Tune in! Don Antonucci, CEO of Providence Health Plan, is on Moments Move Us
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New Podcast Episode: The Three Cs of Leadership: Caring, Communication, and Curiosity with Don Antonucci
What You’ll Learn:
Why you should lead with respect, empathy, and “humankindness”
The importance of giving people second chances and allowing room for growth
How innovations in technology help create a culture for the younger generation
Obstacles are inevitable, and often, it’s our reaction to these obstacles that define who we are as leaders.
On this episode of Moments Move Us, join Marvin O’Quinn, President and COO at CommonSpirit Health, as he shares his remarkable path from growing up in a small segregated town in the South to becoming a prominent leader in the health care industry.
Marvin’s story is one of resilience and determination, as he offers valuable insights and tips for aspiring healthcare professionals and those who are just starting out. He emphasizes the significance of embracing every project, no matter the size or difficulty, and the importance of being open to continuous learning and growth.
His organization serves marginalized communities and actively transforms the lives of their patients every day. His passion for equity and inclusivity shines through his actions, ensuring that health care reaches those who need it the most.
Themes: Health equity, imposter syndrome, diversity, mission-driven work, innovation
“Most people, when they ask me, ‘Where did you grow up?’ I talk about growing up in the inner city of Los Angeles. But in reality, I was actually born in Memphis, Tennessee, and I lived in a small town outside of Memphis, Tennessee, actually in Arkansas in the Delta, and the town was called Crawfordsville, Arkansas. Not a town that was growing. I guess you would call it the segregated South. The Black population literally lived on one side of the track, and the white population lived on the other side of the track. We had separate schools, separate libraries, separate everything. I started in that environment…And so, my initial impressions of life were pretty difficult. I did everything: pick cotton, chop cotton, pick fruit. We did what you had to do to survive. And I suppose I learned from that the willingness to really work hard because you had to if you wanted to scratch out a decent life for your family…My family migrated to Los Angeles, driven by the large boom in the aircraft industry in Los Angeles, and both of my parents, my mother and stepfather, ended up working on constructing airplanes. We moved into the inner city of Los Angeles, where I interestingly enough had a Deep South accent to the extent that most people couldn’t understand a word I was saying, which you might imagine resulted in some shall we say not so nice things being said about me at the time, but I had to learn to adjust, and I did… There was one teacher there who took an interest in me, for whatever reason, I don’t know why she liked me. She made sure I came to class, or I didn’t go to class, came looking for me, and she got me enrolled in a summer program at UCLA, where I actually had to go and live on campus there the entire summer. Now, I’d been two places in my life: the Deep South and inner-city L.A. So now I’m living in Brentwood on the UCLA campus. I’ve never seen anything quite so beautiful. It opened my eyes, if you will, that there is another world. And that was the beginning of my journey out of the inner city. So when I came back after being there for the summer, I had a sense of what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to college, a larger education, and be able to determine my own destiny, if you will.”
“I worked in the emergency room [at LAC+USC Medical Center] over the summer and really got a taste of what a hospital was like. I worked in the transport out of the emergency room, and that is kind of what whet my appetite, if you will, for wanting to work in healthcare. Because I saw there people working really hard to take care of some people who were without a lot of income, really in a lot of distress, and serving the community like the one that I grew up in… And that’s where I first really thought, this is something I could do, but I didn’t know how to do it.”
“I could see in a lot of the faces in the emergency rooms, the same sort of despair and loneliness and grief that I saw in the community I grew up in. These were my people, if you will, and here was an institution that was serving them and seemed to be happy and willing and glad to serve them. And so that made me think maybe there’s something I could do that could help my community. And so that was part of it. The other part of it is really exciting. I’d grown up in a very small town. You really don’t see much past your block or your high school. Anything beyond that’s another world to you. And so here I am seeing a completely new world and experiencing and interacting with people that I had never thought or even dreamed I’d be able to interact with, most of whom were white. 99% of the people who lived in my community were black. And so my experiences outside of African Americans was very limited. But once I got to UCLA, like, a whole other world opened up.”
“Once I got inside the hospital and understood the hierarchy in terms of the titles and who does what and how they all go up to a pyramid to one person sitting on top. I wanted to be that person sitting on top. I figured out what the route was to get there, and I started taking on projects and work that would ultimately get me there. Even today, when I speak to young students or other interns or folks who are looking for thoughts or advice on stuff, I always tell them, take every project. Even if you don’t know anything about it, tell them you do. Particularly now. I didn’t have the Internet then. If I didn’t know something, I had to go to the library and look it up. But I took every project that was thrown in my direction. Someone said, ‘Anyone knows something about this?’ My hand went up. And so, I just made myself indispensable, if you will, to the organization. And then I started looking at job opportunities that were going to take me in the direction I wanted to go.”
“Our singular purpose [at CommonSpirit] is to serve the common good. And that’s written into many of our statements that you’ll see in our office buildings. And we have hospitals all over the country, and a large proportion of them are in the communities that look like communities that I grew up in. Now, it doesn’t mean they’re all black or Afro American, but they’re all marginalized communities there, whereas if we weren’t there, these folks would not have access to health care. And that’s what our company is all about.”
“At some point in everyone’s life, health becomes an issue. We start a lot of meetings with a patient story because we have to keep reminding each other that, yes, there’s a business part of what we do. (The books have to be kept, finances have to be in order, money has to be collected.) But at the end of the day, the product, if you will, is a service to someone who is probably having the worst day of their lives. And our job is to make that day a little less difficult for them. Because every day my system is impacting somebody’s life.”
“The whole idea is: Hello, Humankindness is a promise. The promise is that when you come to one of our institutions, the interactions that you’re going to have are going to be empathetic. We’re going to treat you as a human being. We’re going to put your needs first. We’re going to try to maintain your dignity. We’re going to treat your family with respect in the same way that we treat you. And we’re going to treat you as if you were a member of the family. It’s not just health care you’re getting from us. What you’re going to get from us is kindness, because we believe that how you connect with an individual also can have a powerful impact on how they receive care and how they recover from their care. And we think that encompasses what we’re trying to do.”
“One of the leaders in the organization made a mistake, and I was talking to the CEO and I was going on and on about how this guy needed to be fired. And he says, ‘Marvin, one day you’re going to make a mistake, and you should hope that the person that you report to will be understanding of the mistake you made and give you an opportunity to correct it.’ After that, I had even more respect for that CEO at the time. And the person who had made the mistake, he didn’t lose his job, and he went on to be a great leader in the field that he was in… And so it has molded me to a great degree. So when I deal with folks, the people who work for me, I give people second, third, and fourth chances to get it right, because I know they’re trying to get it right.”
“There are a number of folks in the industry today that are leading hospitals or systems that used to work for me. I helped them get started and they lead with the same kind of style that I have, and that includes two of my own kids have also gone into health care, different branches of health care, but they’re still in health care. I think that I’ve made a difference in terms of people who look like me saying that we can be healthcare executives. Our skin color doesn’t have to be something that holds us back from these types of jobs. I would just encourage anyone listening that I think health care is a wonderful field. It has been good to me and my family, and you can certainly say that it is extremely rewarding to know that they’re having a positive impact on people’s lives, frequently in circumstances that really are the lowest points in their lives.”
“I didn’t want to live the way my parents had lived. I didn’t want to have my life determined by circumstances around me. I wanted to control my own destiny. I always had this inner turmoil that’s still there today. That is, I’m not quite good enough. And so, I got to work harder. I got to be in earlier, I got to stay later, or I’m not going to make it. I’ll end up back living in the inner city with nothing to account for in terms of my life, and I didn’t want that. And so that fear is what has driven me, and even to this day, it still drives me. Even though I’ve had some success, I always feel like I’m just not quite good enough.”
“I didn’t run away from my community. Maybe through some part of what I’ve done, I’ve been able to make some people’s lives a little bit easier in the community that I grew up in.”
“Most people who work in the healthcare field, we’re not in a position to judge technical quality of a doctor or of a nurse. You presume that they are qualified because of their credential. But what you can judge is how they treat you, what level of empathy they may or may not have. Do they see you as a human being or do they see you as just another person going through the mill?”
“Leadership and how you lead and how you treat people, for me, I want to treat people the way I would like to be treated. And we’re dealing with people, particularly in health care, almost everybody’s knowledgeable. The nurses have PhDs and master’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees. Pharmacists go to school longer than I go to school, become a hospital manager. We’re talking about people who have trained, and they are here because they want to be here. They can have done anything. And I just believe that the best way to motivate people and to really galvanize them is through a vision of where you’re trying to move your organization and treating people with their proper amount of respect and empathy. Every individual who works for me has something going on in their life outside of the job that affects how they come to the job. If I ignore that, then I’m ignoring a big part of that person’s life and what makes them what they are. And I’ve always thought that the best way to do that is just to try to connect with each of my leaders.”
“I guess not how many times you get knocked down. It’s how many times you get up. And you just have to keep pushing forward. You have to give people the opportunity in the room to make their own mistakes. They’ll learn from them. As long as they don’t keep beating up, then the organization is actually better.”
“We now have people working from home, and they have no intentions of coming back to the office. And if you say you have to work in the office, they’ll just go find a job someplace else. And those jobs are available to them… So, the economy of the workforce has changed dramatically for us, here at health care. 100,000 nurses left during the pandemic. They’re predicting another half a million nurses to leave the field over the next three to five years. We have MR techs, ultrasound techs, CT techs, 40% vacancies in those physicians can’t find them. This is something I learned early on in my career, is that a hospital is like a living body. It’s an ecosystem. All the jobs relate to each other. So if job A doesn’t get done, person over here in job D can’t do their job. All these things are interrelated. There are no sort of independent kingdoms in health care.”
“Technology has to do two things for us. It has to allow our smaller group of employees to do a larger group of work, but do it easily and not just take on and double their workload. It also has to create a culture that appeals to today’s folks coming out of college. Because most people coming out of college are technologically advanced. They’re looking for places that are innovative and creative and are driving the technology. Hospitals are the last place where that really exists…
I’m really excited about that in terms of what that future is going to look like. It’s going to take a lot of technological investment. But I think that really for health care, that’s really the answer. Because the people that we used to count on to do these jobs, they’re not there.”
Explore transformative stories from healthcare executives as they share impactful moments of human connection from their professional journeys.