In February, Stephen Popkin will take the helm at Lompoc Valley Medical Center. Mr. Popkin replaces retiring CEO Jim Raggio. Prior to arriving, he answers some questions about his life and career.
Can you tell us about your personal background?
I have been married for 33 years to Donna Popkin, who is the Assistant Vice President of Client Enterprises for Vizient. We have two adult children, Shaina Popkin, 29 and Andrew Popkin, 27. They both live in Southern California.
I was born and raised in Whittier and have lived in California all of my life. I enjoy piano playing and golf, though I will not be joining the PGA any time soon. My wife likes to travel; me not so much.
Why were you interested in this CEO position?
I have held executive positions in a variety of hospital and healthcare settings. At some, the primary focus was on maximizing profit for the owners. There is nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't make for the most rewarding experiences. For the past 5 1/2 years, I have been CEO of a 193-bed independent, not-for-profit, safety net hospital. The city where the hospital is located has a population of 330,000, yet it is a tight-knit community and has the feeling of a city the size of Lompoc. I have been very involved in the community, and even though there is a much larger hospital nearby, the community feels a close connection to our hospital. I have enjoyed the opportunity to help our team make a positive impact on the lives of residents in our service area. I see LVMC as a similar situation. Although the hospital is smaller, the full spectrum of services offered by LVMC is substantial. I have always liked a small town environment, and now that my wife and I have had an "empty nest" for some time, we are able to pursue new opportunities and adventures.
What did you learn about the hospital before coming to interview, and what were your perceptions after visiting/interviewing?
These days one can find out pretty much all of the tangible things about a hospital or healthcare district online. I had a good sense of service offerings, financial performance, payor mix, community demographics, quality scores, etc. What one cannot tell until visiting and interviewing are some of the intangibles: the strength and personality of the Leadership Team; the nature of the Board of Directors; LVMC’s relationship with its community, the look, and feel of the physical plant; the general feeling one gets from being in Lompoc. It is the intangibles that cemented my interest in the CEO position. Unless you are the Cleveland Clinic perhaps, every hospital and healthcare district has its issues and opportunities for improvement. LVMC is no different. Those challenges do not scare me in the least, in fact, it is quite the opposite, they will give me a reason to get up in the morning.
You’re replacing a CEO who has been at the helm for 20 years and transitioned the district into a new hospital with greatly expanded services. How do you come in and make your own independent mark?
I don't worry about making an independent mark. An independent mark is a result of doing your job well for a number of years; that will take care of itself. Where things are working well, they will be continued; where things can be improved, we will do our best to improve them, and where prudent opportunities can be seized, they will be. Jim Raggio has done an excellent job during his tenure, and he should be thanked and congratulated. And, on a personal note, I have appreciated his help in making my transition an easy one.
Why did you get into a career in healthcare? What do you enjoy about it, and what frustrates you?
I was not specifically looking for a career in healthcare. My undergraduate degree was in Business Administration/Marketing, and I was in sales for two years. Then, I became the first Marketing Manager for the American Heart Association, which gave me a taste of healthcare. A few years later, after earning an MBA, I answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times for a Product Line Marketing Manager at a large hospital in Long Beach. That was in 1985, and I have never looked back. There are many things I enjoy about my career in healthcare, but two of them are: 1) There is always something new and different, and challenging and rewarding. I have been in the hospital/healthcare business for more than 30 years and I am still learning something new every day. The second is the opportunity to build a great team of professionals, from all walks of life, and help them to reach their full potential, which then results in providing the best care and service to our patients. Along with the joys comes a little frustration. Even when we use our very best efforts to do things right, occasionally something will go wrong. It is frustrating if the thing that went wrong was within our control. I encourage patients and family members to write or call me. When I get a letter or card or call with compliments for our staff, it makes my day, and I share it by email with all of our employees. On the flip side, when the letter or call is a complaint, it is frustrating, but I try to view it as an opportunity for service recovery or at least an opportunity to make improvements going forward.
How would you describe your management style?
My management style is geared toward making employees and medical staff members feel supported, so they can do their jobs to the best of their ability. I do my best to remove barriers to success and make sure that all departments and staff are working together synergistically. I try to focus on identifying and capitalizing on strategic opportunities to move the entire organization forward. I am definitely not a micromanager, but I perhaps am a bit of a micromotor, making sure everything that needs to get done is getting done. Although we are in a very serious business, I like everyone to still have fun.
How would you see the Lompoc Healthcare District changing in the next few years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
I wouldn't necessarily say that the Lompoc Healthcare District will change dramatically, but rather continue to evolve.
To me, the goals are fourfold:
- To provide the services needed so that residents can receive the vast majority of their healthcare within the District
- To operate those services in such a high quality, a customer-centered manner that residents will want to receive those services within the District
- To be a responsible and well-regarded employer
- To do the above with excellent financial stewardship resulting in long-term financial sustainability.
Lompoc Healthcare District is in the process of certain joint venture initiatives that are in-line with the above goals. I intend to work toward bringing these initiatives to fruition while continually seeking to identify and execute on new strategic opportunities that will benefit the residents of the District.
What is your level of interest in community involvement, such as serving on boards, volunteering, getting out to community events?
I have a high level of interest in community involvement. That is one of the key aspects I have enjoyed about the position I am leaving, and one I intend to continue. In addition to the personal gratification of such involvement, there is mutual benefit from the support LVMC provides to community organizations and residents, on one hand, and the resulting enhanced perception of LVMC, on the other hand. Of course, it will not be just me. I expect our entire Leadership Team to continue and expand its community involvement.
How do you ensure your organization delivers the best care, for every patient?
That takes focus and diligence every day, not just by me and our Leadership Team, but by everyone in the organization. My job is to make that easier to accomplish by such things as good hiring, training, and retention; implementation of effective performance and process improvement initiatives; having appropriate policies and procedures; ensuring teamwork among staff, departments, and medical staff; allocating financial and human resources where they will provide the most benefit, and having a customer service commitment throughout the entire organization.