South Florida Hospital News
Tuesday August 11, 2020
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January 2005 - Volume 1 - Issue 6
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Heather Rohan's Commitment to Meeting Community's Health Care Needs is Obvious

It’s not difficult to gauge the impact Heather Rohan has had on Palms West Hospital in Loxahatchee since she became chief executive officer in March 2000. All one has to do is take a walk around the facility.

Since Rohan’s arrival, Palms West has grown from 117 to 140 beds, thanks to the expansion of the emergency department and construction of a new pediatric center in 2002. Today the 75-acre campus encompasses nine medical office buildings. These buildings feature more than 128,000 square feet of professional office suites that offer primary, specialty, and subspecialty care.

But the reason for such a tour is not to see first hand how the Palms West physical plant has grown over the past four years but, rather, to experience a less concrete but equally tangible measurement: the positive, caring, and professional spirit that pervades the hospital.

"I’m extremely proud of the management team at Palms West Hospital," Rohan said. "We’ve made good strides in employee satisfaction—last spring, for example, we had our highest Gallup score in this area ever—and we’ve substantially reduced turnover rates and RN vacancy rates."

Rohan points to particular pride to the response of the staff and physicians (more than 400, all board-certified or board-eligible) when Hurricane Frances struck Florida last September.

"Our air conditioning was out for two days, and 500 people were sleeping here in the hospital—160 patients, employees, even animals, as we allowed pets to be brought in. Twenty-two of our physicians stayed the entire weekend. We had a little city going on here."

Rohan took a somewhat circuitous route to Palms West, with the very beginnings of the journey sparked by the power of direct mail, when, while living with her family in Gary, Indiana, she received a brochure from Barry College (now Barry University) in Miami Shores.

"I decided to go into nursing when I was in high school," she recalled. "My father had a heart attack when he was 49, and I watched nurses save his life. That touched me. I was lacking direction and discipline in high school, but watching them bring my father back to life, that was it for me."

Then the catalogue arrived from Barry, and Rohan decided to apply. Eventually, she received both her BSN and MBA from the school. "When I finished nursing school, my dream was to be a critical care nurse," Rohan said. "In my first job, I was sent to a critical care course and the day I finished I was offered my first leadership position. So I said, ‘Why not?’ You’ve got to seize opportunities."

Rohan was named head nurse of an intensive care unit and she thought at the time it was "the epitome of (her) career."

"At the time, I thought it was all I wanted to do," she said. "But I began to see the possibilities of operating an entire hospital."

Rohan set her sights on becoming a chief executive officer. She accepted a position as chief nursing officer at Cedars Medical Center in Miami, and then moved to Pompano Regional Medical Center.

"Not long after I got to Pompano, the CEO resigned, and I was named acting CEO," Rohan said. "It was a great opportunity, a fortuitous opportunity, and I jumped in.

"I was named CEO after about six months and I stayed three years. The hospital was struggling; it was an over-bedded market and we faced managed care issues, so we converted the facility into an outpatient center. This was difficult, and there was some sense of failure, but every failure is a bridge to your next success. I had the chance to do some things that helped me in my experience to become a CEO.

From Pompano, Rohan accepted a position as chief operating officer Aventura Hospital and Medical Center, where she helped build a cancer center before moving to Palms West.

"I include the design, construction and completion of that cancer center among my proudest accomplishments," said Rohan. "It ranks with securing funding and oversight of the $35 million expansion (at Palms West.) "

Those may be Rohan’s proudest accomplishments, but they are far from the only ones. During her tenure, Palms West has become a provider for Childrens Medical Services for pediatrics, and the hospital also secured a grant for a pediatric residency program with Nova Southeastern University, the only such program between Miami and Orlando.

Rohan also brought to Palms West a strong focus on continuing education and mentoring. In 2002, a Clinical Ladder program available to all registered nurses was initiated. The program encourages the nursing staff to achieve a new level of education, community service, and patient service excellence. These, along with other efforts at improvement, have earned Palms West three straight Top 100 Hospital designations, an annual award bestowed nationally by Solucient, an independent healthcare research firm.

Rohan and her husband, Joe, a deputy fire chief, live in West Palm Beach. They have two sons, Joe, 22, and Patrick, 18. When Rohan is not at her hospital, she most likely can be found somewhere in the community, volunteering her time and talent. She has served as president of the Palms West Chamber of Commerce, which encompasses the Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, Acreage, Loxahatchee, and Greenacres areas of Palm Beach County. She also chaired the March of Dimes’ WalkAmerica the past two years, and is on the board of directors for the American Cancer Society, United Way, American Heart Association, South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association and the Palm Beach Community College Foundation.

"I enjoy working with people to get things done," Rohan said. "I enjoy being a manager and to have that responsibility and to see the fruits of your labor come to pass. Results sometimes came quicker as a head nurse; now it takes more time. You have to develop the patience to see that happen."

Heather Rohan can be reached at Palms West Hospital by e-mail at heather.rohan@hcahealthcare.com.
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