Health Care

Once a nurse, now she's local hospital's bold new president

Inside Sherry Hausmann's office at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis is a wall affixed with Post-it notes.

Hausmann, who assumed the top job at the hospital in May, uses them to learn the organization and to think through strategy.

The Illinois native and mother of five daughters — who range in age from 12 to 19 — is decisive, too.

Shortly after her hiring, she spent one weekend touring more than 20 area homes, and by Sunday when she was on the road back to the St. Louis area, she was on the phone making arrangements to buy one in east Wichita.

Though Hausmann started in health care working as a registered nurse, she didn't stay in nursing for long. After briefly working as a nurse at Carbondale Memorial Hospital in her home state, she took a job working for a group of entrepreneurial physicians who were building and operating ambulatory surgical centers. It was there that she began her transition from recovery room nurse to health care administrator.

"It really taught me how to work with physicians," she said, and it exposed her to the administration and business side of health care, such as marketing and business development.

When the group sold the network of surgery centers to HealthSouth, she stayed on.

But not for long.

One physician repeatedly hounded Hausmann to consider interviewing with SSM Health Care in St. Louis, one of the nation's largest Catholic health care systems, for a job as executive director of surgical services at DePaul Health Center.

"I took the interview just to hush him up," she said.

But during the interview with SSM, Hausmann said she realized "that these people were doing things for the right reasons."

She was offered the job and accepted it, in 1998. A few years later, she was named chief operating officer of the hospital that today has 1,850 employees.

Hausmann is credited with being part of a management team that turned around DePaul, which she said was going through a rough patch, losing the business of some major managed care plans. More harmful, she said, was that the hospital had "lost the faith of some key physicians."

She said her part in the turnaround involved repairing those physician relationships.

From DePaul, Hausmann went to SSM St. Joseph Hospital of Kirkwood, also in the St. Louis area. Her assignment as president there was to close that hospital and oversee its replacement, St. Clare Health Center.

She said she was heavily involved in the planning of St. Clare, "designing out waste, designing out steps" so nurses and other caregivers could spend more of their shifts with their patients.

"We designed out about two miles of walking to the average 12-hour nursing shift," she said.

Hausmann said one of her best experiences at SSM was when it pursued the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The award is given by the president to companies and organizations that are judged to be outstanding in areas including leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, and process management.

SSM won the award in 2002 and was the first health care provider to receive it.

"I'm a believer in the Baldridge process," she said. "It really is about making the organization better."

And even if SSM hadn't won the award, "we were going to get better from the process" of pursuing it.

As a leader, Hausmann said she values staff input and considers it in decision-making.

"I'm a believer in team," she said. "I'm a believer in empowering those on the front line."

She hasn't quite yet mastered her golf game, even though her husband, Steve, is a golf professional.

"He does make it look easy," Hausmann said. "I need to keep my day job and leave the golfing to Steve."