El Camino Hospital’s Pat Wolfram puts people first.
Published by Los Gatos Magazine | 2015
By L. Clark Tate
Pat Wolfram implements El Camino Hospital’s ethos by focusing on one priority: the patient. While the health care industry can present a potential for chaos, Wolfram, vice president and head administrator of the hospital’s Los Gatos Campus, sees it as an opportunity to simply do what she does best—care for people.
Wolfram’s commitment to healing goes back to childhood. Growing up in Southern California, she recalls, she was always bringing home stray dogs and cats, as well as the occasional struggling classmate.
“They didn’t have a place and I didn’t want them to be by themselves,” she says. This philanthropic tendency exasperated her father at times, but it has informed her lifelong approach.
“With healthcare, usually people are anxious about what they might hear, or the acute illness they are experiencing, and need our expertise and support,” she says. “When you focus on the individual patient, you will provide the right care.”
El Camino recently received proof that this is working. In June, the hospital won a prestigious award from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, making it one of only 103 hospitals worldwide to win that award in three consecutive years. And on July 23, the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce recognized El Camino as Non-Profit of the Year. Zack Marks, the Chamber’s executive director, says one reason the hospital was given the honor is that it gives back. It gives back a lot. And Wolfram epitomizes El Camino’s dedication to community.
Wolfram started out as a Candy Striper, sometimes serving by simply holding someone’s hand. She then worked as a registered nurse for 10 years. Along the way she was tapped for management when an administrator at the Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona noted her natural leadership skills.
“The hospital had departments that needed clinical and management reorganization, so I took on the challenge,” she remembers. After accomplishing that goal, Wolfram says, she began to move into more administrative roles.
“I was asked to take on other management projects,” she says, “and I became passionate about improving care and supporting staff who provide care.”
Wolfram’s professional journey included earning two masters’ degrees, one in adult health and one in business administration. She also had the opportunity to check out the health care systems of Canada, England, and the United States through an executive fellows program in health administration with the University of Houston. “I learned that the best way to improve healthcare was to be in administration, where strategies are developed and decisions are made,” she says. Her resume now includes stops as clinical manager, director, chief nursing officer, COO, and CEO.
That steep career curve astounds Wolfram herself.
“It’s amazing to think about how my career has developed over time—from a volunteer Candy Striper to a hospital administrator,” she says. The most rewarding aspects of the journey, she says, have been working with patients and families during their time of crisis as a nurse, and working with the community as an administrator and hearing good reports.
That experience gives her insight into the worlds she’s managing. It also helps make her an approachable leader.
“I have an open-door policy, and I personally walk around,” she says. “I get to know people so it’s easy for them to talk to me. I also work on projects with them, so I’m part of the team.”
One way that Wolfram has chosen to engage with the Los Gatos community has been by being active on the Chamber, where she sits on the board of directors and is immediate past president. (She was not involved in the process that led to El Camino being selected for the recent award.)
Patti Rice, who has been involved with the Chamber for 12 years, says she has noticed a marked difference in Los Gatos since El Camino took over operations of the former Community Hospital in the summer of 2009.
“I have definitely noticed an increase in the hospital’s community involvement,” she said. “I think that stems from the leadership over there, along with Pat being so community-minded.”
Wolfram’s engaged style seems to reflect that of El Camino Hospital as a whole.
“I have worked for many hospitals, both for-profit and non-profit,” Wolfram says. “El Camino is the first hospital that I’ve had the pleasure of working for that actively gives back to the community.”
The hospital sets aside over $50 million annually for benefits and activities such as grants to local organizations, subsidized health services and clinical research, according to Wolfram. Supported programs include RoadRunner Transportation, which helps seniors get around town, the distribution of Automated External Defibrillators, and free orthodontic care for foster kids. El Camino is also the founding sponsor of the PulsePoint app, which alerts users with CPR training if someone nearby needs assistance.
Not all non-profit hospitals have so much money to give away. (And, yes, non-profit organizations can earn money—it just has to benefit the broad public interest instead of members or shareholders.) The surplus comes directly from hospital operations. And those operations are very profitable.
“We have a high volume [of patients] because we’re a good hospital,” Wolfram says. As a result, they attract quality physicians, nurses and employees, and can negotiate good contracts with insurance companies.
Because Wolfram and many of these folks personally engage in the community, and many live here, each patient is more than just a patient. Wolfram credits that to her staff and physicians. “I am very proud to work with a staff who put patients first,” she says. “They truly care for their community as though they are immediate family.”
Wolfram says her company, CEO and board all support this approach. She describes El Camino’s executive team as collaborative and supportive of one another, a culture that is bolstered by its members’ unique and diverse backgrounds. “We all work towards the same mission of improving the health and well-being of our community.”
All this isn’t easy. Wolfram says her biggest challenge is time management, which she handles by constantly reprioritizing an ever-shifting task list. Often this takes place Sunday night after an afternoon hike.
That’s right, a hike. When Wolfram needs to recharge she gets out and gets active. “I work out twice a week and hike every weekend, usually along the Los Gatos Creek Trail,” she says. She also enjoys kayaking, bike riding, and cheering on the Giants with friends. “I understand the importance of rest, relaxation and adventure, so I plan time off a year in advance, she says. But it’s not too hard to get back to work. “I love my job and the community I serve.”
El Camino’s website includes a mission statement: “We’re quick to master the latest medical advancements, but compassion still rules.” Their ongoing efforts to improve the quality of life for Los Gatos residents have shown that, even in the heart of Silicon Valley’s frenetic tech scene, everything comes down to the people your technology serves. That’s something Pat Wolfram has known all her life.