Many would argue that Colorado Springs’ recent growth is a positive thing. However, it does mean more services are or will be needed, and that includes health care.
Those needs are something Dr. Brian Erling, the president and CEO of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, recognizes and aims to address.
“Our vision at Centura is, ‘Every community, every neighborhood, every life — whole and healthy,’” he said. “For this market, that translates to an immediate and imperative need to grow to meet the health care needs and to improve health care access for the entire community.”
Erling was appointed to fill the CEO position long-term in August after acting as interim CEO for about five months. He has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, a master’s in business administration from the University of Colorado in Denver and a medical doctorate from John Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Erling completed his residency in emergency medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He is board certified through the American Board of Emergency Medicine. Like many transplants, Erling moved to Colorado not only for a job, but also because of the state’s mountain scenery.
“I definitely wanted to be somewhere that I actually wanted to live too,” he said.
The health care system’s chief recently spoke with the Business Journal about his goals for Penrose-St. Francis, as well as combating the nationwide health care workforce shortage.
What do you love best about your work?
Without a doubt, the people. That is patients, first and foremost, as well as the associates and the physicians.
What is your leadership style or philosophy, and how has it evolved over the years?
No. 1, always lead with mission. And to that end, it may mean that you make some mistakes; we all make mistakes. But if we’re always leading with mission first, those mistakes can be overcome, in my experience.
No. 2, it’s all about the team, so building trust, which can mean creating some intentionality around creating opportunities for vulnerability. But when you have that team and the trust in place, that allows you to have that conflict, which is really important. Healthy conflict is really important for any business. As physicians, we’re trained to be leaders, but generally that’s more around the care. So emergency doctors are particularly task-oriented and focused on urgency. I just shake some of those habits on the administrative side of medicine. Sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up.
What would you say is your proudest professional achievement?
Personally, without a doubt, it’s family. Professionally, it’s being asked to carry forward this ministry, something that was started over 130 years ago by religious women that came across the country because they were told to do so. I often reflect on the challenges they faced, and it pales in comparison to anything that we face nowadays. So it’s very humbling.
What are some of your goals for Penrose-St. Francis?
Market growth, physician enablement, consumer enablement, associate engagement and to reduce our costs. All of that while maintaining the highest quality and safety scores in the region.
Who inspires you?
Our patients, without a doubt. Being around them daily and hearing their stories and understanding the trust they place with us is what drives all of us to excellence here.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Remember that everyone has a story. Not only does that mindset reduce judgment, in particular, when you start a career in the emergency department, but it creates a natural curiosity.
Have you failed? And what have you learned from failure?
The first executive position that I took was a personal failure in my mind. It was a professional success in that organization, but there was a mission mismatch. I saw some red flags before I took the job, but I let myself be intrigued by the title and the scope of the position. And after that I swore to never again take a role with a company that isn’t 100 percent aligned with my personal values, which is exactly why I chose to return to Centura.
What’s the biggest challenge you face?
Associate recruitment and retention. We will always have some baseline turnover in this market due to military relocations but the demand for skilled health care workers is increasing and is outpacing supply. We’re addressing this by starting a new graduate nursing residency program. And we have a lot of other initiatives focused on making Penrose-St. Francis the employer of choice in the region.
How will you advance the mission of Penrose-St. Francis?
My leadership team. We keep [the mission] as our No. 1 priority with every decision we make. We start our days and our meetings by reflecting on our mission to ensure that it is always at the forefront of our minds. It’s important to remember the many caregivers and leaders who have advanced this ministry for the last 130 years, and that we are all but stewards in time. It is on each of us to ensure that work continues well into the future. The other imperative as a leader in a ministry like this is to really hire people who fit our mission and values.
Join the Colorado Springs Business Journal, iHeartRadio, UCCS and Amnet for the 2019 COS CEO Leadership Lessons with Dr. Brian Erling, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Sept. 12, at The Warehouse, 25 W. Cimarron St. A portion of the proceeds go to the 2019 Give! Campaign. Sponsors also include the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC and Stockman Kast Ryan + Co.