Tracy Barnes Chelf started her healthcare career in 1981 as a messenger at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa.
At the time, she had no dreams of ascending to the job of president and chief executive officer of a hospital in her early 30s. But those are the titles she now holds at 101-bed South Bay Hospital in Sun City Center, Fla.
And, according to Ms. Chelf, the daughter of a university business school dean, she looks forward to more challenges somewhere down the line.
"Opportunities drive me," she said. "I took this position without visiting the site."
Spoken like a true healthcare road warrior.
In the four years since she received her master's degree in business administration from the University of South Dakota, Ms. Chelf has worked at three hospitals, all owned by Healthtrust-The Hospital Co. She was appointed South Bay's CEO in September 1993.
"I'm constantly evaluating my career. I don't look at it as if I want to go to a tertiary hospital or become a regional vice president," she said. "My goal is making this hospital the best it can be."
South Bay is a 14-year-old hospital in a retirement community of about 8,300 with an average age of 71. The hospital primarily specializes in geriatric programs for chronically ill Medicare-eligible patients, but Ms. Chelf is working to expand the hospital's service mix, including the addition of an obstetrics program to serve a growing number of younger patients.
Besides Sun City, South Bay also serves three other primary markets, Ms. Chelf said. Riverview, with a population of 4,000, has an average age of 34; Apollo Beach, with a population of 6,000, has an average age of 40; and Ruskin, with a population of 6,000, has an average age of 50, she said.
"Eighty percent of our patients are on Medicare," she said. "Our emergency department is more diversified, reflecting our community, with 50% (of the emergency patients) under 40."
Ms. Chelf's day at the hospital usually starts about 7: 30 a.m. And when she's not giving a speech before a local community group, she eats lunch in the cafeteria with employees and physicians.
"I spend time each day out in the hospital," she said. "Sometimes they have to drag me back to do the paperwork."
Spending time out on the floors isn't new to Ms. Chelf. After her stint as a messenger at Mercy Hospital, she spent three years as a clerk in Mercy's emergency department while pursuing her bachelor's degree in business at the University of Iowa.
"What struck me about hospitals was the integration of so many components," Ms. Chelf said. "I became interested in the organizational aspect of it."
While chief operating officer at the Medical Center of Baton Rouge, La., from April 1992 to September 1993, Ms. Chelf taught two courses in healthcare administration at the College of St. Francis. Her 18-month position there paved the way for a promotion to Sun City.
"Work motivates me," she said. "I was born with a fire in my belly."
At South Bay, some of Ms. Chelf's accomplishments include:
Increasing projected profitability 19% this year to $8.2 million from $6.9 million in fiscal 1993 ended Sept. 30. Revenues are expected to climb 14% this year to about $81 million. In 1992, South Bay earned net income of $6.5 million on revenues of $63 million.
Boosting average daily census to 65 in 1994 from 64 in 1993. Total admissions were up 11% in 1994 to 3,612 from 3,264 in 1993.
Recruiting 10 physicians to the 120-member medical staff.
Forming a physician-hospital organization called Visions Healthcare in June. Of the 70 physicians in the PHO, 30 are primary-care practitioners.
Acquiring the practices of two physician groups in nearby Riverview and Ruskin with a total of four physicians. Plans call for affiliations with physicians in Apollo Beach and Ellenton.
Ms. Chelf, who is single, spends much of her free time with local civic and business groups. She is a board member of the Apollo Beach Chamber of Commerce and a member of Rotary International. Her hobbies include reading and aerobics.