Joel Yuhas

Memorial Hospital’s north and central campuses started the new year with a new chief executive officer. Joel Yuhas, 46, began leading the system Jan. 9, taking over from George Hayes, who stepped down in November.

Yuhas brings with him 20 years of health care leadership experience, most recently as president and CEO of Dignity Health’s St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif. His background also includes leadership positions at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. During his tenure at UPMC, he served as senior vice president of operations for its international division, overseeing hospital and cancer center operations in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Italy.

This week, the Amherst, Ohio, native spoke with the Business Journal about what he looks forward to most in his new home and challenge.

Why did you pursue the Memorial CEO position?

I’ve vacationed in Colorado Springs many times over the years. We love the area. It’s beautiful in the winter and the summer. This is an amazing town and an amazing system to work with.

What do you see as Memorial’s strengths?

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In my very limited exposure to Memorial, I was really impressed with the growth plans. The central campus is well-positioned as a market leader for tertiary [specialized] and quaternary [highly specialized] care, and that’s going to continue to evolve as the north campus expands. … That [expansion] creates more room at central campus to continue to expand tertiary care and surgical services. Both campuses have a really interesting and exciting future to them as they collaborate to improve health care in the Springs.

Was expected growth and your experience with larger markets one reason you took the position?

The growth trajectory of the Pikes Peak region, when you look at the market — it’s growing at a pace that’s outgrowing a lot of other metropolitan areas. That spurs further investments by health systems in trying to meet the ongoing demand for more services. What’s interesting about this system is the concept UCHealth has of bringing specialized care closer to the people who want to receive it. That business philosophy … says a lot about a community that’s thriving and growing.

Do you have a first-year agenda? 

Initially, I really just want to acquaint myself with the organization and understand its various strengths and potential opportunities. Over the next year, with the planning of Children’s Hospital at the north campus, there are a number of services impacted at the central campus we’ll want to plan for and figure out how that evolves.

What positives did you take away from your work internationally? 

We were doing bundling-of-care reimbursement models long before they were piloted here in the United States — before it was mandated. I think, as we evolve in this country from a fee-for-service model to a fee-for-value model, we have to strategically position how we partner with physicians and payers. That international experience was certainly a valuable one for me. … I don’t know that I would adopt everything I saw, but you do start to look at things a little differently when you live in an environment where all your reimbursement is a bundled methodology.

What did you find broken with the European system?

In countries like Ireland, where everybody has access to public health care, the waiting lists are extraordinarily long. That’s something they’ve struggled with in my time there. It was less severe, but present in the [United Kingdom] as well.

At Memorial, we’re growing our medical staff to meet community demand for as many services as possible that people want to receive locally. Being able to make those investments in an international setting is much slower. Things aren’t perfect overseas either.

As CEO, do uncertainties in health care affect what you do?

We knew the Affordable Care Act took us in a direction to make health care more accessible to people who needed it. I think we should be proud that more people today have more access to care than they did before. That’s a social justice issue.

We also knew the first step of the ACA wasn’t perfect. Hospitals suffered a bit from the initial phase. … There’s no free lunch. You have to subsidize care at a cost from somewhere. But that’s going to change, and it would have had to change no matter who became president. … But I don’t see how you can completely unravel a trajectory of change that’s happened over the last eight years.

We’re stewards. That’s what a CEO is, stewards of resources. We know consumers demand services closer to home. We know that receiving care in a hospital is a high-cost environment to receive care. So as a health system, we have to continue to look for opportunities to give consumers what they want — at lower costs for greater value. That won’t change.

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