A Cup of Joe with Joe Neely, Hillcrest South CEO

September 26, 2012
8:35am, Joe’s Office

Where were you born and raised?

Born in Norman, but grew up in Muskogee.  Went to graduate school in Alabama and then came back to Oklahoma in the late 70s and have spent my entire professional career in Oklahoma.  Oklahoma City, Ardmore, Tulsa – I came to Tulsa in 1995 with Hillcrest.

Do you have children?

Twin boys. They will be 31 this Saturday. And I have two grandchildren, who live here in Tulsa.

Were you always in the health care space?

Always. I worked in a hospital in junior high. It was my first job ever in Muskogee. I started out as a grounds keeper and then worked as an orderly, worked in the business office, worked in data processing. I was a switch board operator at one time.

Were there any dropped calls?

No, in those days there weren’t any dropped calls. It was the old cord board. A call would come in and you would punch the plug into the extension they were calling. No drops with that.

I loved the atmosphere and got to know the administrators and I said, “how do I do what you’re doing.”  And they said you’ve got to have an advanced degree.  My advice to younger people looking at the field, you need hospital experience and you should pursue a masters degree in health administration or an MBA.

Did you have any mentors that showed you along the way?

Oh yeah. The administrator of the hospital in Muskogee was a family friend. That’s how I got my first job on the grounds. His name was Al Donelle and he went on to be an administrator in several hospitals around the state.

What is your morning routine?

We get up early, by 5:30am. My wife exercises and I read the paper and drink a little bit of coffee and make my notes for the day. I come to work about 7am.  I like that time because it is quiet and I can work on my agenda for the day, make notes on things I need to accomplish. Then everyone starts arriving about 7:30, 8 o’clock. I’m an early riser, but I go to bed early too.

What do you like to do outside of work?

We like to go to the lake. We like OU football. We have a big tailgate group. About 20-25 people are in our group. You get to see their kids growing up and then joining the group. We always do one away game as a group and this year we are going to West Virginia, because they are new to the conference and none of us have been to West Virginia. We hear it is a good football experience.

Let’s talk about the hospital. How do you feel Hillcrest South is positioned today?

There are a lot of opportunities for Hillcrest South. There is a lot of competition. Culturally we need to step up a little bit in terms of our employee relations. We have some new programs in place specifically for patient satisfaction to help employees feel more empowered to make a difference for the patients. At the end of the day, that’s why we are all here.

We’re trying to reach out to the community in terms of customer service, efficiency and trying to avoid redundancy when patients visit us. We have a lot of opportunity because we have a lot of services. There are a lot of people in South Tulsa, Southeast Tulsa County, Southwest Wagoner County, and the suburbs of Bixby, Jenks and beyond. We have this great network with Utica Park Clinic that stretches from Broken Arrow all the way to Glenpool.

I think we are positioned very well.

What is the number one thing a patient is thinking when they come here?

They are thinking they don’t want to be here. There are only two types of patients. Only the new mother and the cosmetic surgery want to be here. Nobody else wants to be here. We have to remember that. They might be in pain or inconvenienced to be here. When they are coming here, we need to be very empathetic and think how would we want to be treated if we were the patient.

That’s why it’s really important to have that initial greeting with the patient and do the right thing at the right time.

What is the number one priority you are thinking about when you come to work?

First, I’m always checking the landscaping as I come in, making sure everything is tidy. Are things clean and neat and in working order? But then when you get here, it is all about patient care – patient safety, patient convenience, patient communication and that takes the doctors, the staff and the environment all working together. Patients want to feel good about being safe. They expect everything to work properly. At the end of the day, their safety is in our hands.

How do you know at the end of the day you have done your job well?

I hope each and every day we have made progress, but really the work is never over. You never really are finished at the end of the day. We are a 24 hour business, we never close. I never have a feeling the day is finished and the work is finished. It’s just a little break until the next and hopefully you’re doing better and making progress with the things you started the previous day.