39, chief executive officer
Sterling Regional MedCenter
The 39-year-old chief executive officer of Sterling (Colo.) Regional MedCenter honed his team-building skills during his four years as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, where he led seven-person crews in the maintenance and security of Peacekeeper missiles.
"One thing I learned from military service is that problems aren't solved single-handedly," he says. "There is much to be said for a goal-oriented team approach."
Gillen's ability to foster teamwork has served him equally well at Sterling Regional, a 36-bed Banner Health System facility tucked away in a small agricultural town in northeast Colorado.
When he took the helm in March 1999, the hospital faced a frustrated staff and rising patient complaints. It also had just replaced two-thirds of its management team due to high turnover. But Gillen saw the upheaval as an opportunity to refocus the facility's collective vision. "It was a good time for us all to sit down and see how we could combine our talents and resources," he says.
Among Gillen's first orders of business was to bridge the gap between management and the medical staff. To do so, he created a medical advisory panel-comprising five doctors, each representing a different specialty-through which all of Sterling's 32 physicians could express their concerns and play a key role in decisionmaking.
Gillen has also launched an "Ideation Committee," where any of the hospital's 350 employees could present new ideas.
"I know I don't have all the answers, so I want to create an environment where it's OK to share ideas and make suggestions," Gillen says.
His efforts have paid off. Sterling Regional has enjoyed six straight quarters of dramatically improved patient-satisfaction scores. The hospital also has recruited eight new physicians in recent years, helping raise its market share to 86% from 76% in 1999. Its operating margins have climbed each year since Gillen's arrival, from 5.45% in 1999 to 9.38% this year.
"Mike has brought a higher level of expectation and a demand for accountability that has infused the hospital with a sense of accomplishment," says Scott Bosch, chief executive officer of Banner Health Colorado.
Gillen learned much about collaboration and hard work early on, having grown up as one of nine children on a farm in the small town of White Lake, S.D. It was there that he also got his first glimpse of the healthcare field, watching his mother struggle with chronic emphysema.
After receiving an honorable discharge from the Air Force in 1991, Gillen completed his bachelor's degree at the University of South Dakota. He then went on to earn a master's degree in healthcare administration from the University of Minnesota in 1994.
After graduating Gillen served as administrative director for 79-bed McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Colo. He then became chief operations officer at the Anne Carlsen Center for Children in Jamestown, N.D., and within six months was promptly thrust into the top job when the facility's CEO was forced to retire for health reasons.
Today, Gillen continues to seek creative solutions to the challenges of running a rural hospital, often by collaborating with the local business and academic communities.
To address ongoing recruitment challenges, for instance, Gillen has spearheaded a partnership between Sterling Regional and the local junior college, in which the hospital now partially subsidizes classes.
"Mike never stops," Bosch says. "He's always digging for new opportunities to make things better."