Salisbury Rising Q&A: TidalHealth’s Steven Leonard

Dr. Steven Leonard was named in 2017 to succeed Dr. Peggy Naleppa as head of the Peninsula Regional Health System. Part of the system’s senior leadership team, Leonard’s promotion was timed right as the Peninsula’s health care conglomerate was about to undertake a massive expansion, with the addition of Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford, McCready Memorial Hospital in Crisfield and new medical pavilions in Worcester and Sussex counties. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Leonard has been in Salisbury since 2003 and is known for his expertise in focus on Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness. Rebranded as TidalHealth earlier this month, the group now includes more than 250 primary care and specialty providers in locations all over Delmarva.

Q. Why was there a need to rename the medical group?

A. For starters, we were both operating under names attached to our hospitals and not with the new TidalHealth identity for this new regional health system. Our physician offices are the front doors to TidalHealth. These are the providers, nurses, tech and staff with whom patients will have the most frequent and intimate contact. These offices need to reflect the identity, too, and be aligned with it.

TidalHealth President and CEO Dr. Steven Leonard.

Although the name TidalHealth Medical Partners will not be the public facing image of the provider group, it is the official name of the largest employed provider network on Delmarva. Patients will come to know these practices as TidalHealth Primary Care, TidalHealth Neurosurgery, TidalHealth Cardiology, etc. Patients will see this reflected across all of our 29 locations with a new identity that speaks to the TidalHealth family and the office specialty.

TidalHealth patients are now partners with a team that offers more ways to care for them in the most locations on the Delmarva Peninsula. The TidalHealth medical practice family is over 780 employees strong, featuring approximately 250 providers (doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners), all dedicated to patient-focused care in 21 different specialties across Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset, Sussex and Caroline Counties.

It is essential for every person to have a provider and partner who will be with them on their health journey, helping them to stay well, and providing care and guidance when they are sick. We will continue to be with patients every step of the way, whenever they need us.

Q. What has the public reaction been?

A. Overwhelmingly positive at TidalHealth Peninsula Regional, TidalHealth Nanticoke and TidalHealth McCready Pavilion. Our team understands how we are “better together” and how we can continue to enhance the care experience by leaning on and learning from each other. 

TidalHealth Peninsula Regional is nationally recognized for its patient care, TidalHealth Nanticoke for its patient safety and satisfaction. TidalHealth McCready Pavilion has been the medical lifeline of Somerset County for almost 100 years, and it is truly a family feel at the Tawes Nursing Home and Chesapeake Cove Assisted Living. We all do things very well. As a family of almost 5,000 now, we can blend those across the organization. It’s a huge win for our patients and us.

Externally, there was some initial concern about the loss of individual identity for the hospitals our friends and neighbors love and look to at their times of need. We made it clear from the start that the names Peninsula Regional, McCready and Nanticoke would not be lost to the new identity. They are still attached to the names, signage and the legacy of each institution. I expect people, for some time, will still be calling the Salisbury hospital PRMC, just like it’s still PGH to others. Change is not easy and happens over time. 

Still, the names and the bricks and mortar are just that. They represent the physical structure, but it is the people who are still its soul. TidalHealth is the same exceptional people who have made each institution an outstanding place to receive care and comfort. 

Q. When one reads the list of your different specialty centers and multitude of offices, it is pretty overwhelming.

A. It needs to be. We are out here on the Delmarva Peninsula, isolated from the rest of the world and reachable by only bridges, boats and airplanes. That’s not a bad thing as we found out with the community spread of Covid-19 in highly congested areas unlike ours.

We are the health system that people turn to for care, and always have been. Whether the need is to fix a broken leg to open heart surgery to minimally invasive brain surgery to trauma care to eradicating cancer, our goal is to provide everything we can close to home. For those conditions like serious burn care and organ transplantation, we work with partners over the bridge to fill in the gaps. But, for the most part, we have been doing our utmost to bring every level of care to our community, and have been for over a century.

In the early 1890s, Dr. George W. Todd was making an increasing number of house calls on a growing population in and around the Salisbury area. With his team of six and an open buggy, there were many nights he would return home with his heavy beard soaked by rain or frozen stiff by the cold, and his horses too tired to reach the stable.

Peninsula Regional Medical Center is now known as TidalHealth Peninsula Regional.

Dr. Todd understood the loss of his horse team would be the demise of his business, and medicine couldn’t continue to be practiced as it had for decades. He was a simple country doctor but a man of great vision and leadership, and began a campaign to build a regional hospital in his hometown.

The TidalHealth McCready Pavilion opened in 1923 as McCready Hospital and in Seaford with TidalHealth Nanticoke in 1950 as Nanticoke Memorial Hospital. In times of need, people evolved the system and we continue to do that today. The goal has always been and continues to be medicine close to home and convenient. 

Q. Has it been a challenge to combine the workplace cultures of Peninsula Regional, Nanticoke and McCready?

A. Interesting question. You would think so, but fundamentally, no. 

What brought the three of us together was a shared culture and a shared mission of improving the health of the communities we serve. When TidalHealth Nanticoke, then Nanticoke Memorial, began looking for a partner, they had a number of local and national suitors. They chose us because we were not only geographically close, but we looked and felt like them, we had the same core values and visions, our clinicians and doctors knew and respected each other. What people may not realize is that even as competitors for years, we were always partners when it benefited people in need. We shared best practices, knowledge, staff and other resources as requested and required.

At TidalHealth McCready Pavilion, then McCready Hospital, they were facing a very serious crossroads. If not for Peninsula Regional Health System, who we were at the time, healthcare may have come to a screeching halt in Crisfield. We were not allowing that to happen. That team is too talented and passionate about healthcare, and the community and TidalHealth McCready Pavilion legacy too important to lose. 

We have all looked to each other at one time or another for assistance and guidance. As I mentioned earlier, we are “better together.”

Our biggest challenge is actually aligning the infrastructures, back-office functions and medical records. That continues to happen. As a team of healthcare providers, we are as solid as it comes and have been from the start. 

Q. Was TidalHealth a favorite name from the beginning, or did your team gradually come to prefer it?

A. The naming process is rigorous; we spent countless hours interviewing community leaders, patients, physicians and staff members. We considered several names and put them through various filters. We ultimately narrowed it down to three choices, and TidalHealth was the favorite.

TidalHealth was a perfect fit for many reasons. Nanticoke means “tidewater people,” and peninsulas are formed by tides. Like the tides shape our waterways, we are shaping health care on Delmarva.

Q. Will TidalHealth continue with its substantial public outreach efforts to advise all of us on our health care needs and concerns?

A. Of course, healthcare used to be “heads in beds” but now it’s “healthy and home.” We are spending more time than ever educating people on what they need to do to become healthy and stay there. One of the busiest and fastest growing segments of our family is our Population Health team. There’s rarely a day the TidalHealth Wagner Wellness Van is in the garage. We’re out at businesses, in neighborhoods, at community and church functions helping people to manage their own good health.

TidalHealth leaders poses in front of a sign featuring the health system’s new name and logo shortly after its unveiling. From left, Penny Short, President, TidalHealth Nanticoke; Steve Leonard, President/CEO, TidalHealth; Dr. Karin DiBari, President, TidalHealth Medical Partners; Debbie Abbott, Chairperson, TidalHealth Board of Directors and Dr. Memo Diriker, Chairperson, TidalHealth Peninsula Regional Board of Directors.

On Delmarva, we still smoke too much, we love our fried foods, and our diabetes rates are among the highest in the states we serve. We have to alter that, and it happens at the core of each of us with a permanent lifestyle change. We have a responsibility to help get people there. 

Don’t misunderstand; the hospitals will always be here. There will be hearts to mend, babies to birth and knees to replace. However, we are transforming the mindset around those big blue “H’s” you see on the road signs. For years, they meant hospitals were nearby, and they still do, but more today than ever, they equally stand for “Health,” yours and ours. 

Q. How is the Covid-19 battle going? Is TidalHealth continuing to successfully manage the current crisis?

A. As I mentioned earlier, we have the geographic luxury and benefit of being where we are and a bit isolated. From across the Bay, we had a window to see what was happening in the bigger cities and prepare for it here with our medical engineering teams, facilities teams and our clinical teams. We turned a conference center into a fully functioning ICU in 18 days. That’s unheard of. 

At the height of Covid-19 near the end of April, we had around 130 positive patients and another 70 under investigation admitted at TidalHealth Peninsula Regional and TidalHealth Nanticoke. As I write this today, that number is under 20. Like the flu, I think we may always see Covid-19 positive patients; everyone will, but I hope with the precautions taken early and continuing today, we can avoid the spikes in the future. 

I also need to recognize our clinical teams who, very early, established some unique treatment protocols. We have a very diverse team of doctors who have connections with friends and family around the world. We knew, and quickly, what was working and what wasn’t and were able to draw upon that. 

Our protocols were not only shared with but also adopted by hospitals around the world. Our death rate remains among the lowest of any hospital system in the United States, and I credit that to a team that used their extensive training to assess these patients across a variety of systems and develop cutting edge treatment protocols that saved lives.

Nobody saw this coming, and the timing couldn’t have been worse in the middle of building this new health system. For our patients, though, it couldn’t have happened at a better time because they had the expertise of TidalHealth providers and caregivers united and fully focused on getting them better and getting this pandemic under control.

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