Swish. A three-pointer starts the day for Steve Edwards, as he hustles down the court along with other CoxHealth employees for their weekly basketball bout.
The health system’s president and CEO is decked out in a Drury University T-shirt – he’s on the board of trustees for his alma mater – shorts, and red and white Jordans at The Meyer Center, where employees gather to work out. Edwards, showing early morning high energy, claps and congratulates another player on a successful shot.
After cleaning up and suiting up, it’s onward down the Medical Mile to his office on the fifth floor of the Hulston Cancer Center, across National Avenue from the flagship Cox South hospital.
Edwards’ first meeting is at 8 a.m. with Lori Dean, a representative with the Springfield Center for Dyslexia & Learning.
The cause is close to Edwards’ heart, as he is dyslexic and one of his three children also was diagnosed with the learning disorder. His wife Jennifer is a founding board member of the center, and CoxHealth is a partner in the nonprofit, which resides at Cox South’s Turner Center. Edwards’ questions to Dean focus on how he and the health system’s board can help the cause.
“How do we get more people like you?” he asks. “Word of mouth,” she responds. “There’s kids out there who really need us.”
After the meeting wraps at 8:35, Edwards checks emails and texts – his cellphone is a constant method of communication – and confirms his schedule with executive assistant Vickie Nelson.
“Looks like we’ve gained some market share, which actually surprises me a little bit,” he responds out loud to one report.
At 9, Edwards makes his “rounds” on campus, a common practice when guests visit Cox South. He says conducting these tours gives him a chance to interact with employees.
Edwards knows the hospital well. CoxHealth’s CEO since late 2011 and an employee with the health system since 1992, Edwards is the son of the late Charlie Edwards, who was CEO 1985-1993.
On the tour, Edwards takes visitors behind the scenes to see the mechanical equipment, the kitchen, laundry and laboratories.
“They’re essentially a giant engine,” he says, pointing to one of the hospital’s backup generators.
He casually throws out impressive figures. It takes $3.89 million per day to run Cox South, for instance, and a facility shared with Mercy near Enterprise Park Lanes processes 11 million pounds of laundry per year.
On the tour, Edwards dons a hairnet in the kitchen and stays behind the yellow line in one area, indicating one must be sterilized to pass.
He crosses back over the skywalk above National Avenue to return to his office by 10:30.
There, Edwards has a meeting with Community Partnership of the Ozarks CEO Janet Dankert, CPO Vice President Chris Davis and CoxHealth Human Resources Vice President Andy Hedgpeth.
They discuss a recent grant CPO received to train mental health care providers, as well as suicide prevention efforts being put into place at businesses and schools.
“Is there anything Burrell should be doing?” Edwards asks, referring to the CoxHealth-affiliated Burrell Behavioral Health.
Davis responds, “I’d love to get Burrell staff trained as instructors.”
From there, it’s a lunchtime Community of the Blood Center of the Ozarks board meeting.
Edwards is a founding CBCO board member, and CoxHealth helped to finance the organization. For that work, Edwards has been “burdened with a lifetime board membership,” he says, smiling.
Back at Cox South, Edwards meets with Amanda Hedgpeth, vice president of clinical services, for an update on “hot-spotters,” a term referring to frequent emergency room users.
“We want to make money by keeping people healthy,” Edwards explains, pointing to efforts to pinpoint where hot-spotters are coming from, why they visit the ER and how they can be better helped so the centers can provide care to less frequent visitors more efficiently.
Edwards is encouraged by Hedgpeth and her team’s progress, as she indicates ER visits among the hot-spotter population are down by 85 percent after they are visited by an advanced practice paramedic.
“Just keep the energy going. Draft up a report on that,” Edwards says, in a rare directive.
“I will,” Hedgpeth says.
It’s a common theme throughout the day. Edwards rarely issues orders. He says this is by design, as it wouldn’t be efficient to micromanage a health system with roughly 11,700 employees.
“We try to align our organization directionally and tell people to go do it,” he says, noting his job often boils down to getting “everyone in the same direction.”
At 3, Edwards moves to a conference room to meet with a larger group of CoxHealth pharmacy leaders, led by Tayo Bakare, Thomas Gregory and Joel Daniel. The topic is opioid abuse and CoxHealth’s work to address it. Edwards admits CoxHealth is a factor in the opioid crisis – as its professionals prescribe medications – but work is underway to identify solutions.
It’s clear that educating the public is the key goal.
“Health care changes every day. If you’re static, you’re falling behind,” Edwards says of the need for education in health care.
At 5:30, Edwards attends a closed CoxHealth physician board meeting to end his work day.
At 7:30, Edwards checks in with his family at their south Springfield home. After a quick stop at Andy’s Frozen Custard, he and his daughter drive to pick up his son from Kickapoo High School band practice.
Edwards ends his day similarly to how it began – with basketball. He catches the end of an NBA Finals game, but falls asleep during the last two minutes. He doesn’t find out until morning who won.
Another chapter of the Mother Road’s allure rolls out.
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