A part-time summer job at a Chicago hospital helped form Bob Malte’s career path. Now, as CEO of Kirkland-based EvergreenHealth, he’s in charge of thousands.

Photo by Rachel Coward

Photo by Rachel Coward

Most who are three-plus decades into a career can’t remember details of the summer gigs they held in college. But that’s not the case with Bob Malte. He vividly recalls the job he worked in his hometown of Chicago during one school break — mostly because that job shaped his current career.

“During college, I got a summer job in the medical records department of a hospital,” Malte said. “After I graduated college, I went to work there again while figuring out what to do next. I met a young hospital administrator who introduced me to the field of health care administration. I decided to get my MBA to prepare for a career in health care leadership, and a few years later, that same administrator gave me my first shot at an entry management job while I was completing graduate school.”

Today, Malte works as CEO of EvergreenHealth, a public hospital district headquartered in Kirkland that employs more than 4,000 people and has gross revenues exceeding $1.2 billion. Though he has two hospitals, three emergency rooms, two urgent-care clinics, primary care practices in nine cities, a 250-provider multispecialty group, and more than 1,000 doctors (among other things) under his umbrella, Malte still draws daily inspiration from that part-time summer job he held many years ago.

“There is an expression that says, ‘Accidents and inspiration will lead you to your destination,’ and it describes my journey,” Malte said. “Through that part-time summer job in the medical records department, I found that I was inspired by working in a place that made a difference in people’s lives. Now, 34 years later, it still inspires me every day. I am honored to be surrounded by people who transform others’ lives, and I’m rewarded daily knowing the impact our care makes.”

Malte recently spent some time with 425 Business to further discuss his career path and his current job.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about what led you to EvergreenHealth?

A: I’ve been fortunate to be part of a variety of health care organizations during my career, from academic medicine to a community hospital system and a provider-owned health care insurance company. I’ve been even more fortunate to have worked with some incredible people who taught me about servant leadership and helped shape my leadership style.

Each of those experiences prepared me for the privilege of being CEO of EvergreenHealth. When I first met some of the physicians and board members seven years ago, I knew this was where I was meant to be. The opportunity to be the CEO of an organization that has been rated as one of the top 100 hospitals in the nation and to support world-class doctors and nurses in what they do is an incredible honor — and one that allows me to apply all of my prior leadership experiences.

Q: What makes operating a business like EvergreenHealth unique?

A: Our culture and our accountability to the community. As a public-district hospital, our organizational DNA is rooted in our responsibility to not only provide exceptional care, but to also help make health care more affordable and accessible in our community. We are fortunate to also have a highly engaged and accountable board to which I report. They exemplify governance at its best.

Despite a few minor differences that come from being incorporated as a municipal corporation and a public district hospital, operating EvergreenHealth is almost identical to our industry counterparts. Only two percent of (our $1.2 billion) revenue comes from tax levy funds, which are used to fund community programs that would not exist otherwise and to pay off debt.

Q: Can you tell me more about the area on the Eastside that EvergreenHealth serves and the services you offer? What makes
your clientele noteworthy? 

A: Many people think of EvergreenHealth as the large medical campus in Kirkland, but we really have a much larger footprint across the Eastside. We have come a long way from the small hospital on the hill in Kirkland in 1972, with our total service area now encompassing nearly 870,000 residents. Our population is very diverse in ethnicity, economics, age, and employment.

While the Eastside has benefited from the area’s strong economic development and an influx of major corporations and tech companies over the past few decades, we also care for a lot of people whose economic circumstances are challenging. Fifteen percent of our patients are on Medicaid, and 2 percent to 4 percent do not have insurance at all.

Q: Does EvergreenHealth work with other health care providers in the region? What is your approach to mergers and partnerships? 

A: EvergreenHealth is one of a few organizations bucking the merger trend in health care. This choice stems from our belief that we can better fulfill our purpose and our vision by remaining independent. That said, we can’t do it all alone, so we have partnered with other organizations who share our vision. An example is the Puget Sound High-Value Network, a partnership between EvergreenHealth Partners, Overlake, MultiCare, Edmonds Family Medicine, Seattle Children’s, and Virginia Mason to work with insurers and companies to bring greater value to health care.

Q: What are some of the challenges of running a large health care system today given recent changes in policies, laws, and regulations? 

A: This is by far the most dynamic, fast-paced and, in some ways, uncertain period in my career. All of the changes create relentless pressure, but also make it the most exciting period in which to be a leader.

Regardless of the pressures, the importance of one thing never changes: culture. Businesses with a strong culture and a great product can thrive in periods of change. While my title may be CEO, the most meaningful part of my job is being CCO — chief culture officer.

Q: What must health systems do to remain financially viable while offering patients the greatest value? 

A: Five things: Put the patient (customer) first and at the center of every decision; be inclusive and partner with providers and payers; innovate with intent; drive out waste; and have a strong culture. All five must exist side-by-side.

Q: How does EvergreenHealth stay relevant to patients and competitive with other health care networks? 

A: EvergreenHealth is one of the area’s most comprehensive and integrated health care systems and has been recognized as one of the area’s most respected and trusted as well. It has been ranked in the top 5 percent of hospitals in the country for clinical excellence by Healthgrades, a top-three hospital in the Puget Sound region by U.S. News & World Report, and a 2016 Top 100 U.S. Hospital by Truven Health Analytics (the only health care system in the state of Washington on this year’s list).

But none of these matter unless the patient and their experience is at the center. And that’s what I hear time and time again from our patients: “I can get great treatment from many health systems in our area, but I rarely get treated like I was at EvergreenHealth.” It’s all about the personal experience at the end of the day … technology, innovation, clinical excellence, service, and value are all expected now, but in health care, the human touch is still what separates a good system from a great system.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of “425 Business.”