A Nurse at Heart – TMC’s Rich Believes in Teamwork

By Sheryl Kornman –

Tucson Medical Center CEO Judy Rich is committed not only to excellent patient care for all, but also to making sure all patients have a say in their care.

Rich was a nurse before she became a nursing administrator and now a hospital administrator. “I was and will always be a nurse,” she said.

At TMC and its El Dorado campus, Rich said, listening to patients and to employees helps to make her leadership effective. And she loves her work.

“I see everything through the eyes of a nurse,” she said, and that enables her to work with more than 3,000 TMC employees to figure out “how to be better than we were yesterday. I can’t think of a place I’d rather work than a hospital.”

Her commitment to patients is key. “We do nothing to you without you,” she said. And “if we make a mistake, we tell you.”

TMC’s “driving vision is to be accessible to the community,” Rich said.

“We evaluate carefully where the need is and make sure systematically we are filling the needs,” she said. “The hospital’s commitment to patients means that patients always have to be included in their care. What they think and need matters and we want to hear from them and their families.

“We have turned the paradigm around from the paternalistic model (of healthcare delivery) and the first thing we do is tell our patients everything we know and support them in making decisions. It’s a very different milieu now. We should all be smart about how we get our own care.”

As a female executive, Rich said she has never fallen into feeling like she has to prove herself because she is a woman. She was given opportunities to grow professionally elsewhere and she now gives them to others.

“The female gene has served me well in my ability to work with other people,” she said. “When you put women on teams they get the job done and with more collaboration and on time – the Harvard Business School has studied this. I am really open to collaboration and supporting each other and rallying around the mission and values. It’s easy for me to embrace it and hold it up high for employees.

“My goal (as CEO) was to be very approachable. I made it a core value for me to never make anyone feel they can’t come and tell me anything, or that what they say would be trivialized and not valued.” That includes any employee, she said.

Rich first came to TMC in 2003 as COO and left in December 2005. When she returned in July 2007 as executive hospital administrator, the hospital was in trouble and the TMC board was considering whether TMC should become part of a larger system. When the decision was made to stay local after several years of profitable operations, the board promoted Rich to her present post as CEO.

“It was an incredible opportunity,” she said. “They saw I was committed to the organization, and there was no place to go but up.”

The hospital had considered a somewhat controversial $800 million rebuild that would have transformed the one-story hospital into a high-rise and disrupted its carefully tended grounds and courtyards.

Instead TMC added to existing structures, spending $250 million to add a state-of-the-art surgical and orthopedic tower, took over the campus of the former El Dorado Hospital, now TMC’s El Dorado Health Campus for outpatient treatments and surgeries, built a child-friendly pediatric emergency room and added a parking garage to the West Campus improvements. Also, EPIC software was purchased for digital recordkeeping and OneChart was added to provide an electronic medical records system. The hospital has also expanded its pediatric and mother/baby facilities.

“We haven’t lost our charm, our courtyards and our beautiful grounds,” Rich noted.

For those at the end of life, TMC Hospice provides in-home care as well as inpatient respite care and pain management at Peppi’s House. Peppi’s House is located in the northwest part of the campus and has 16 beds, including two that flex as pediatric beds. TMC provides inpatient palliative care to patients with chronic illnesses. Rich said a new medical director of palliative care will begin work this summer.

In January 2015, TMC will provide the medical services at a geriatric psychiatric center on the campus of Handmaker. The center will have 15 patient beds.

During her tenure, TMC has partnered with Ventana Medical Systems to improve its pathology laboratory diagnostics and the outcomes for patients, especially those with cancer.
Rich’s father died from Hodgkin’s disease a few days after she graduated from high school. There was no cure then.

“I spent my senior year watching my father die. I almost didn’t go to college at all,” she said. But she did and she studied nursing.

She moved from Philadelphia to Florida and to Tennessee and now Tucson to grow her career. Her first big management opportunity came at 28 when she was the nurse manager of the neurology intensive care unit at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. She was willing, she said, to take the job knowing that the first person offered the job dropped out.
“I realized I had been given the chance to do something special,” she said. The hospital had a spinal cord center and the work was challenging. She remained at Jefferson, a teaching hospital, for seven years.

Rich has three children, 28, 27 and 21, and has been a very “hands-on mom,” she said. Her children have helped to hone her communications skills. “My children have given me a lot of insight into how I interact with people. My daughter reminds me constantly how I should behave and value other people. I’ve learned how to listen to my children.”
As medical care and hospital care evolve, Rich and TMC must meet the changing needs of providers, payers and patients.

“The challenge of leading a hospital today is that the expectations are rapidly increasing on the part of payers and patients,” Rich said. “Our mandate is to be better and better. And better means you can never say what we are today is good enough. The challenge for me now is to continuously improve, to make sure every day we are figuring out how to be better than we were yesterday.

“We realize more and more care will be happening outside the hospital and we have to be able to support the highest quality of healthcare in the most efficient way. Our outpatient vision is to deliver care in people’s homes and outpatient settings as much as possible. We understand nobody wants to be in a hospital – unless they are having a baby – and we are taking care of people when they are most vulnerable.”

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