When David Stark started his first job in top managementinterim chief executive officer of a rural hospital in Iowahe thought he could hear some silent snickering, even though everyone was the soul of courtesy. But he understoodafter all, he was only 25.
Hed been doing an administrative fellowship with Iowa Health-Des Moines, just after completing his Master of Healthcare Administration at the University of Iowa, when the CEO of the rural facility suddenly quit. Obvious replacement candidates were scarce, and Starks managers asked if he wanted to step up to run the facility, Clarke County Hospital, Osceola, part of the Iowa Health network. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to jump in and run something, so I commuted 47 miles down the interstate every day for seven months, he says. I knew I must have done a halfway decent job, because they wanted me to stay.
But Stark was destined for bigger thingsat age 36, hes now the executive vice president and chief operating officer for Iowa Health-Des Moines, with COO responsibility for both 219-bed Iowa Lutheran Hospital and 481-bed Iowa Methodist Medical Center, plus Partners in Health, a 64-provider primary-care group with 13 locations. Hell also have operating responsibility for a new 95-bed Iowa Health hospital set to open by the end of the decade in West Des Moines.
Stark is the 2008 winner of the American College of Healthcare Executives Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award for young healthcare executive of the year. Winners have to be under 40, and be either the CEO or COO of a health services organization. The ACHE has been presenting the award since 1969.
Its not common nowadays for younger people to be as distinguished as he is, says Thomas Dolan, president and CEO of the ACHE. To have the responsibility for two large hospitals is extraordinary for someone that young.
Stark has held his system-level position since 2003. In 1999still in his 20she became COO at Iowa Lutheran, where he improved operating margins 28% over two years, oversaw construction of a new $7 million emergency department, and helped develop a systemwide supply-chain strategy that reduced supply costs by $4 million annually. There was plenty of giggling at that promotion, too, and comments about my age, but I like to think that I took them in stride with appropriate self-deprecating humor, he says. It seemed to work out pretty well.
In his current position, Stark has established a free medical clinic, as well as patient and physician advisory committees to get feedback for Iowa Health-Des Moines various enterprises. He helped consolidate the medical staffs of the two hospitals (which now operate with common bylaws and privileging); coordinated neonatology coverage between Iowa Lutheran and Blank Childrens Hospital (part of the Iowa Methodist complex); and developed a joint venture catheterization laboratory agreement with a key cardiovascular group. He also initiated new clinical services such as stereotactic radiosurgerya highly precise delivery of radiation primarily used to treat brain tumorsrobotic surgery, midwifery, bariatrics and cardiac CT angiography.
One of Starks biggest challenges to date was getting a certificate of need in October 2007 to build the new hospital in fast-growing West Des Moines, for which he will oversee construction. Such approvals are elusive these days, especially when theres another new hospital going up right across the street. Mercy Medical Center-Des Moines, a 575-bed facility that is Iowa Healths main local competitor, circumvented state CON requirements by agreeing to close another of its campuses in order to build a new facility in West Des Moines. Iowa Health considered going the same route by closing Iowa Lutheran, but the outcry from its east-side service area was vociferous. Iowa Health eventually prevailed in the CON process by agreeing to reduce staffed beds at its other facilities to keep its total bed count steady. The Michael R. Myers Hospital is scheduled to open in 2010.
Stark is perhaps proudest of his hospitals stellar patient and employee satisfaction scores, which have improved on his watch. Thats a very big deal to me, how we treat our staff and our patients, he says.
The ACHEs Dolan says Starks service to his community and to the ACHE itself also played a role in his selection for the Hudgens Award. Stark is a perennial favorite on Des Moines-area lists of top business leaders under 40, and has spearheaded local efforts for the United Way and American Heart Association, among others.
Stark says mentoring has been key to his success. He became interested in health administration originally through encouragement from a family friend, Tom Tibbitts, who is now president and CEO of 154-bed Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge, Iowa, an affiliate of Iowa Health System (of which Iowa Health-Des Moines is a component). Stark also shadowed his older sister, Julie, at one of her early healthcare administrative jobs, and fell for the field. Shes now vice president of healthcare services at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill., and still available to advise her little brother.
Stark is an excellent mentor himself, says the ACHEs Dolan. He has adjunct faculty appointments at the University of Iowa and Des Moines University, and has lectured on mentoring at the ACHEs annual congress. Mentoring is something we value, Dolan says.