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MultiCare CEO Diane Cecchettini thrives on the challenge [The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.]
[April 25, 2011]

MultiCare CEO Diane Cecchettini thrives on the challenge [The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.]

(News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 25--When MultiCare Health System Chief Executive Diane Cecchettini talks about her first job after she graduated from UCLA, there's a tinge of wistfulness in her voice.

Cecchettini was a nurse in a pediatric intensive care ward, a demanding job in most people's book, but when she left the hospital for the day, the job and its stresses were left behind.

"I lived at the beach," she said, "I didn't have all of these management things that I have now and carry home." Now the 63-year-old Cecchettini commonly works 60-plus-hour weeks, arriving at her office at MultiCare's Tacoma General Hospital as early as 6 a.m. and returning to her Gig Harbor townhouse as late as 7 p.m.

But for Cecchettini, a woman who thrives on challenge, there is no regret.

Her appetite for problem-solving, for dealing with complexity and for improving patient care has led Cecchettini to become the successful head of Pierce County's largest private employer. Those traits have won her a handful of awards for health care management and innovation.

Next month, she will receive the latest of those recognitions, The University of Washington Tacoma Milgard School of Business Nonprofit Business Leader of the Year Award.

Cecchettini was nominated for that award by her own senior staff, the group of MultiCare executives who work with her on a daily basis executing the health care business's vision for the future and dealing with the daily operations of a four-hospital, 90-business-unit health conglomerate that has grown to nearly 9,400 employees.

Jo Ellen Vanatta, MultiCare senior vice president, calls Cecchettini a visionary. Cecchettini championed a MultiCare-wide electronic medical records system a decade ago, long before such systems became a buzzword in the health care reform discussion nationwide, she said. And Cecchettini made eliminating hospital-borne infections a target for abolition several years ago even before nationwide research had highlighted the ubiquity of those infections throughout hospitals nationwide.

Cecchettini's own clinical experience both on the front lines of hospital care in California and for two decades as an Air Force flight nurse (she retired as a lieutenant colonel), gives the MultiCare CEO credibility with care providers that some hospital chiefs lack because their background is exclusively business, not health care, she said.

"When Diane speaks," said Vanatta, "everybody listens." That attention is not just a function of her powerful position as head of the company, but because Cecchettini makes a personal effort to explain and sell her programs throughout the health system, Vanatta said.

"She connects with people," said the hospital executive.

She earns high praise too from her board of directors.

W.W. "Bill" Philip, the former chairman of Puget Sound National Bank and Columbia Bank and a Tacoma civic leader for decades, said Cecchettini is a gifted executive.

"I've known a lot of CEOs in my career. Diane is one of the best," said Philip, who served on the MultiCare board for more than 40 years before retiring a year ago.

"She's the real deal," said John Folsom, chairman of the health system board. "She's smart. She has high integrity. She's a strategic thinker." Philip credits Cecchettini with having an eye for picking smart people for her team.

"She's surrounded herself with good people," said the former banker.

When MultiCare five years ago decided to reach out to Puyallup's Good Samaritan Hospital to become part of the MultiCare network, for instance, Cecchettini picked John Long to become that hospital's new chief executive. Long has healed the low morale he found at the Puyallup hospital and has led the construction of a $400 million new care tower at the institution, said Folsom.

"John was the perfect person for that job. Diane knew she had to have someone of his caliber to lead Good Sam," said the board chairman.

Statistics affirm the high personal opinions of board members and staffers.

Consider these: --MultiCare's revenue has risen from $408 million in 1999, the year Cecchettini became CEO, to $1.334 billion in 2010.

--The number of employees has nearly doubled from 4,805 12 years ago to 9,370 today.

--The health care system has grown from three hospitals, Tacoma General, Mary Bridge Children's Hospital and Allenmore, to four in those dozen years with the addition of Good Samaritan in 2006. MultiCare plans to add a fifth hospital to its repertoire with a new satellite hospital in South King County at Covington. MultiCare was recently granted a state certificate of need for the new facility.

--In Tacoma, MultiCare built a $172 million addition that includes a new cancer treatment center and expanded emergency departments for Tacoma General and Mary Bridge.

--MultiCare has broadened its reach beyond its core hospitals with clinics from South King to Kitsap counties. Ambulatory care now accounts for half of the system's revenue, said Cecchettini.

The health system's advances haven't been all about new bricks and mortar or revenue. The health conglomerate has advanced patient care in major steps, said Virginia Delyanis, administrator of neurosciences for MultiCare.

Cecchettini 15 years ago dedicated herself to an ambitious program to improve outcomes in brain-related disorders at the hospitals, said Delyanis. The CEO campaigned for the program during a time when funds were tight, she said. The result has been gratifying.

"If you present with stroke, we have four hours until you really have major damage. We can put you in an interventional radiology lab, take the proper steps and you can walk home," said Cecchettini.

The health system's electronic medical records system that Cecchettini championed has won national awards. That system links all four hospitals and MultiCare's 90 some clinics and other facilities with a single electronic record system. That system, some six years in the making, went live in 2006.

It won Cecchettini the 2008 CEO Achievement Award from Modern Healthcare Magazine and the Healthcare Information System Society.

In addition, the health system's effort to stamp out hospital-transmitted infections has yielded strong results. The health care system expects to eliminate all hospital-related infections by next year.

All of this came under the direction of a woman who picked health care as a profession in part because it was one of the few professions with advancement opportunities for females when she was going to college.

"I just always wanted to be a nurse," said Cecchettini. "At that time, there weren't that many options for females." The daughter of a produce distributor, Cecchettini grew up on an 18-acre Northern California fruit ranch with three siblings, one of them her twin.

Her grandfather was an immigrant from Italy who came to the U.S. to work for the railroads. After he earned enough money to get a start in life, he returned to his home village and married a 19-year-old woman with whom he made a life in California as a fruit grower.

After Cecchettini finished her nursing degree and worked in a Los Angeles pediatrics unit, she enlisted in the Air Force and married an Air Force pilot. In the Air Force, she served as a nurse on medical evacuation flights, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the reserves. She supervised some 220 flying personnel. Cecchettini served as a troop commander in Operation Desert Storm.

While she and her husband were stationed in Germany, Cecchettini earned a master's degree in human resources management from the University of Utah. Returning to Northern California, Cecchettini became a manager at Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., eventually rising to assistant administrator. Sutter is the same hospital where Cecchettini was born.

Cecchettini and her husband divorced. They had no children.

MultiCare recruited her in 1989 as vice president of patient services. During her early tenure at MultiCare, Cecchettini married an Air Force general, Frank Scoggins. They've been married for two decades now.

She was promoted to MultiCare executive vice president in 1997.

She became the health system's chief executive two years later.

Former board member Philip said Cecchettini had been doing much of the work of the chief executive before her appointment because the then-CEO was having health issues.

When the CEO retired, the board members decided Cecchettini was doing the job so well that they would forego the usual nationwide search and elevate Cecchettini to the top post, said Folsom.

"She'd been doing the best possible job," said the board chairman. "We thought it would be hard to find anyone better." For Cecchettini, the top job has been financially rewarding. Last year with bonuses, she made $1.8 million.

More important to Cecchettini is the personal satisfaction she gets in seeing the health care system team's initiatives bear fruit.

"I enjoy this job when I'm seeing the clinic improvements," she said. But the CEO's job isn't all about innovation and emotional reward.

"I can't say that I enjoy every moment.," said Cecchettini. "It's a hard job. I wake up every morning very hopeful and optimistic." What is less enjoyable? "The finances. I spend a huge amount of time on the financial model.

"The cost structure is very complex. In a way, the whole reimbursement model doesn't make sense. I have to have a viable business model. We're working with the payers on how you do this. We are still caught in the world where the reimbursement rules are regulatory driven. They are very rigid and punitive," she said.

"What I can control is how we provide the care, clinical outcomes, clinical efficiency and meeting the needs of the community. As an organization, we're willing to try different approaches. On that score and others, we're doing very well." John Gillie: 253-597-8663 [email protected] Diane Cecchettini Title: MultiCare Health System president and chief executive officer.

Born: Sacramento, Calif.

Age: 63.

Education: Bachelor's degree in nursing, University of California, Los Angeles, 1970; master's degree in human resources management, University of Utah, 1976.

Career: Pediatric intensive care nurse, UCLA Medical Center 1970-1973; Sutter Memorial Hospital, Sacramento, rose to assistant administrator, 1980-1989; MultiCare Health System, vice president for patient services, 1989-1997; executive vice president, 1997-1999; president and chief executive officer, 1999 to present.

Military service: Reserve aeromedical evacuation squadrons, U.S. Air Force 1972-1993. Retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Civic activities: Numerous civic and medical industry posts, including past chairwoman of the Washington State Hospital Association; past chairwoman of the VHA Health Foundation; founding director, Cascade Health Network; member Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma; past chairwoman, American Red Cross; Tacoma Trauma Trust, board of directors.

Family: Twice married. No children. Two step-grandchildren. Husband is retired Air Force Gen. Frank Scoggins.

Lives: Canterwood, Gig Harbor.

Activities: Skiing, kayaking, biking, running. Coming up in this series ------ Profiles and awards The News Tribune business team will profile the three winners of the University of Washington Tacoma Milgard School of Business 10th Annual Business Leadership Awards.

Today: Nonprofit Leader of the Year: Diane Cecchettini, president and CEO of MultiCare Health System.

May 1: Small Business Leader of the Year: Brian Haynes, president and CEO of Rainier Connect, a Tacoma-based telecommunications company.

May 8: Business Leader of the Year: Greg Biersack, vice president of corporate operations at Burkhart Dental Supply -- the state's oldest incorporated business.

The Milgard School will present the awards May 11 at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center. Sponsors of the event include Heritage Bank, Sound Credit Union, Propel Insurance, BiNW, Boeing, Burkhart Dental Supply, Franciscan Health System, Kidder Mathews, Moss Adams, MultiCare, Simpson, South Tacoma Auto, State Farm Insurance, Totem Ocean Trailer Express, Weyerhaeuser and The News Tribune.

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