David Strong began his career in healthcare by cleaning operating room floors as a high school and college student, and those around him at Mercy Health Center in Oklahoma City say he's retained the humility inherent in such a role.
As chief operating officer of the 400-bed facility, where he has worked since January 2000, Strong continues to focus on details and is willing to perform any task necessary, says Chief Executive Officer Mike Packnett. "I try to be a servant-leader," says Strong, 38, who has a master's degree in hospital and healthcare administration from Xavier University. "All of us in the healthcare industry should be serving our patients and their families and serving our physicians."
Packnett says Strong inspires others to service excellence by setting a dogged-if occasionally humorous-example. "We laugh a lot about the number of pieces of paper that he's picked up throughout the hospital," he says. "But it just is a very small example of his servant-leadership style. Others watch that carefully and are very motivated."
Chris Weigel, vice president of patient-care services, says Strong is constantly talking to staff. "He's not one who sits in an ivory tower and makes decisions," she says. "He's always asking, `What do you need to do your job?' "
Weigel recalls when one department's fax machine broke and staffers went down the hall to use another one. "David felt like they were wasting their time," she says. "By the end of the day, he found another department had an extra one, and he brought it up."
During Strong's tenure, Mercy has seen bigger-picture progress as well. The hospital has filled regional needs by opening the freestanding, 78-bed Oklahoma Heart Hospital and developing a children's hospital within its main facility, he says.
"It's fun to hear physicians live out their dreams of having a facility that can provide the kinds of clinical outcomes they desire, and holding themselves accountable to making sure they occur," Strong says of the former.
Of the latter, he says, "We were able to recruit several pediatric subspecialists to the community. It's bad enough to have a child who's ill, but then to have to pick up and travel several hours is extremely bad."
Hand-in-hand with his servant-leader outlook, Strong cites an emphasis on accountability and long-term vision as key traits. "To me, accountability is not beating people over the head," he says. "It's helping them in finding out what I can do to help remove barriers or to find resources."
Those abilities impressed Weigel, who came with him from Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, La., where Strong worked for 13 years, rising to executive vice president and COO. "Over the years, his management style matured vastly," she says. "He's learned to go out and get the feedback."