Steve Purves: Expanding Access to Healthcare throughout the Valley

And leading by empowering others

by Michael Murphy

When Steve Purves joined Valleywise Health in 2013 as president and CEO, the organization was in dire financial straits. It was the region’s only public teaching hospital and primary safety net system of care, so it was imperative that Purves got Valleywise Health back in the black. And fast.

Over the ensuing years, Purves orchestrated a $170-million financial turnaround at Valleywise Health and helped secure a $935-million bond referendum to construct much-need replacement facilities, as well as expand Valleywise’s presence around Maricopa County.

To ensure no stone was unturned in the effort to improve, Purves empowered Valleywise Health employees at all levels to identify areas of improvement and opportunities for savings. What became known as the “100 Day Workout” would improve the patient experience within different areas: first impressions, hospital impressions, clinic impressions and lasting impressions. Each team would create at least eight specific plans that could be implemented within 100 days. The impact was dramatic.

“We started by identifying problems and articulating them in terms that everyone could relate to,” Purves shares. “From there, we worked to ensure leaders at all levels were ready for change. We wanted everyone to have an absolute connection to the mission and vision of the organization and one that can be articulated and understood, as well having a solid understanding of the operational and financial implications of the decisions we were making. For a safety net system of care and teaching hospital, it is the difference between maintaining essential community services for those in need, or not.”

Over his four decades as a healthcare executive serving in the investor-owned, public, academic and private not-for-profit settings, Purves learned it’s critical to stay focused on the long view while ensuring the right team is in place to execute. He’s prioritized leadership development because, at the end of the day, in healthcare it’s all about the people.

Working collaboratively with his leadership team, Purves has enabled Valleywise Health to significantly expand its footprint and better reach local residents. In recent years, the organization has opened five new community health clinics across Maricopa County and a Peoria comprehensive health center. Today, the health system encompasses Valleywise Health Medical Center on Roosevelt, the world-renowned Arizona Burn Center, Level I Trauma Center, three behavioral health centers and a network of 11 Federally Qualified Health Centers that serve the entire county.

“These new facilities are not just hospitals or clinics. They represent the healthy future of our state. They’re enabling our team to provide safe, quality care and train new generations of healthcare providers in a healing, patient-centric environment,” Purves said.

In recent years, Purves’ attention has largely centered on development of the health system’s new 673,000 square-foot, 10-story hospital. Constructed largely during the COVID-19 pandemic, building the new tower faced unprecedented challenges but also presented opportunities. The new acute care hospital will replace the legacy facility, which opened in 1971. The new site will house the Diane & Bruce Halle Arizona Burn Center and specialties, including cardiology, trauma and emergency, maternity, NICU, oncology, pharmacy, radiology and more. Each of the 233 individual patient rooms will have private bathrooms and sleeper sofa/recliners to support families.

Under Purves’ guidance, the team was able to integrate pandemic-era learnings into the design of the hospital as it was being built, including the ability to turn patient rooms into negative pressure spaces in case of another pandemic.

“Making our new medical center a reality was a total team effort,” Purves adds, naming “our board of directors, leadership team, medical staff partners at District Medical Group, volunteers, including our generous donors and our dedicated employees,” and continuing, “The community at large has also been tremendously supportive of Valleywise Health and its role as an essential provider of services for vulnerable populations. My role was to take the wonderful gifts that were already present and create the environment where it could flourish. It’s an art and a science, and, for us at Valleywise Health, reinventing an entire health system, especially one with a safety net role, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Purves’ leadership ability has not gone unnoticed. In January 2023, Purves’ expertise was tapped when he was asked to join the American Hospital Association Board for a three-year term. The AHA advocates on behalf of nearly 5,000 member hospitals, health systems and other healthcare organizations, its clinician partners — including more than 270,000 affiliated physicians, 2 million nurses and other caregivers — and the 43,000 healthcare leaders who belong to its professional membership groups.

Purves has honed his leadership style over the course of his 45-year career.

“I’ve always sought to learn from mistakes, especially early in my career,” Purves says. “The key for me was quickly learning from them before they compromised my effectiveness as a leader. Credibility springs from experience and results.”

Did You Know: Valleywise Health is the Valley’s only public teaching health system, offering graduate medical education residencies in internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics-gynecology, emergency medicine, psychiatry and more. Every year, the exceptional physicians at Valleywise Health train 400 full-time residents through the Creighton University Arizona Health Education Alliance. Additionally, Valleywise hosts approximately 875 medical students, more than 260 rotating medical residents and nearly 2,000 nursing and allied health students.

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