When Beth Walker arrived at Ochsner Health System in 2001 to begin an administrative fellowship, the New Orleans-based organization was a one-hospital operation.
Twelve years later, it has grown to six hospitals
with 1,200 beds, and the number of physicians it employs has tripled. Walker, 36, is chief operating officer of Ochsner Medical Center, the system's flagship, and her career growth has paralleled Ochsner's expansion.
Walker stepped into the COO position in February, and her current focus is on increasing access
to care. “We're trying to get same-day access for all our patients,” she says. “We really believe this is the right thing to do.”
Before that, she served as vice president of operations for women's and children's services at the medical center, and was tasked with relocating the department to a new $40 million Women's Pavilion set to open at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center at year-end.
Ochsner Baptist—previously known as Memorial Medical Center and owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp. until 2006—shuttered its women's healthcare services, including labor and delivery, after massive flooding from Hurricane Katrina. “People still wanted to know, 'When are you bringing babies back to Baptist?' ” Walker says.
The services are back, and with them some new additions such as an alternative birthing center. Walker says introducing unique and niche services has allowed the system to build relationships with physicians as well as increase patient volume. The system draws patients from all 50 states and 63 countries, Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas said.
For her accomplishments, Walker won a place in Modern Healthcare's 2013 class of Up and Comers
Mitch Wasden, who formerly ran Ochsner's administrative fellowship program, describes Walker as collaborative, someone liked and respected by the physicians and clinical staff. He says she's been recognized at system events such as “A Night at the Ochsners,” a play on festivities at the Academy Awards.
“I think what she's really good at is focus,” says Wasden, now CEO and COO of the University of Missouri Health Care.
In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit, Walker was about three months into her role as manager of general internal medicine at Ochsner. For three weeks, she remained at the facility around-the-clock to coordinate inpatient, outpatient and long-term care for patients. “I was living at the hospital like a lot of other people were,” she recalls. “Safety was still a little bit of a concern.”
During the next few weeks she would work to convert a pediatric clinic into a general medicine clinic that could also see adult and even obstetric patients—figuring out which supplies would be needed and how to get them delivered, ordering drugs, finding available doctors and notifying patients that services were available. It was a “defining moment,” she says.
Thomas says Walker “took that challenge with a tremendous amount of confidence and excelled.”
Eight years later, Ochsner has doubled in size—something that Thomas credits to employees such as Walker. “It's about attitude and it's about a positive energy, and she's the epitome of all those things.”