It's no wonder Sister Elizabeth Van Straten, president and chief executive officer of 194-bed St. Bernard Hospital and Health Care Center in Chicago, raves about Roland Abellera.
Abellera, the hospital's 38-year-old vice president of quality and corporate compliance, is an executive pack mule. Most people would need to clone themselves to juggle as many jobs as he has handled.
"He's accomplished so much in such a short life," Van Straten says of her protege. "But he's such a humble guy. He never takes credit for anything. And he inspires such dedication in others."
When the hospital, located in an impoverished South Side neighborhood of Chicago, needed someone to implement its plan to make sure the hospital was Y2K-compliant, Abellera got the call. When the hospital needed someone to build and integrate a corporate compliance program, Abellera got the call. After Sept. 11, 2001, when hospitals were mandated to develop emergency preparedness and disaster plans, Abellera got ... well, you get the idea.
"Anything we've given him, he can handle," she explains. "Roland can just step in wherever we need someone."
Van Straten attributes much of Abellera's success to his interpersonal skills. "He works very well with people. He has a way of bringing out the best in others. Roland also has a good sense of humor and is always willing to pitch in," she says. "He doesn't ask for anything he wouldn't do himself."
Van Straten says a recent example was the implementation of the hospital's order-entry system. Abellera's team led the project, working with doctors and hospital staff to smooth out problems.
She predicts Abellera will one day be a CEO, if not at St. Bernard then at some other facility. "He's definitely a rising star and he can certainly run a hospital."
Van Straten says 12 years ago the hospital was in danger of closing. But the urban medical center served 36,000 patients in its emergency department last year and provides needed safety-net services. "This is a needed mission and Roland understands that," she says.
Abellera says the hospital is challenged by a payer mix of 60% Medicaid, 25% Medicare, 4% private pay and the remainder self-pay patients. "We have to be creative with our limited resources," says the married father of three girls.
Abellera is the youngest of four children of an accountant father and dietitian mother who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was just 2 years old. He says his family is steeped in healthcare, with numerous relatives working as doctors and nurses.
"I always knew I wanted to be in healthcare," he says. But he also knew direct patient care probably wasn't for him.
While earning a bachelor's degree in healthcare information from Chicago State University in 1989, he worked for several hospitals as a coding specialist and health information supervisor. After graduation, he worked as a healthcare consultant and later directed the health information department at a prison. He joined St. Bernard in 1992 as its director of quality improvement.
"I found that health information management acclimated me to many different functions within the hospital," he says. "It exposes you to the academic, managerial, legal and clinical areas, and the management of this hospital encourages us to grow from within. Everyone wears multiple hats here."