In mid-December, Dana Weston took the helm of Morehead Memorial Hospital in Eden after the hospital had survived several years of financial turmoil and seen frequent turnover within its leadership.
She came to the community hospital from a role with expansive Novant Health, where she worked in strategy and in the system’s Shared Services division that partners with outside health systems to help provide them additional resources. It was a position that had her working with Morehead and other outside hospitals to leverage their strengths and tap into Novant’s scale and expertise.
Now guiding Morehead, Weston says she’s found a hospital with deep roots in the community and a staff with deep passion for seeing the hospital survive and thrive amid challenges and changes in health care.
“I think my greatest accomplishment to-date is I think the team here trusts me now,” Weston said. “That sense of trust and teamwork is invaluable. In any hospital big or small, change is here and change is hard for all of us. It is a lot easier for us to tackle change together if we believe that we are ultimately aiming for the same vision and looking out for each other.”
What was your very first job? At a daycare up the street from where I grew up. I’ve always loved children and actually worked as a nanny when I was in college at Emory University. My sister also worked there, and as was normal for us, I would find ways to hand off all of the unpleasant tasks to her. She’d be cleaning up after snack time and I’d be leading the kids in some fun song.
What sparked your interest in health care? I went to Emory pretty confident I was pre-med. I had always been interested in science and knew that was the route I wanted to go. In my junior year, I was shadowing in different physician clinics, and doctors were always talking about “they.” “We need a new CT scanner but they won’t let us get one.” Or “yay! We’re getting some new piece of equipment because they said we could.” I thought, “they sounds pretty good, so let me figure out who ‘they’ are.”
So you pursued health care administration? I started researching the administrative side of health care and made the choice to go that route. And from that first job in health care, which was my fellowship at Duke, I never once doubted that was the track I wanted to do. When you’re doing what you’re good at and what you love, it’s not hard to come to work. Even though I’m probably busier in this job than I’ve ever been before, it has been truly a blessing to know you’re in a career path you were purposed to be in.
You benefited from executive coaching early in your career. What did you learn about leadership? As for what makes a good leader, the answer is never being the person who knows the most, and being the person who has all the answers and being the person who makes all the decisions in a vacuum. The best leaders are those who know their strengths and weaknesses and those who support all the smart people around them to make them better.
At Novant Health, you’ve worked with many hospitals as a leader in the Shared Services division. What lessons from that experience have you brought to Morehead? I worked in tandem with CEOs at all different types of hospitals, from a 25-bed critical access hospital in Jefferson, N.C., to a 500-bed acute care facility in Augusta, Ga. It really was a sneak peek into what I would see here. It has been the best network of CEOs as well. I can pick up the phone and call any of them.
Was it a shift coming into a small community hospital? The biggest change is the amount of resources. I came from a large system where for every individual task, there’s someone who does that. Whereas here, there is one person who wears a lot of hats. On the flipside. I know more names in this facility than I have in any of the facilities I’ve worked in, and that’s something that’s really important to me. I block time throughout the week to walk around, to talk to the staff, to hear what’s going on. It’s a family around here, and that’s a great thing to be a part of.
What has stood out to you about Morehead? How passionate the board and the team are about this hospital. The hospital has been through a series of ups and downs, and the folks who are here are here because they want to be. They feel a sense of ownership. Despite the hard times that small, rural hospitals across the country are facing, you have that kind of passion. You can really do some great things. That always drew me to Morehead.
When was your first day as CEO of Morehead? Dec. 14. And I’m going to write a book titled, ‘Don’t Start a New Job Right Before Christmas.’ Waiting until after the new year is probably better so you don’t introduce yourself to the team then the new CEO takes vacation shortly thereafter.
How is the role of the community hospital shifting? Health care has changed, from the fatter times of the 90s to now, it’s very, very different. All hospitals are needing to do more with less. The patient has changed. We’re not patients anymore — we’re consumers. Our expectations of the health care delivery system have changed. Like any other business, scale matters. Small community hospitals don’t have the luxury of volume or scale. They have to find their niche. Those you don’t do as well, you send on to larger hospitals. It’s a very competitive market, but health care is going to require collaboration. We need that cooperation and partnership with the larger facility.
Where do you see opportunities for growth? One of the challenges for rural hospitals is recruiting. It’s hard oftentimes to draw the physicians you want to the community. The bread and butter of most hospitals is surgery, and we have fantastic general surgeons. But we have a great orthopedic program here and would like to grow that program. The birthing center is another area. It’s a great resource for the families in this area to drive a short distance to have their babies. We have a great ob-gyn group at the women’s health center.
What’s something most people don’t know about you? I’m obsessed with Google. I Google everything. Thirty times a day, I’m on Google. I’m also on WebMD, diagnosing every wrinkle or spot I may find on myself or others. Learning is a huge passion of mine, and reading is the perfect gateway for that. That’s why I’m an avid reader. And if I’m not reading, I’m probably eating. I’ve been able to eat a rack of ribs probably since I was 7 years old.