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New MarinHealth CEO looks to the future during trying times of the coronavirus

On. Sept. 1, David Klein, M.D., MBA, succeeded Lee Domanico as CEO of MarinHealth. Klein most recently served as president and CEO of Dignity Health’s two San Francisco-based hospitals: Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center.

He has worked in health care for more than 30 years, having spent 14 of those years as a general surgeon before moving to hospital administration. Klein is a Marin resident who grew up in New Mexico. He has three children.

Klein spoke with the Business Journal on Oct. 12. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

As a physician, I have a good sense about the medical part of our business. And it's really put, No. 1 for me, the importance of high quality and safety.

What was it like to open the new hospital just weeks after you became CEO?

I've opened up three new hospitals in my career, and all of them have been exciting, but I’ve never seen one that’s so state-of-the-art in every aspect. We had everybody in the new building an hour and a half ahead of our scheduled time, and we even delivered our first baby that day at about 1 p.m. So that was pretty exciting.

What interested you in joining MarinHealth, and especially making this move during such a critical time in health care?

Well, I don't think there's ever a great time to take a new job. I really like that MarinHealth is an independent community hospital that's got a great track record and a very strong academic affiliation (with UCSF).

It's the right size to be nimble to change. I've been a part of very large corporations where you couldn't get as much done as easily. So because of its size, you can adjust quickly to some of the changing needs of the community. And, boy, we've never been faced with more need to change as we have in the last six months.

On that note, tell us about some of your priorities and concerns right now.

My primary goal obviously is trying to keep our staff healthy and safe, and to take great care of our patients and make sure that they stay safe as well. But we’re still in the midst of the pandemic, and it really isn't clear when we're going to get out of it.

And there’s some significant economic losses. I think we're facing financial challenges due to people not being able to seek health care in a timely manner.

The other main effect that’s important to mention is consumer confidence. People continue to be afraid to come to the hospital; they're afraid it's a place that they could get COVID. But the reality is that it’s the safest place to be right now, I think. We are well-prepared for caring for those patients.

And then we also need to remain prepared for any future surge.

Please tell us about your short-term vision for the hospital.

We are in the beginning stages of developing our new strategic plan, and that's going to be about a three- to four-month process. We have sought some outside consultants … and will be working with our strategic planning committee of the board.

We’re going to use that strategic plan to look at a couple things. One is strategic discipline, to make sure that we are doing all the things we should be doing, not doing anything that we don't need to be doing, and can certainly add things that the community might require for their care. And then we need to do that in the face of operational efficiencies. So we want to provide the best health care that we can possibly provide, at the lowest cost. That’s really what value is, and so we want to be that provider.

We also want to look at any growth opportunities related to services that we provide, and the potential for recruiting physicians, as needed, into the community so that we can provide the level of support that the community needs and deserves.

And then lastly, we have a great relationship with UCSF Health and we want to leverage that alliance to make sure that we have the providers that we need, and can provide the care locally to meet the needs of the community.

What made you decide to move from practicing medicine to running a hospital?

Early on, even when I was practicing surgery, I was able to be involved in leadership positions in the hospitals where I worked. I’ve served in just about every position, including chief of staff. I got very interested in organized medicine and was involved nationally as a young surgeon in groups that were advocating for better health care across the country.

As a practicing physician, you absolutely make a pivotal impact, one patient at a time. It was that ability to extend what I have learned as a practitioner to the broader community.

How have your years as a surgeon helped shape your strategy and vision for operating a hospital?

As a physician, I have a good sense about the medical part of our business. And it's really put, No. 1 for me, the importance of high quality and safety. It also has given me the ability to have really strong physician relations.

I've seen health care from every angle. I have seen it as a patient. I've seen it as a father of a sick child. I've seen it as a practitioner, and now as an administrator. I really believe that gives me a very broad view of the health care landscape. I hope it does anyway. I'm very humbled to be able to do what I do.

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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