financial perspective,” Sheldon maintains. I95

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