Dick Eitel has worked at Memorial Health Systems for more than 30 years. In that time, he has seen the hospital change and grow from a single building to more than 14 locations.
As CEO, Eitel oversees 3,600 employees, 700 doctors and 1,000 volunteers at Colorado Springs’ only public hospital. As he worked his way through the ranks, he said, he learned something important: “Hire great people and let them do what they do best.”
“At Memorial,” he continued, “We have a great team that provides great health care to the community.”
Eitel’s first job at the hospital was as budget coordinator. After a year, he became a controller and earned the chief financial officer title in the early 1980s. He’s been CEO for three years and his vision guides the hospital’s growth.
“Memorial is transforming from a stand-alone hospital to a system. That change reflects the changing role in the community,” he said. “Our mission is to provide the best care we can, and to do that we need to be located in a geographically diverse manner.”
Because half of Memorial’s patients receive Medicare or Medicaid benefits, the hospital must foot 80 percent of the costs to care for those patients, he said. Paying for the costs of health care is one of the biggest challenges the hospital – and the health care system as a whole – will face in upcoming years.
“It needs to change, but right now, we’re experiencing downward pressures on what we’re getting paid from the Medicare/Medicaid patients,” he said. “If we are going to grow financially, that’s going to be a challenge. We have to provide the highest quality health care to the community; but we have to balance the financial challenges with that.”
Eitel is married and has four grown children, who are scattered around the globe from Denver to Australia.
“Keeping in touch with them all consumes most of my time,” he said with a smile. He and his wife enjoy the outdoors — Eitel has run in the Pikes Peak marathon several times. He also likes to travel.
A graduate of Michigan State University, Eitel is originally from Colorado Springs, and returned to the city after he earned a degree in economics. That background – along with his years as CFO of Memorial – makes him keenly aware of the financial burdens endemic in the health care arena.
“We think like any business,” he said. “The thing that is unique about health care is that, as a society, we’ve said it is a right. But society hasn’t stepped up and accepted responsibility for that right.”
The result is a system that relies on health insurers and taxpayers to a large extent. Memorial treats patients regardless of their ability to pay for the care. That burden is supported by taxpayers and businesses.
“We don’t get compensation for treating indigent patients, so the shortfalls that occur there have to be passed on to those who pay readily. Big insurance companies are financing this cost. I’m not sure that can be sustained throughout the industry. We’re going to need some change in the financing system.”
Eitel attributes his success to the success of his employees. In the 30 years he’s been at Memorial, its market share has risen from 14 percent to 57 percent.
“The fact that I was selected for this award is more about the hospital staff,” he said. “The community recognizes what a great job the people here do in providing care for the community.”