Margaret Sabin plans to use her decades of experience in health care administration, as well as her knowledge of population health management, to advance the mission of Children’s Hospital Colorado.
“Population health has always been the stepchild,” the new Southern Region president for Children’s Hospital Colorado said. “My sense when approached by the CEO of Children’s was, ‘It’s not a stepchild for us, Margaret.’ She said, ‘It’s what we do; it’s in our mission statement and it is our mission.’”
Sabin, who previously served as the CEO of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services for about 10 years, assumed her new role with Children’s Hospital Colorado on Jan. 7.
“I think to be part of [Children’s Colorado], where the mission statement and the mission they walk every day is the same… is heady, and there’s a better word than that for it, but just pinch me,” she said. “I’m very excited.”
A native of southern Maryland, Sabin has a master’s degree in health administration from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a bachelor’s in biology from Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
She hails from a big family with two Irish Catholic teachers as parents, she said, adding her upbringing is why she had multiple jobs during college. One of those jobs was putting together summaries of toxic chemicals for the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Then — the complete opposite of that — I was a bartender at an Irish bar because my maiden name is Maggie Dugan, or Margaret Catherine Dugan,” she said. “The owners really liked the sound of my name, so I worked there too and had no school debt when I was finished.”
Sabin spoke with the Business Journal this week about her priorities in the new role with Children’s Hospital Colorado as well as challenges she expects to face in the position.
What are some of your priorities as incoming Southern Region president?
There’s an incredible team here — I love that. Every other time I’ve been somewhere, it’s been a little bit of a turnaround, including a financial turnaround. So, the first thing I’ve had to do is evaluate why there’s a need for the turnaround. … Change was always involved.
Here, I’ve got a team that I’m actually thinking, ‘Really, I get to be part of you.’ So supporting this team is a big [priority]. A way of supporting the team is in expanding that full sense of what Children’s means to the southern Colorado region. That includes population health. Having one of the top 10 hospital systems in the nation open in Colorado Springs — that’s a big deal. And I love Colorado Springs. So, I’m going to be linking all the community benefits that come from that — making sure that [Children’s Hospital] has the absolute best community support and vice versa. I think that’s a given. People love embracing Children’s [Hospital] and really emphasizing population health. We’re already in some collaborative projects with other community leaders that I think will make a difference in how we can encourage health. … I mean, when you’re already a top 10 hospital, you’ve got the quality thing down because every day you walk it; every day you ensure it. So the opportunity to go out and keep kids healthy is a dream come true.
Why did the position at Children’s interest you?
It just checked every box for me. It wasn’t what I was thinking about when I left Penrose-St. Francis. First of all, 10 years is a long time for a CEO to stay in one place. I don’t know many CEOs that stay that long. … And I felt like it was 10 years of constant improvement and building a culture that I was intensely proud of — and the team helped build it. That was one of the things I said: ‘If I could pick something to have [in my new position], it’s that culture of teamwork and supporting each other and permission to speak openly.’ It was not a culture of fear [at Penrose-St. Francis Health Systems]. I saw the culture here at Children’s and it was right at the time I was thinking of pursuing [a career in] population health. I just wanted to be somewhere where that’s a priority as well as somewhere that has that culture of teamwork.
What are some initial challenges you expect to face?
Learning the culture. … This organization has done a lot to create this culture and I want to understand everything, so it’s taking the time to continue learning because there are so many things on any given day. And it’s taking the time to learn what made this fabulous organization what it is, because I need to honor that and then I need to build on that. … I’m finding from organizations that everyone wants Children’s [Hospital] to be part of their sandbox.
Of course, opening a new hospital is a challenge. We’re not going to say it’s not. That’s a big lift; that’s a big deal. It’s getting this community to understand that pediatric health now isn’t an hour, hour and a half, two hours’ drive away. It’s here and it’s part of our neighborhood. … And thirdly, pulling together all the social constructs that impact child health in a way that we can work efficiently together. That’ll be a new thing — for Children’s Hospital to be the glue — and I could not be more excited.
What’s the status of the new hospital?
It’s on track to be completed in spring 2019. … Having opened four hospitals in my career, the efficiency and the thoughtfulness and the caution for the dollar here during this project, I will say, has been brilliant. The thought here is, ‘Let’s spend what we need to but not more, because that goes to the care of children.’ Thinking like that it’s just infectious. So, the care that was taken, the efficiencies that were garnered through the location of the site and the way that it abuts and connects to Memorial North was just brilliant. And it brought down the cost of operating and I’m a big fan of doing everything we can to lower the cost of health care where we can. I see those values absolutely demonstrated and carried out in this project and I want the community to know that.
How will the new hospital benefit the community?
More than we’ll ever know, because it is here to protect and improve the lives of our future. Where could you find a better place in a community than to start there? And the effect of that going forward — I don’t even think we can measure right now. But, you know, some of the things you can’t measure matter the most.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style is highly collaborative, but definitely goal-driven. I’m definitely decision-oriented and uplift the team I’m with. I’m extremely loyal to mentoring and coaching the team I’ve joined here.
What’s been a pivotal moment in your career?
There have been a lot of them, but one that I seem to remember a lot was being at Price Waterhouse. …I had been there for six months and I really wanted to push the work I did helping organizations build larger ambulatory presences so that we could treat people more effectively in an outpatient mode. And I’ll never forget the senior partner I had an opportunity to meet. … He leaned forward and said, ‘Now, Margaret, you really need to not talk any more about ambulatory and outpatient [services] with clients.’ That scared me to death. I said, ‘Why? Because some of them want to build those areas.’ He said, ‘No one’s ever going to do anything with that. All we need to focus on is inpatient.’
I’ll never forget that because now look at what we’re doing in health care. I made a decision at that time that when someone early in their career comes to me with an idea, I will never quash it. That idea might be something I need to go home and think on a little bit. … I very much value others, particularly others who are coming in from another industry. And the best question is, ‘Why do you do it this way?’
How do you plan to advance the mission of children’s Colorado?
In many ways. I plan to advance the mission primarily through supporting my team. I plan to advance the mission through the collaboration that we have with leaders in the community, including at UCCS, Memorial North, Penrose-St. Francis, schools, churches and so on. I plan to advance the mission where people live, love, laugh and play. And thirdly, through individuals who feel so drawn to this path that they can help us to make dreams come true by contributing either resources or making philanthropic gifts. I look forward to helping them feel like they’ve done something huge with their lives.