CEO and President Kevin Speer leads the charge at Hendricks Regional Health
By Gus Pearcy
During the snowstorm last month, Hendricks Regional Health CEO and president, Kevin Speer could be found in his four-wheel drive vehicle ferrying associates back and forth between their jobs and home. It’s part of the “All Hands on Deck” culture that takes over in these types of emergency situations. It’s also part of Speer’s approach to leadership in his relatively new position as the head of the county health system.
For the storm, the hospital campus in Danville loaded up with an extra 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel so, in the event of an electrical outage, the campus could run off generators for 66 hours. Speers says it was actually the record cold temperatures that concerned the administrators more than the snow.
On the first night of the storm, Speer carried several employees to and from home. He even took a patient home during the heaviest snow accumulation. Speer works hard to be accessible to his employees.
“I do Coffee with Kevin, which if you have a better title for it, I’m open to that,” Speer joked. “We do them at 6 in the morning, at 11, at 5 and at 2 in the morning. I try to be here when the associates are here.”
It’s been 14 months since Speer was hired to take the helm of the Hendricks County health system. He followed the very popular Dennis Dawes who spent nearly four decades in the top spot. Speers, a lawyer by training, spent the last 10 years as chief strategy officer at St.Vincent Health System.
“I’ve been very blessed to have, since I graduated from law school, three great jobs,” Speer said. “One was a partner at Hall Render [Killian and Heath], which those guys are my closest and dearest friends. Ten years at St.Vincent’s, which is a great organization, and now here.
“You leave a place like St. Vincent and you wonder will it be all the things I think it will be. The grass truly is greener. It has exceeded all my expectations to be here.”
The plan was not to fill Dawes’ shoes as much as gain the trust of the associates. It’s part of the reason he has worked so hard to make sure he is accessible. He wants his employees to know him.
“I don’t believe you can lead by edict,” Speer said. “You have to lead by people believing in you and trusting that you are making decisions in their best interests.”
At first, Speer admits that there was suspicion that he was hired to sell off HRH to another system. He jokes that he was viewed as a Trojan horse filled with nuns staking territory for another system. It has happened to other county hospitals.
“I think those are all very natural concerns, not only the people who work here but the community perhaps,” Speer said. “I hope they have gotten to know me and my family and see that I’m here to make us a strong independent hospital.”
Speer takes it a step further and claims that he would have not taken the job had he thought it was the board of director’s intention to merge Hendricks Regional Health with another system. Speer came from a large system and wanted to run an independent system for personal reasons.
“I wouldn’t have left my other opportunity if that’s what the ultimate game was here,” Speer declared.
Speer says he believes HRH is much better making decisions based on healthcare models rather than money-saving strategies made by a distant administration. These are the opportunities that excite him.
Get him talking about the future and then he starts to speak faster, in a persuasive tone. Speers claims that HRH offers better care and is less expensive. This leads into his pitch for a wellness model, which is a new revenue stream that will evolve as healthcare transitions in the future. Several entities such as Avon Community Schools contract with HRH as a clinic provider offering reduced costs for employers and quality checkups and tests for employees. It’s the same that HRH offers Hendricks County employees. As tax revenues continue to dwindle, these models help the county continue to offer benefits to employees without increasing their costs.
“If you’re a business that is looking to relocate, two things you’re looking at are education and healthcare,” Speer said. “We have tremendous education opportunities in Hendricks County and we have the lowest cost/highest quality provider in the county. We are very attractive from a healthcare perspective.”
Speer says the employer could see significant savings from having employees choose a narrow network option.
“If they are willing to say, ‘We would incentivize our employees to pick a single healthcare provider for the majority of their healthcare needs,'” Speers said. “That savings to that employer could be very significant because of us being a lower-priced provider.”
While he sits as president and CEO of HRH, Speer has more stakeholders than you might imagine. First, the patients, then the doctors, who are independent and can work in other systems, and 1,700 associates who depend on the hospital as their employer. Speer strives to make sure each group has a positive experience when it comes to HRH. Finally, Speer believes HRH must be indispensable to the payers or insurance companies and government.
“We need to have a relationship with those insurance companies where they recognize the unique value to the people that they are insuring in this marketplace,” Speer said. “If we can accomplish those objectives of being indispensable to those parties, then I think we have the ability to stay independent for the foreseeable future.”
Speer graduated from Purdue. His mom was a pharmacist and his dad, a metallurgical engineer. When he expressed his desire to become a lawyer, no one seemed to understand. His grandmother, a huge influence in his life, suggested he go to law school at Valparaiso University. It was his intention to work in Chicago until he interviewed with Hall Render. Speer interned with Indiana Senator Lawrence Borst who spoke highly about John Render. After the interview, Speer knew he wanted to work for this firm that did primarily health law. This was new to Speer, but within a few years, he was Hall Render’s lead counsel to St.Vincent’s.
Eventually, he became St.Vincent’s chief strategy officer for a decade before coming to Hendricks Regional Health.
Speer looks forward to the challenge of healthcare for the next 20 years. He is excited about steering HRH through the choppy waters as the leading low-price, high-quality healthcare provider on the westside of Indianapolis. But just in case it goes awry, Speer maintains his license to practice law in Indiana as a Plan B.
What’s the best advice you ever received:
Remember that you are a turtle on a fence post. If you drive down the road and see a turtle on a fence post, you know it didn’t get there by itself. Always thank and support those around you that help make you a success.
Best business decision you ever made:
I declined offers to work for law firms in Chicago and came to work for Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman in Indianapolis. From the first interview, Bill Hall & John Render demonstrated the values and priorities my father had taught me: Faith, Family, Work.
In five years, I want to….
I would like to be fully integrated into the Hendricks County community. I want to see my oldest son graduate from college and begin his career, and want to see my youngest son graduate from high school and start college. I would also like to see Hendricks Regional Health be even stronger as an independent hospital.
My secret to success….
I surround myself with people who are smarter than I am and stay out of their way!
Five books that have influenced your life:
The Holy Bible, Bears of Blue River & Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Woods (these were read to me by my father and I read them to my boys), Who Moved my Cheese, A Great Case Study for Healthcare in 2014, and A Turtle on a Fence Post.