Meet Mario J. Garner Ed.D, FACHE, our Professional Spotlight of the month! Every month we will highlight a black professional in the Greater New Orleans area. Take a peek into the busy life of New Orleans East Hospital CEO, Mario Garner and learn why he’s building a hospital that lives by the mantra, “To provide superior quality healthcare and educational empowerment to the community with courtesy, kindness, concern and compassion.”

Prior to his role at New Orleans East Hospital, Dr. Garner served as Chief Operating Officer at Fairview Park Hospital in Dublin, GA.   Dr. Garner has also been the Chief Operating Officer at the Regional Medical Center of Acadiana in Lafayette, LA; Associate Administrator at West Houston Medical Center in Houston; and Administrative Resident at Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans, LA.  During his career, Dr. Garner has led many improvement initiatives, including the LEAN Hospital operational efficiency program; patient satisfaction initiatives; employee and physician engagement programs; a comprehensive facility construction and renovation plan; and community outreach. While in Dublin, Georgia, he hosted a television segment called “Meet the Doctor.”

Mario earned a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Louisiana State University, a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration from Tulane University, and a Doctor of Education Degree in Administration and Supervision from the University of Houston. He is credentialed as a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE).  Dr. Garner holds an assistant adjunct professorship appointment at Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine and is a member of a National Alumni Advisory Board for the Office of Academic Affairs at Louisiana State University.

Name: Dr. Mario J. Garner
Occupation: Chief Executive Officer at New Orleans East Hospital
Hometown: Lake Charles
High school: La Grange High School, Valedictorian 1998
LinkedIn Profile: Mario Garner

Q: What inspires you to wake up every day and go in to work?

The opportunity to make a difference. This is certainly a job where I get the chance to not only build a hospital, but also establish a culture. I feel that New Orleans East Hospital is going to be a poster child for the healthcare delivery model, based on the foundation that we’re establishing here today and the excellence that we are committing to for the future.   The hospital is going to be an economic driver for an area that was devastated years ago by Hurricane Katrina.  New Orleans East Hospital will be an impetus for citizens to move back to New Orleans East, for healthcare professionals to provide service on this side of the industrial canal as they once did [at Pendleton Methodist Hospital] and for businesses to flourish within this community. So we want New Orleans East Hospital to be one of the first steps in bringing New Orleans East back to its prime.

Q: Because you have a very distinguished career, can you tell me how your career unfolded? What pushed you into healthcare management?

I reflect back to being 8 or 9 years old, my grandfather who died of lung cancer in the early 90′s could not read.  I don’t think I knew that at the time. But, as he went through the healthcare continuum, he used me as his patient navigator of sorts.  [Laughter] At that time, I thought he was making me practice my reading skills; sitting on his front porch, he used to instruct me to open his mail and read it to him.  I would read his medical bills aloud and help him interpret what they meant.  So that’s where I got my foundation and understanding of healthcare. My grandfather would ask me to read his statements from his doctors’ offices and then ask, “So what do you think that means?” I would give him my interpretation and he actually followed my instructions [laughter].

Later, as a high school student, I participated in a healthcare occupations program where I learned medical terminology and other aspects of clinical healthcare.  I also had the opportunity to conduct clinical rotations at a local hospital.  At the end of the curriculum, I became a Certified Nursing Assistant. Also, I enjoyed leadership at a very early age.  So, then I pursued the administrative route of healthcare at Tulane and the rest is history…

Q: On a day-to-day basis, what would you say you do?

It varies significantly. We’re still in the building phase; we’re approximately 85% complete with construction. So I interact with architects and construction engineers. I interact with physicians, recruiting them to the campus to provide quality healthcare services here. I also lead policy and procedure formulation. I’m working with the leadership team to establish our clinical policies, administrative policies, human resource policies, etc. We are working to get the Hospital accredited through the State Department of Health and Hospitals as well as the Joint Commission, which is a national accrediting body for healthcare organizations.

We are also very busy recruiting staff.  My commitment is that I want to meet every candidate for a managerial role before we offer them a position. I want to meet them to make sure they align with the Hospital’s mission.

I interact with local businesses to assess how we can partner with them and determine how to provide healthcare services to their employees.

And I interact with patients from time to time. Right now we have an urgent care center that operates on a 24 hour basis.

Wow, you do a lot.

It’s a lot that we have to do to get the hospital open. I’m excited. We are about 120 days away from taking care of our first patient. The pace has been very vigorous. I think it makes the job fun! No day is the same. Everyday is an opportunity to do something new and make an impact in the healthcare community.

Q: As CEO, what are some of the biggest challenges you face now?

I don’t consider them challenges, moreso opportunities – and that is to get our service delivery model right. The norm for citizens of New Orleans East is to cross the high-rise to get the healthcare they need. For the past 9 years, it’s become the norm for them to go to other hospitals.  We have to get the service component right to re-establish ourselves as the healthcare leader in this market. I think if we don’t get the service model right, people will revert back to the norm. So it’s very important to me that my staff, physicians and certainly the leadership team buy into our service delivery model of being courteous, concerned, kind and compassionate in delivering superior healthcare. That’s what this community deserves.

Q: What is your “secret sauce” that makes people want to gravitate towards you and buy the “Mario Garner” stock?

Shakespeare said it best, “To thine own self be true.” Be yourself. I think we’re all wonderfully made. We should be authentic. I admire the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I get a certain feel of authenticity that flows from him.  Even in light of his title on the world stage, I sense that he remains true to himself and he doesn’t mind showing that he can be down-to-earth and super cool. I really enjoy seeing him in his candid moments; he seems to enjoy being himself regardless of the environment and I love that!    At the end of the day you have to work too hard to emulate someone else, so why not be yourself and let your natural energy flow.  Let what works for you, work for you.

Q: Over your distinguished career, have there been any missteps along the way?

No, because I believe God gives us what we need each day to take the next steps.  Certainly if you don’t make mistakes you don’t identify learning opportunities. As I have read biographies of successful entrepreneurs, they all have issues that they deal with on a daily basis, yet they attribute their successes to their missteps.  Overall, I don’t think anything is detrimental in our experiences and it shapes us to get to the point of where we are today.

Q: What career advice would you have for your 21-year-old self if you knew then what you know now?

Don’t be such a worry wart.  Be diligent. Be persistent in your studies. Have an idea in mind of what you’d like to do, but be open to changes. Be optimistic about change. Change is inevitable. Be receptive to the path that lies ahead. It helps you create an entrepreneurial spirit and knowing that God leads and guides all of our lives. You have to have faith that it all works out, you have to be confident in your faith.

How can young professionals today, especially minorities, overcome challenges in the workplace to advance?

Find someone with whom you aspire to follow their path. I recall a poem, See it Through by Edgar Guest.  One of the lines state, “But remember you are facing just what other men have met.” People have been where you are and have experienced the missteps that early careerist may face.  Find a mentor, someone who has been where you are.  Their guidance can often be invaluable.

Are you still in contact with your mentors?

I am. And interestingly, I have mentors from a variety of backgrounds.  It’s about finding good people who care about your interests, who will ultimately give you candid feedback. And we hear this all the time, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, so finding professionals who are well-connected in the industry, who are wise, and can give you good advice, is critical.

Is there a quote or verse that pushes you everyday?

Romans 8:28

“And we know that all things work for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.” If you have faith, despite missteps, you should already have assurance that in the end, everything works out. Take each day for what it’s worth and keep it moving.