Stephen Pennington took the helm as Chief Executive Officer at East Georgia Regional Medical Center a little more than a year ago, and in that short time, he’s elevated the hospital and its employees. He was nominated for “My Boss is Boss” by Beth Benton, director of Professional Outreach at EGRMC.
“My boss, Stephen Pennington, has been with Community Health Systems for 20 years, and has been our CEO since last summer. The thing that makes Stephen a great boss is that he is a true motivator. He tells us that we should strive to get a little better every day by doing the right thing always (it’s become etched in our minds at EGRMC as he does a chant at safety huddle every morning). He has also done wonders for improving employee morale. He hosts town hall meetings and employee birthday parties (complete with awesome menus, gifts and live music). In his short time here he has already made such an impact on the nearly 800 employees we have. He is truly changing our organization for the better because he cares.”
Originally from the Knoxville, Tennessee area, Pennington grew up on a farm with a father that believed in hard work, and a mother who had a big heart.
“At a young age, I had a strong work ethic,” he said. “I was very fortunate to have the example of a father who was always pushing to be better.”
Pennington attended the University of Tennessee, and when a co-op opportunity didn’t quite work out in his industrial technology degree program, he did a co-op in healthcare in Norfolk, Virginia. He went to school a semester and worked a semester during that time.
“I absolutely fell in love with it,” he said. “It was just like, there was so much to do, it was never boring, so many different people, so many different processes of people to pull together to get the proper outcome, a balanced outcome. Since then, there’s never been a day that didn’t go by fast.”
Those fast-paced days are a blessing, Pennington says.
“I think if you have that, that’s special,” he said.
Pennington worked as a consultant for a while, then got on the CEO track, and worked in the corporate offices for a while. He was eventually asked to come to Statesboro’s EGRMC. He says the company CEO told him that “East Georgia is a very good hospital, but he wanted it to be great, and to reach its full potential.”
He says the move worked out well for him and his family, as his son is a student at Georgia Southern, and they already known some people in the area. He adds that it’s nice to focus on his family and his hospital.
“Our job is very important, what we do. My slogan that I’ve tried to work on here is ‘Every patient, Every time, Always.’ That is difficult. It’s not hard to be good most of the time, but you expect us to be always, no matter when. Weekends, nights, holidays, it doesn’t matter if I’m having a good day, a bad day, or if something happened at home. I have to bring every time, every patient, always. That’s what we’re pushing for. That’s how we get a well-balanced hospital,” he said.
Pennington has worked for more than 20 years as a CEO or vice president, and says that he’s found that it all boils down to this: patient, employee and physician satisfaction.
“If you have those three, and you focus on quality, everything else rises with it. It’s really simple,” he said.
Pennington says he’s been fortunate also to have had good mentors, and that he really strives to hire good people. He works hard at making sure employees, no matter what area they work in, understand how they fit into the overall plan for the hospital. He works to support them, and not micromanage them.
“It’s important to really listen,” he said. “I’ve had to work on that. And I think that makes us all better when we can do that.”
Pennington says he has come to appreciate the community he now calls home.
“There are more people who care, per capita, in Statesboro, than anywhere I’ve worked. That’s really nice,” he said.
The board at EGRMC has really high expectations, and Pennington says he likes that.
“We want to be the best community hospital in the country,” he said.
As for the birthday parties he’s instituted, Pennington says they are necessary.
“That and just having town hall meetings, you need to do that. You can’t be timid. It’s better to just listen to everybody and try to move forward. Be encouraging and have high expectations. And then, be supportive,” he said.
Pennington says his biggest challenge is that “it never stops.”
“You never really get to turn it off when you’re in health care. You can’t go peaks and valleys. You’ve got to come in and be consistent. You’ve got to have that just show up mentality. I try to encourage our employees to just get better. Let’s don’t go backwards. That’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.
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