Leadership tips from the CEO of Covenant Health

Sandra ClarkOur Town Leaders

You know Covenant Health:


  • One million patients each year
  • 10,000-plus employees
  • 1,500 affiliated physicians
  • Nine acute-care hospitals
  • Specialized care at Thompson Cancer Network, Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center and Peninsula Hospital

Covenant Health CEO Jim VanderSteeg

Meet the boss. Jim VanderSteeg has been with Covenant Health since 2007; CEO since April 1, 2016.

He speaks plainly and with clarity: “Always do the right thing – you’ll win in the long run.”

Being in charge simply makes him “dependent on 10,000 others,” he says with a smile. But it’s clear that he’s thought this through. His job, he says, is to articulate a worthy vision, get his staff aligned with that vision and hire the right people.

When VanderSteeg spoke at the recent “Raise the Roof” celebration of new construction at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, he shared that vision. “You don’t have to sign the pledge of excellence,” he said, “but you have to sign it to work here.”

Covenant Health’s pledge of excellence:
  • The patient always comes first;
  • Excellence in everything we do;
  • Covenant Health will be the first and best choice.

This sounds simplistic until you read it and ponder it. And then translate it into your particular job.

“Health care is the most currently disrupted industry in the country,” he says. He might find disagreement from those in newspapers or banking, but OK.

The disruption has two drivers: rapidly changing technology and “big deals” such as CVS buying an insurance company or the merger of large health systems.

“We’re all looking for an affordable solution for health care,” he says.

Covenant Health has many moving parts, but at the core it is being asked to coordinate and control the cost of health care. Look at a few recent changes:

  • Walk-in clinics and other alternative medical care
  • Electronic consults and e-prescriptions
  • Consumers becoming cost-conscious as insurance deductibles go higher. (Covenant lists cash prices for services on its website.) “Even Medicare is being cost sensitive.”

Controlling costs through prevention and early diagnosis will benefit patients with a better quality of life, VanderSteeg says.

What does Covenant Health bring to hospitals in smaller communities? What does it look for in acquiring new affiliates?

VanderSteeg says: We improve the quality and efficiency of service. We can purchase more cheaply and lower overhead. We ask if we can live our mission (at the new facility) and is it sustaining? We ask whether we can recruit physicians there and will the residents stay there for medical services? “The whole thing’s got to work.”

Optimism is key: “No matter how the world changes, we will be successful with a worthy mission, alignment to that mission and the right people.”

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