Q&A With Jim Griffith, COO of El Camino Hospital

The Fogarty Institute has long enjoyed a reciprocal and collaborative relationship with El Camino Health, and over the years we have benefited from the expertise and mentoring of not only its physicians, but also its executive team.

Recently, Jim Griffith, who joined El Camino Hospital as chief operating officer in 2018, shared his thoughts on leadership at a Fogarty Institute seminar, drawing on his two decades of healthcare experience, including recent executive leadership positions at Tanner Health System in Carrollton, Georgia, and Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System in Salinas, California.

We had the privilege of catching up with Jim to learn more about his career and current role at El Camino Hospital, as well as his passion for the topic of leadership and how it applies to the healthcare industry.

Q. How did you get into the healthcare industry, and what have been some of your most rewarding moments?

A. In the mid ‘90s when I was getting my MBA in Monterey, California, I met the CEO of Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare Systems, who encouraged me to apply for a position after finishing my studies. I didn’t wait and was hired as a low-level director while completing my MBA. I fell in love with it and spent 15 years at the organization, working my way up from the lowest position to leaving as the COO in 2014.

Some of the most rewarding times in my career were when I have been able to make decisions and create initiatives that truly have the ability to improve patient care and ultimately relieve suffering and advance patient wellness. That also happens to be El Camino’s mission and prevails in every aspect of our organization: From the facilities we design, to the individuals we hire, to the initiatives we carve out for the future — they all have the potential to provide life-transforming care. I feel very humbled and privileged to be part of this industry.

Another rewarding aspect has been investing time and attention in managers and directors in the hospital systems where I have worked. When leaders improve and grow, they win; their team wins; and most importantly, the patients win.

Q. What are your plans for growth at El Camino Health and what opportunities do you see for the hospital in terms of innovation?

A. El Camino Health is uniquely positioned in Silicon Valley, or “innovation alley” as we refer to it, and we aim to reflect that mentality. In fact, we have an innovation team on campus which is focused on transforming the delivery of care. For example, we are looking at smart TVs and virtual visits, and we have just launched a program that puts patients’ real-time medical information in their hands.

This is a very exciting time of growth at the hospital. We are currently in the process of opening $500 million of new building space in the next six months to two years. The first will be our “innovation” medical building Sobrato Pavilion and later we will open Taube Pavilion, home of our mental health and addiction services, and complete an expansion of mother-baby services in Orchard Pavilion. We are in the process of upgrading all our cath and imaging labs, and we are also expanding our ambulatory sites of care in Santa Clara County with the acquisition of the San Jose Medical Group, which allows us to expand our care to Silicon Valley residents.

We also currently have 45 clinical trials that are taking place at the hospital, which allow us to help advance healthcare and research to improve patient care. And of course, we have the Fogarty Institute on campus, and I am proud of the incredible synergy we have enjoyed as we work together to transform our industry.

Q. Not all “leaders” are as invested in the discipline as you are. How did you become so passionate about it?

A. It’s definitely personal – I myself realized that to become more effective, I had to change and grow as a leader.

While at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare Systems, the hospital joined the Leadership Institute, which is a group of 65 high-performance hospitals that meets three times a year to learn best practices from industry experts and its members. That’s where my interest was first piqued, and I have since been a member or chair of this organization – learning from my peers how to make a difference in healthcare transformation and healthcare system leadership.

As I saw my competencies grow in my professional life, personal development and leadership skills became a passion of mine, and I began to train and educate the 100 + managers and directors in the healthcare systems where I worked. What I found is that anyone who wants to be more effective has to commit to being a lifelong learner in the practice of leadership.

In fact, at El Camino Hospital we are in the process of putting together a new managers’ training series – from the supervisor to the executive level. It’s something that was very powerful at my previous employer, and I believe will have a positive effect here.

Q. What do you do when you’re not leading the hospital or working with other leaders?

A. In my spare time, I like to work out as much as I can, at least five days a week because it keeps me focused and motivated. I like to do CrossFit with my wife or go running. I also like to spend as much time as I can with my family – my wife of 26 years and our four kids, including two who are following me into the healthcare field – one who is in medical school and another who is getting a master’s degree in nursing at John Hopkins University.

Q. What advice do you have for others who want to improve their leadership skills?

A. I think it’s important for leaders to realize that their goal is to effect change – and yet often that process itself can be messy. I always recommend a book by John Kotter, “The Heart of Change,” which offers tactical advice for leaders who want to effectively lead change. Ultimately, strong leadership provides a valuable competitive advantage – when organizations improve at adapting to changing conditions with fewer setbacks, they will outperform the competition in quality and growth — and ultimately in providing better patient care.

Two other books I recommend to teams at the hospital are “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek and “The Ideal Team Player” by Patrick Lencioni. They remind us that a great leader is humble and willing to serve others; yet also someone who is assertive and wants to work hard. These are the qualities we recruit for and aim to cultivate in our leaders. Because ultimately, we can only achieve our goals with strong, committed leaders.

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