How he is Leading Northern Westchester Hospital into the Future
In a ‘catching up’ conversation with Derek Anderson – the dynamic new head of Northern Westchester Hospital – I learned that he arrived following 11 years at North Shore University Hospital (also a Northwell facility) in the fall of 2019 to begin transitioning to his new lead role. Anderson was succeeding Joel Seligman following his retirement as NWH’s popular CEO for 19 years.
Over the course of the interview, it became quickly apparent that Anderson, the 39-year-old Salt Lake City native, husband to wife Jamie, an educator, and father of four, and not to mention, triathlete!!!, has since hit the ground running leading the beloved hospital’s staff and employees – some 3,000 staff and physicians – during a pandemic and into the foreseeable future…
Since his transition, Anderson has thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the NWH team. “I’ve just witnessed steady growth, and I love it. The hospital is a dynamic place with an incredible culture,” he said.
We spoke right away about all the planning for the annual fundraising gala coming up in November this year at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation! To learn more about either donating or attending the gala, please visit: nwhconnect.org/2022gala
Addressing an exciting challenge, Anderson relayed that Northern Westchester Hospital is developing into a full-fledged teaching center to train physicians starting in June of 2024. While medical and nursing students have long received training here, the transition will be to training residents as well, he explained.
Anderson moved from Long Island to Westchester as he took over the top job. “I find it impossible to do a job like this without really, truly being a member of the community.” Fortunately, the transition has been a happy one, with Anderson describing “a special quality of the surrounding community, making it welcoming and different than I’ve experienced in other parts of New York. Not to say anything negative about anywhere in New York, but it’s just very different up here. I love how warm and collegial everyone has been.”
Anderson shares his gratitude for the many diverse hospital partnerships that help make the hospital staff’s work possible and rewarding. “Connecting with mayors and town supervisors in Mount Kisco and neighboring towns, with community members, Neighbors Link, the Boys and Girls Club, the Community Center of Northern Westchester… these are all relationships and partnerships that frankly, without whom we could not survive and do what we do as a community hospital.”
To that end, Anderson shared that he has “thoroughly enjoyed getting to know people and understanding how all the pieces fit together” in Northern Westchester.
Anderson offered insight on his work style and approach to connectivity: “I love thinking differently, exploring new ideas…. I don’t spend a lot of time in my office… I love to be plugged in, aware… connected. I feel that it helps me understand how to guide the future of this hospital more when I understand the challenges that our community, staff and the patients face.”
Anderson said that the overall vision for the hospital in the future “is really to be at the pinnacle of best in class, quality healthcare.” However, the hospital’s “vision will continue to evolve based on the needs of the community, so, I don’t think I could ever say that we’ve arrived at our vision if I’m being honest.”
The high-quality health care that can be received at NWH is clear as “the hospital has been designated for many years as a Planetree Gold, with Distinction hospital, which in the healthcare industry is a coveted, distinguished kind of honor that talks about how focused we are on the patient,” said Anderson.
He then gave further insight into what makes Northern Westchester Hospital so unique: “We’re incredibly well positioned since we’re close to New York City, which means a lot of physicians that have trained at arguably some of the best institutions in New York are living and thriving within this local community. They have a vested interest in wanting healthcare and medical care in this community to be successful. So, because of that, and just because of the nature of the area that we live in up in Northern Westchester, we have a very impressive, high concentration of excellent medical providers, nurses, and healthcare professionals in every arena.”
A patient receiving health care at NWH gets the benefits of both excellent care and staying close to home for it. “COVID has taught us that a lot of us really don’t have much of an interest in traveling into the city and if I could tell you that we offer you the same high quality New York physicians in a more personalized setting–a smaller hospital close to home with the same outcomes and the same high quality–I think anyone would say, well, of course I’d love to have that service done locally,” says Anderson.
RESPECT FOR THE TEAM
The health and welfare of hospital staff (or team members, as NWH refers to them as well) has always been paramount, but with COVID’s impact too, close attention to enhancing employee health and work life reached new heights, from assorted celebrations of first responders during the pandemic to the hospital recently opening a gym for its staff… “because all rely on our own mental and physical health, and our team is no different,” said Anderson. “The fitness center that we opened, with the help of the Ed and Phyllis Lashins family, really helped us make that vision happen.”
The hospital values and tries to harness the voices of their team through listening sessions and a ‘shared governance.’ structure, which gives staff, at all levels, a voice in decision making. “We truly believe that the hospital can be a better place if our employees ‘co-decision’ with us,” shares Anderson. “Everyone has had the experience of going into a restaurant or a store and if the staff member, the team member there is engaged, it makes all the difference with your experience. Health care is no different.”
Since the hospital has approximately 1,700 team members and 1,000 medical staff providers (physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, etc.), Anderson notes that “the community can know that there’s almost 3,000 of us entirely focused on how to provide the highest care, the best care, to the community, and, because so many of us live in this community, there’s a real incentive for us to get this right.”
FOCUS AND TRUE GRIT
Anderson noted that one of the hospital’s big projects coming up is the full modernization of their obstetrics and gynecology services, “maternity, labor, delivery, and postpartum – all of those services are getting a full upgrade.” That’s approximately a $45 million dollar investment in the hospital, and in the community. We’re very excited about this unit.”
A cardiac catheterization program, “a 24/7 heart center,” opened in the fall of 2020 during the brunt of the pandemic, “which also just shows the focus and true grit of the team,” said Anderson. “We easily had an excuse to push that off a year or two, but the team continued to want to bring that service close to home… these are often life-threatening events, so being closer to home makes all the difference. That’s just one example of how we’re transforming the hospital.”
In addition, working in tandem with his counterpart Eileen Egan at Phelps Memorial Hospital, Anderson also shared that the increasingly close working relationship between the two Northwell Hospitals, has been nothing but a boon to Westchester residents who rely on both facilities for excellence in health care in multiple arenas.
“Perhaps historically, 10, 15, 20 years ago, one could argue that the two hospitals ‘competed’. Now it’s quite the opposite. It’s, how do we come together? Because at the end of the day, we’re both serving our communities and if we can do it together, we’re stronger.”
Anderson then gave a short but valuable window into his personal life and values. “My focus first and foremost is family,” he said. “I love spending time with the kids and Jamie [his wife], of course.”
He is also a triathlete, so he engages in a lot of physical activity, whether he is training or just spending time with his family: “We spend most of our weekends outdoors. We love to hike and bike. Swimming is a big part of our lives.”
He recently partook in a Half Ironman in Maryland (totaling 70.3 miles), and another race in Pawling, NY. He is especially passionate about running, swimming, and biking as they clear his mind, keep him healthy, and are enjoyable.
It can be safely argued that Anderson brings his personal ‘can do’ and ‘do it well’ spirit to his role at NWH. “When the hospital makes decisions,” he said, “we’re not just going to do something for the sake of doing it. If we’re going do it, we’re going to do it right.”