PRMC’s Peggy Naleppa: ‘It’s real and from the heart’

Q&A Naleppa

Dr. Peggy Naleppa may very well have the most challenging job in Wicomico County.  As the leader of Peninsula Regional Medical Center, out of 48 hospitals in the state, she runs Maryland’s ninth-largest with 288 acute care beds, 28 newborn beds and nearly 1 million square feet of space.

Approximately 3,400 staff, credentialed physicians and volunteers are caring for more than a half-million patients each year at PRMC, and within the Peninsula Regional Medical Group of family medicine and specialty care offices.

The medical center itself, with about 2,900 employees, is Wicomico County’s largest single-site employer. Annually, it infuses right around $375 million back into our local economy based on its nearly $500 million operation.

After a stint serving as Chief Operating Officer under predecessor Alan Newberry, Naleppa was named PRMC’s president in January 2008 and CEO in 2010. She began her health care career, now stretching across four decades, as director of Neurosurgical Services at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She has served as a clinical leader or as a senior executive at several hospitals in Maryland including: Anne Arundel Medical Center, Calvert Memorial Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital.

Naleppa, who is a registered nurse, holds a bachelor’s in Healthcare Administration from St. Joseph’s College; a Master of Administration degree with a concentration in Finance from the University of Maryland UC; an MBA, with a concentration in medical services from the Johns Hopkins University Carey School of Business and a Doctorate in Management with a concentration in organizational process management from the University of Maryland UC.

Q. Do you indeed have the most challenging job in Wicomico County?

A. I’m not sure it’s the most challenging but it’s certainly the most rewarding.

Q. Employee performance and quality care seem to be the hallmarks that you stress. Which is more important? People?  Technology?  Infrastructure?

A. In health care, each is important to providing our community an exceptional visit with the best possible outcome.  However, it’s the people who are the engine that powers PRMC.

The health care experience begins and ends with the human element and the human touch, and in such a complex organization as ours we can never forget that.

It’s things like surgical robots, 64 slice CT scanners, precision cancer treatments that get the headlines, but at the end of the day it’s the person who brought you a warm blanket when you were cold that you’ll remember most.

And those are the stories you’ll share.

We believe that it’s “every person, every patient, every time” at PRMC, and we can make that experience exceptional by treating everyone who comes through our door as one of our most beloved relatives.

Q. One might think there are a lot of big egos in a medical center setting? What is it like interacting on a constant basis with a workforce comprised of people who are just so darn smart?

A. It’s an honor, because I have the opportunity to learn something new every day and that’s inspiring.

Around egos, we do our level best to remind everyone that if they have one, they need to check it at the door.  And if they can’t, then perhaps they need to find another place to practice their craft.

Let’s also be clear, Greg, that we’re not confusing ego with confidence.  We want confident employees who are contributing by sharing fresh and innovative ideas to be more effective, efficient, to reduce waste and to improve the patient and family experience.

Much like competitive rowing, health care is a team sport; only our gold medal is achieved when people leave here healthy.  If we aren’t all in sync, all pulling together without variation, standardizing the work and celebrating the victories, we fail as a team.

Variation is the enemy of quality. There’s no room for big egos in that boat.

Q. You went through a recent workforce consolidation that was very tough. Where is the medical center today?

A. I believe this year has been the most challenging for our employees – emotions have been high as we saw folks exit the organization and/or retire.  Unanticipated volume increases did not match staffing needs and we could not respond fast enough with staff.

This past week in orientation we had 57 new clinicians joining our team and similar numbers in two weeks.

Our No. 1 goal this year is operational stability including enhancing our Flex Pool staff in key disciplines to quickly adjust for changes in volume, reducing length of stay and other conditions that create variation.

The new reimbursement model in Maryland should help support our financial condition and we are cautiously optimistic.

Q. And you, personally?

A. I’m energized, and come to work each day to do the very best job possible for our patients and our healthcare team. I choose to believe in PRMC, its physicians, employees — it’s real and from the heart.

We are not perfect, but we focus on our value system, and I take great pride when I read a complimentary letter of how our employees save lives, hold a hand, and make a positive difference in a person’s life. They are my true professional heroes.

And, when we don’t see these behaviors — we work as leaders to address the need to change these behaviors.

Q. What is it about PRMC that most local people either just don’t know or understand or appreciate?

A. I believe it’s just how complex we are, how talented our healthcare team is and the number of world-class physicians we have practicing medicine here.

It’s been said to me that if you took a giant crane, plucked a hospital-right now-from any urban, metropolitan city and dropped it in Salisbury, Maryland, that would best describe PRMC.  We’ve certainly come a long way from a very, very humble beginning as a six-bed hospital in a home on Fitzwater Street in 1897.

The services we offer rival those of major teaching institutions across the country.

Our team, led by some amazing surgeons, pioneered open heart surgery, neurosurgery, joint replacement surgery and brought revolutionary technology like robotics and minimally invasive surgery to this community.

There are hospitals that are just now launching Electronic Medical Recordkeeping-we introduced ours in the mid 1970’s.  And for the first time in the history of our hospital, we recently experienced a full month with no code blues on our medical/surgical floors.

That’s revolutionary and proves that programs like our Modified Early Warning System to detect changes in patient conditions much earlier-even before they show any signs on the outside of becoming sicker-are working and preventing costly visits to our ICU.

Most importantly, they are saving lives.  We have provided exceptional health care for the past 116 years and we will provide exceptional health care for generations to come.

Q. What do folks not know about you?

A. Away from PRMC, our core circle of friends is small – we have all been together more than 35 years.

We recently lost one of our best friends — Denis Reen – a teacher at the Maryland School for Deaf.  Denis raised five kids on a single income.  A Marine corporal and Vietnam veteran, he was selected as a model for the 3-Servicemen Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial — in the statute he’s the man with ammo over his shoulder).

I encourage people to Google Marine “Denis Reen” and “model for Vietnam Memorial” to learn more.

He never took a penny, denied interviews and always stated when my kids would say ‘Uncle Dennis that’s you up there’ – “I represent all veterans, and all it means is pigeons will (poop) on me forever.”

That’s the humble, down-to-earth type of guy Denis was.

Family and close friends are my top priorities. Along with my husband, Dan, and my family members, Denis and his wife, Kathleen, are my personal heroes.

Q. As a community leader who I’m sure has experienced a number of life lessons after four decades in the health care industry, is there still more to learn?

A. I am not a holier than thou person, nor do I claim to make perfect decisions, but I do try and learn from each situation how to be better and grow, to improve.

I can’t control opinions of me nor would I ever want to, but I can control how I respond to circumstances.

On my bedside stand is the Bible and Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” – no greater humbling experience.

As a physician and Holocaust survivor, he describes his experience of six years at Auschwitz.  He found many situations (as I do) that connect with angry, ego oriented, self- righteous and judgmental people.

His teachings show that we cannot change people, but we can change ourselves and how we respond to people.

Dr. Frankl had to find beauty in the fishbone in water the Nazi’s delivered to him in the form of a daily soup.  It’s an amazing chronicle of the importance of a positive mindset and a WILL to see the good in all things.

I read sections from this book regularly. I chose in my own way to respond with Christian standards and those of others that I admire, like Frankl and Mother Theresa.

Q. People, I’m sure, without even knowing you, have preconceived ideas of you as a CEO of one of Salisbury’s biggest employers. Is this troublesome?

A. Only to the degree that they don’t know the entire Peggy Naleppa including wife, mother and grandmother — and that’s why opportunities like this Q&A in The Independent are so important.

While I enjoy new things, my husband of 42 years and I have worked very hard to achieve a standard of living – but we do not define who we are by materialistic items.

Everyone deserves same level of care and respect regardless of income or title. I have a low tolerance for disrespectful and arrogant behavior – I am adamant about the need to avoid being full of oneself and ego — edging God out — orientation. We are all created equal.

As CEO of a large health care system with a $500 million gross revenue budget, I know I am a target and critics will remain.

But, it’s America.  Our servicemen and women fought for this right of speech and opinion, and in the end all people have to explain their behavior to their God, not to anyone else.

Mother Teresa offers great wisdom: Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough, give the world the best you have anyway; People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered — forgive them anyway; the good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow — Be good anyway; You see in the final analysis — it’s between me and God, it is never between me and them.

I have this posted in my office.

Q. Great words to live by.

A. They really are, Greg.  We should all be humble and give thanks much more often than we do.

Everyone has tragedies in life; I have had five major family tragedies personally and two recent attempted home invasions. And through each challenge, I have always felt blessed because I know who walks beside me.

We would all be better people if we just remembered that true nobility is not being better than someone else, it is being better than what you once were.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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