Nina Tucker was a relative neophyte-30 years old and just five years removed from graduate school-when she was hired as administrator of Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Fla.
Since then, her mentors say, Tucker has affirmed their faith in her organizational and leadership skills by helping create a unique sense of independence for a 120-bed facility that has won nearly as much local acclaim as the legendary New York Yankee center fielder for whom it is named.
"She was very young when I hired her," says Frank Sacco, chief executive officer of the four-hospital Memorial Healthcare System in booming Broward County. "I knew even then that I had the right person."
Tucker, the daughter of a pediatrician, set off early on a career path that seemed to lead naturally to healthcare. Now 36, Tucker is no stranger to noteworthy national awards for youthful administrators-she received the Young Healthcare Executive Award for the south Florida region from the American College of Healthcare Executives in 1996.
Before joining Joe DiMaggio, Tucker was the assistant administrator of 100-bed Memorial Hospital West, in Pembroke Pines, Fla., for about four years. She also served as assistant executive director of Humana Hospital-Medical City Dallas. She holds a master's degree in business administration and a master's degree in health sciences from the University of Florida in Gainesville.
"In terms of my accomplishments, I think it starts with my ability to work with people and set a vision of where we want to go," says Tucker, who adds that she uses her undergraduate degree in psychology to help resolve conflicts. "I have high expectations. I'm very comfortable with what we've developed here."
Joe DiMaggio, founded in 1992, is totally contained within the walls of its much larger sister institution, 684-bed Memorial Regional Hospital. To create a sense of identity and autonomy, the hospital carved out its own medical staff in 1996 to highlight its single-minded commitment to pediatric care.
"It's a pretty unique situation," Tucker says. "A lot of facilities have visited us to see what we've done. Having a separate children's hospital with a separate staff means that everywhere children go, this place is focused on kids."
In addition to the expertise of a staff concentrating exclusively on children, the hospital-within-a-hospital has undergone significant renovations in "almost every area," Tucker says, including a new pediatric emergency department and the expansion of a 41-bed neonatal intensive-care unit and a 22-bed pediatric intensive-care unit.
The facility, which has increased its number of beds by 25% since Tucker's arrival, is now the highest-volume provider of pediatric services in Broward County, treating about 6,500 patients annually-more than triple the number in 1992. Last year, the hospital posted an $8.4 million operating profit, for a 5.6% operating margin, on about $150 million in gross revenue, Tucker says.
"We've been able to make the facility very child-friendly," says Tucker, the mother of a 7-year-old son, Ryan.
Under the leadership of Tucker, who also is in charge of women's services at Memorial Regional, Joe DiMaggio Children's has been named by South Florida Parenting magazine as the best children's hospital in Broward County for six years in a row. The hospital scored in the 96th percentile in a Press, Ganey patient-satisfaction survey in May, ranking among the top 5% in the nation.
"Nina is by far the most mature and capable young executive I have worked with in my extensive healthcare career," Sacco says. "She is totally dedicated to excellence."