“I started talking with friends, wondering if there might be some traction to my private-sector experience that might be relevant or practical,” says Schoenhard, 60, recipient of the 2010 Gold Medal Award from the American College of Healthcare Executives. “Reflecting on what the current generation of active-duty personnel are going through, I wanted to see if there was some way I might give back.”
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Schoenhard found a way, beginning a second career as deputy undersecretary for health, for operations and management, at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, where he has been impressed with the fully built-out electronic health-record system, the focus on continuum of care as the largest delivery system in the country, and passionate culture around serving veterans.
Many colleagues “remain members of the guard or reserve,” Schoenhard says. “Most if not all have some special connection with veterans. Their dad was a veteran. Their spouse. They have a child on active duty. That has struck me as extremely strong.”
Schoenhard began with SSM as assistant executive director of St. Mary's Health Center in 1978. After stints as executive director of three other SSM facilities, he became executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1986. During his time in leadership, SSM added new facilities in Illinois, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, received an AA-minus bond rating, and in 2002 became the first healthcare recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
“We started receiving recognition for the way we were changing the culture from an organization that seemed satisfied with the status quo to one that was looking for quality improvement,” Schoenhard says. “It's a very special system because of the dedication to patient care that exists right from the bedside through senior leadership.”