Top 25 Emerging Leaders
Mario Garner, 34
CEO, New Orleans East Hospital
The college years: Was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. His pledge name was "QueFessor" because he was "always telling people what to do."
Road runner: An avid runner, he can finish a 5K in less than 18 minutes.
Long before Mario Garner decided to pursue a career in healthcare administration, the Lake Charles, La., native had a childhood experience that helped shape his professional path: Filling the role of patient advocate while his grandfather underwent treatment for lung cancer was a life-changer.
"I had lots of early exposure to interacting with physicians and interpreting medical terminology," says Garner, who was about 8 years old when his grandfather was diagnosed. Because his grandfather could not read or write, Garner--who was only in elementary school at the time--would accompany him to his oncology appointments, take notes and later read the notes back to his family. "It helped to me realize the importance of being an advocate for those who may have difficulty maneuvering the system," said Garner, now CEO of the recently opened New Orleans East Hospital.
Last year, Garner was selected as the first CEO of the 80-bed public hospital, which opened in July 2014. The new $130 million facility returned healthcare services to eastern New Orleans neighborhoods that had been without a hospital since Pendleton Memorial Methodist Hospital closed on the same site in 2005, a victim of Hurricane Katrina floods. Garner, who evacuated to Houston during the disaster, says being selected to head the hospital is a great responsibility with high stakes.
"The eyes of the entire city have been on this project," he said.
Though he initially pursued a clinical path, Garner said he realized in medical school that his true passion was hospital leadership. He switched gears and obtained a master's of healthcare administration from Tulane University, and later a doctorate of education from the University of Houston. He also completed a Hospital Corporation of America executive development program, designed to prepare future C-suite leaders.
Carolyn Caldwell, president and CEO of Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif., served as a mentor for Garner and nominated him for the award. She says his passion for healthcare and commitment to mentoring others are commendable. "You can always find people with great skill," Caldwell said. But when one finds leaders like Garner, who are passionate about what they do, "it's more than a job. He gets so much joy from the work he's doing," she said. --Sabriya Rice