New St. Vincent CEO Sees Opportunities in LR

It's a bit more than a month before Peter D. Banko takes over as president and chief executive officer of St. Vincent Health System on April 2.
He was named to the top post on Jan. 29, succeeding Stephen Mansfield, who resigned last October.
Banko is winding things down as vice president and chief operating officer at Christus Spohn Health System in Corpus Christi, Texas, but the reason for the delay in coming to Little Rock is because he and his wife, Elizabeth, are expecting their fourth child in the next couple of weeks.
Only 39 years old, Banko comes to St. Vincent with a wide variety of experiences in the health care industry. And he's credited with turning around the Corpus Christi hospital system, from an $8.5 million operating loss to an $11.9 million operating profit three years later.
Banko said several factors entered into his decision to make the move to St. Vincent.
First was his respect for Kevin Lofton's leadership of Catholic Health Initiatives, the parent organization of St. Vincent Health System. Lofton is president and CEO of CHI. Second is the support for the system that he found evident in the community. Finally, Banko said he feels Little Rock offers more opportunities for himself and his family.
The University of Notre Dame graduate said the challenges and issues facing St. Vincent are no different from those facing other health systems. "I faced it all before. There's nothing out of the ordinary at St. Vincent," Banko said.
Among the many challenges for any health care organization, he said, is the nationwide problem of the growing number of uninsured patients and declining government reimbursements for both physicians and hospitals.
"I firmly believe — and my experiences bear it out — that if you focus on the patient with a relentless passion for continuously improving both quality and service, the dollars will take care of themselves," Banko said in the news release announcing his new position.
The Ohio native, who has a master of health administration degree from Cornell University, comes to St. Vincent just after it announced a $40 million expansion and renovation project that includes additions to the hospital emergency, surgery and cardiovascular intensive care areas.
Asked if that makes it harder or easier to take over the top post, Banko said, "It's easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback," but he respects the work that went into the expansion planning and has given the management team in place the go-ahead to proceed while he gets acclimated.
Banko will see a far different market in Little Rock than he's dealt with in Corpus Christi, where the population is majority Hispanic and the Catholic hospital had a 70 percent market share. There's only one other hospital providing competition there. In Little Rock, he faces nearby competition from Baptist Health, the market leader, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, which operates University Hospital, as well as suburban hospitals.
But he said he likes being the underdog, and that there's actually more pressure in fighting to keep on top than in finding ways to grow market share.
Banko said he wants to build on St. Vincent's strengths in cardiac care, orthopedic care and neurosurgery, but he'll also be looking to find special niches to help grow the system. And he doesn't rule out looking for opportunities for joint projects with Baptist Health and UAMS.
When he starts April 2, Banko said, he wants to spend time building and solidifying the management team. Everyone has a different style, he said, and "getting the right people in the right position is very important."
In his first 90 days, Banko said, he also plans to identify those niche markets that can help St. Vincent grow.
And he plans to develop relationships with St. Vincent's doctors, nurses, technicians and other employees, whom he considers the heart of any hospital, as well getting to know people in the community.
The St. Vincent system includes St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center and St. Vincent Doctors' Hospital, both at Little Rock, St. Vincent Medical Center North at North Little Rock, St. Vincent Rehabilitation Hospital at Sherwood and St. Anthony Healthcare Center at Morrilton, along with several St. Vincent Medical Clinics and St. Vincent Free Community Clinics for the Medically Uninsured.