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Palomar Pomerado CEO tells students to remember their roots

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It took a strict nun to nudge Michael Covert into medical administration nearly 40 years ago.

Covert, CEO of Palomar Pomerado Health, spoke to students at California State University, San Marcos about his experience in medical administration and stressed the importance of remembering one’s roots.

For someone who runs a health care district that serves more than 800 square miles in Riverside and San Diego County and 17 cities, Covert did not initially have an interest in medical administration when he went to college.

Covert completed his bachelor’s degree in industrial psychology before his father asked him how he was going to feed himself in that field.

When Covert couldn’t think of a good answer, he turned to the people around him for suggestions.

One of his neighbors worked as a medical administrator and encouraged Covert into the field.

After spending time working as an administrative assistant at a Catholic hospital, one of the nuns he worked under suggested he go to back to school to learn more about the profession and offered to help him pay for his master’s degree in medical administration.

“I went back (to the hospital) to thank them for helping me pay my way through school and no one could remember why they gave me the money,” said Covert.

While he was away, the Cardinal changed the religious order in charge of the hospital. Since everything had changed, he decided to pay back the hospital and leave to find work elsewhere.

Over the years, Covert worked across the country before coming to PPH.

For Covert, one of the most important things about running medical centers, is hiring the right people and then maintaining the relationships with those people to create an environment where everyone wins.

To achieve this, he said, it starts with hiring the right people.

“I’ve hired wonderful people and get out of their way,” said Covert. “They’re wonderful leaders in their own right and I’ve learned that our success has been because they have become better leaders."

He added PPH tries to craft positions around employees’ skills to ensure the best fit possible.

It does not mean Covert always hires people he likes personally, but rather hires based on positive aspects an individual can bring to a position.

At PPH, good service is recognized and rewarded in an effort to let employees know their value.

When someone has done something that is a “worthy cause for applause” he or she receives a pin showing they’ve done something well.

He used the anecdote of a hospice patient who came in to the hospital. One of the nurses asked the patient if there was anything she could do to make the patient’s stay more comfortable and the patient responded by saying she wanted a chocolate milkshake.

Despite being around 2 a.m., the nurse found a chocolate milkshake for the woman who passed away about an hour later.

The importance of going out of one’s way to help people is something Covert can trace to a trip home after he’d started his career in medical administration and got his picture in the Tulsa Tribune.

After Covert proudly showed his father the photo, his father gave him some advice that he has carried with him to this day:

“And he said, ‘Michael, I need to share one thing with you: Don’t you ever believe in your press clippings and always remember where you came from in life. If you do those two things and you’re compassionate, you’ll be OK. If not, I’ll tell you, you will fail,’” Covert said.

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Related videos:

Interview with Michael Covert

Effective corporate leadership: Michael Covert


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