Patients are highly satisfied, physicians are extremely satisfied, and employees are vastly satisfied. Indeed, George Gaston has plenty to be satisfied about too, but you won’t find him sitting back with the grin of a Cheshire cat. There’s still work to do.
As Chief Executive Officer at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, Gaston has spent the last several months raising a c ommu n i t y hospital back to splendor. Gaston’s secret to success is s o m e t h i n g called “servant le ader ship,” he said, which embraces the concept of leaders who are servants first and who believe in hard work, community spirit and helping employees succeed.
Gaston is the epitome of working his way up the ladder.
It began with a summer job pulling computer cables at a hospital in Abilene, but all that elbow grease got him rubbing elbows with the CEO of Hendrick Medical Center. “He agreed to mentor me and would meet with me every couple of days and let me sit-in on leadership meetings,” Gaston said. “The concept of marrying patient care with the business aspect was very interesting to me. My eyes were opened up to this field.”
Gaston spent his second summer working in the same h o s p i t a l ’ s h u m a n r e s o u r c e s depar tment, then went on to earn a degree in Human R e s o u r c e Management from Baylor in Waco, followed by g r a d u a t e school in St. Louis.
A f t e r r e c e i v i n g his master’s degree in Human Resources from Washington University, Gaston went after a second master’s degree, this one in Health Administration from the Washington University School of Medicine.
After graduating in 1996, the native Texan moved back to Houston and launched a career with Memorial Hermann. As Assistant Vice President of Operations at Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital, Gaston oversaw campus expansion and special projects.
As Assistant Vice President of Operations at Memorial Hermann Southwest, Gaston implemented programs to streamline jointr e p l a c e m e n t patient care, resulting in a 99 percent patient satisfaction rate.
As Chief O p e r a t i o n s Officer of M e m o r i a l H e r m a n n S o u t h e a s t H o s p i t a l , Gaston took on cardiology by introducing interventional programs. When he later became CEO, he steered the hospital to become an accredited chest pain center. He also was instrumental in the creation of the hospital’s Level III NICU and Cancer Treatment Center. While overseeing 1,200 employees and 630 medical staff, Gaston received several awards, including the Texas Healthcare Quality Improvement Award for Clinical Excellence, and was the only Texan among 12 national recipients to receive a Modern Healthcare Up and Comers Award.
In January 2010, Gaston took on the role of CEO for Memorial Hermann Southwest, stepping in at a time when morale was low, patients were ambivalent and finances were uncertain.
The hospital, established in 1977, had been for sale, but a deal with the Harris County H o s p i t a l District fell through.
Initially, Gaston wasn’t sure about the move. “I wasn’t looking to leave Memorial H e r m a n n S o u t h e a s t , ” Gaston said. “I’d only been there a couple of years. I thought and prayed long and hard about it, and in the end, joining M e m o r i a l Hermann Southwest was like coming home for me. It’s my roots.”
Gaston, the son of a Baptist minister, attended both middle and high school in the area, and remembers visiting Southwest hospital with his dad when members of the church were patients.
“It was our community hospital, it was where we were taken care of,” Gaston said. “Now I had the opportunity to come back to the community, and had the challenge of helping Memorial Hermann Southwest rebuild relationships and trust.”
Gaston began the process of re-vamping the 457-bed facility, home to some 2,000 employees and 600 doctors with hospital privileges.
“It won’t happen overnight,” Gaston cautioned. “It’s a journey we’re on.”
Maybe so, but the first leg of the voyage has been relatively smooth. With servant leadership in mind, Gaston is zeroing in on the hospital’s most valuable resource –people – whether staff, physicians or patients.
Gaston gave doctors a voice by creating a physicians’ council. As of June 30, according to an independent study conducted by HealthStream Research, physician satisfaction has soared from the 29th percentile in the country to the 92nd.
He has taken note of the community’s fastest growing populations – senior citizens and Asians – and implemented solutions to provide better care for them. Now there’s an inpatient unit devoted to the comfort of Asians, with translation services, Vietnamese and Chinese television and food offerings. Plans are underway to build a B u d d h i s t pagoda.
For senior citizens, there’s a separate e m e r g e n c y center, a d e d i c a t e d inpatient unit, and the Senior Treatment and Recovery Unit for Behavioral Care for seniors with c o n d i t i o n s such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Gaston has great empathy for all patients, having been one himself at Memorial H e r m a n n - Texas Medical Center.
Gaston, who was on staff at Memorial Hermann Northwest at the time, underwent multiple brain surgeries after a large cyst was discovered in the back of his head.
“It gave me a whole new perspective,” Gaston said. “I understood the anxiety and uncertainty that goes along with being a patient, having to turn my life over to other people.”
One of the hardest parts for Gaston was being forced to cut back his work hours.
“I had to face the fact I couldn’t keep going fulltime,” said Gaston, a married father of three. “It was one of the toughest times of my life, to have to step back and step away.”
Approximately one year later, a fullyrecovered Gaston was back, and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
He’s got plans.
“As our community evolves and changes, I want Memorial Hermann Southwest to stay in front and continue to reinvent itself,” Gaston said. “I want us to be a hospital known for its passion to keep the community healthy. When people think of us, I want them to think of us as a partner for life.”