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Michael Covert

Covert oversees Palomar Pomerado Health expansion

Palomar Pomerado Health's (PPH) President and CEO Michael H. Covert has 38 years of experience in health care administration -- 25 of those as chief executive officer.

A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE), which suggests "expertise, experience and commitment to continuing education and professional development," Covert is no stranger to adversity.

He was president of Washington Hospital Center during 9/11. He served San Diegans this year in the aftermath of the wildfires. But the period that most influenced his career in health care was during his youth, caring for his father who had contracted Polio.

Covert would take the bus with his 4-year-old brother to visit his father in the hospital. It was the 1950s, so visitation meant waving through the window, he said. Covert took care of his dad when he came home from the hospital. The emotional and physical experience of daily bathing, feeding and exercising left a life-long impression on him.

Covert realized the importance of support and teamwork in health care.

"It isn't about me," he said. "It's about a strong group of people coming together to meet the needs of the citizens in very positive ways."

To that end, Covert created administrative fellowships to provide mentorship for the next generation -- 29 fellows in 30 years -- of health care professionals. Many of Coverts' protégés have assumed leadership roles in U.S. health care.

"The idea is to help them develop their own set of values," he said. "And for them to learn more about themselves, how to deal with change, and how to make structure out of ambiguity," Covert said.

"At the end of that year (of fellowship), they should have an appreciation for who they are."

When Covert began his tenure as president and CEO of PPH in 2003, decisions were being made from the top down. Employee input was almost non-existent. Through focus groups geared toward eliciting authentic feedback, Covert instilled an environment of collaboration.

And the perks aren't bad either: PPH, the largest employer in inland North County with more than 3,000 employees, offers a solid pension plan, five and a half weeks of time off, professional leadership development and an enhancement program that could net employees $700-$3,000 in annual bonuses.

In 2006 The Society of Human Resource Management named PPH San Diego's No. 1 employer. San Diego Magazine also named PPH the Best Place to Work that year.

The hospital district itself is well into the planning phases of a massive expansion that will include larger, more efficient emergency room services at Palomar Medical Center, more beds (from 107 to 201) and operating rooms, a conference and education center, and a hospital restaurant.

The improvements were endorsed by voters in 2004 through passage of a general obligation bond that would cover the originally $753 million expansion. Costs are now estimated at around $1.15 billion.

Planners say the expansion could be "the jewel" of Escondido. Covert said it is all part of the process of becoming one of the five best health care systems in the country.

Chung Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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