With more than 20 years of experience in healthcare and private business, Cliff Robertson, M.D., M.B.A., is Saint Francis Health System’s new president and chief executive officer. Before taking the helm in July 2021, Robertson was CEO of CHI Health and senior vice president for CommonSpirit Health’s Midwest Division. He received his M.D. from Ohio State College of Medicine and completed his residency training in family medicine at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash. He later received his M.B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University. We caught up with Robertson and got his thoughts on … 

… life lessons, and how they’ll apply at Saint Francis.

As simple as it may sound, the biggest lesson I have learned is that people are good.  They want to do the right thing for the organization and the people the organization serves. I have learned to trust people by giving them the information and framework within which they can operate and then get out of their way. At Saint Francis Health System, we have an incredible group of caregivers and support staff that care about the community and strive every day to do their very best. I just try to do my best in supporting them by creating the environment within which they can thrive.  

… short-term goals.

First of all, the only thing I can really do is to begin to create a leadership culture that sets Saint Francis up for success as we move into what will be a rapidly changing and disruptive healthcare environment. As COVID fades, those of us in healthcare delivery will need to be laser-focused on providing the absolute best value for the patients and employers we serve. We are doubling down on our investments to ensure the quality and safety of our hospitals and clinics are the best in the country. We are also investing to ensure the patient experience at all of our hospitals and Warren Clinic locations is on par with the best in the nation. With that, we also have to find ways to deliver high-quality care at lower costs for patients in the future.   

… long-term goals.

I truly believe that Saint Francis Health System can be a nationally-recognized place to receive care. We are already known nationally for the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR) and the Laureate Eating Disorders Program, but we can and should be nationally recognized for our role as a leader in healthcare quality, safety and education.   

… what drew him to Saint Francis.

I spent 27 years with the organization that is today called CommonSpirit.  I was blessed with the opportunity to work in different health systems over the years but there was something about Saint Francis that truly called me to Tulsa. Part of it was that Saint Francis is not connected to a large corporate bureaucracy but instead locally owned and founded as part of the legacy of Tulsa’s Warren family. The other aspect is that the health system has a local Board of Directors that truly cares about Saint Francis and the communities we serve here in Oklahoma. So it is a combination of things that make Saint Francis truly unique and a place I felt called to join.

… what he’s looking forward to. 

Professionally I am looking forward to the great things that the Saint Francis “family” will do over the next few years.  Personally, I have three adult children and am looking forward to the day that I get to hold my first grandchild!

… getting his M.B.A. after his M.D.

After being given the opportunity to take on a few leadership roles early in my career, I realized that it would be helpful to learn the language of the administrators. It took me a few years as I could only take one class a term but it was a great decision because it opened my eyes to how other industries solve similar problems. I was in classes with Boeing and Target executives and got to see healthcare through their eyes. It made me recognize how insular healthcare was in terms of innovation and technology.   

…. what’s surprised him on the job thus far.

At Saint Francis I have been pleasantly surprised that all the staff and leaders are 100% committed to carrying “The Torch.” You don’t find that in every organization.

… the beauty of Saint Francis.

All of us that live in eastern Oklahoma are blessed to have a locally-governed, faith-based, regional health system in our backyard. Saint Francis is the health system that can both respond to changing needs in the region and can do so with the community’s best interests in mind.

… his legacy.

I am not personally big on legacy, and quite frankly I don’t even think about that. If I had to answer I would hope that there were waiting lists of people – staff, clinicians and leadership – who want to come here to work for Saint Francis. I would hope that the health system continues to be a valued employer, provide healthcare leadership and be a trusted member of the community.  

Photo by Shane Bevel

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