Brad Byrd In-Depth: Deaconess President & CEO Linda White Retiring

Linda White has served the Tri-State for decades as a key figure in local healthcare. She will be retiring later this week as president and CEO for Deaconess Health System.

Brad Byrd sits down with White to discuss the changes in local healthcare she has witness over the past few decades.

Transcription of interview:

Brad Byrd: "Linda, it's been quite an adventure for you for the past 40 to 50 years. We'll start with the fact that you were a computer programmer after graduating at Indiana State University. Okay, take me from computer programmer to becoming a nurse a Deaconess."

Linda White: "That's a long story, but I'll make it brief. I was a computer programmer, and I learned Cobal, Fortran, a language called Slam, I don't even think they use these languages anymore."

Brad Byrd: "I'm not familiar with it."

Linda White: "I joined a small computer service bureau and got involved with the medical clinic. When I was involved with that clinic, I saw what healthcare professionals would do to assist others and it really intrigued me. That was my introduction into, “Let's do something different, Linda,” and that's when I got into nursing."

Brad Byrd: "You got into nursing, why a nurse, per say? I mean, you were a nurse analyst, am I right?"

Linda White: "That's correct."

Brad Byrd: "What is that?"

Linda White: "It was actually looking at nursing from almost an industrial engineering perspective. So, I was trying to put some critical thinking skills together along with some nursing skills, and still trying to help people. That's what was offered to me, and I said, “I'll take it.”

Brad Byrd: "We were talking in the newsroom before we came on, I saw those pictures where you had the cap on. You had a tidbit of a little story there as far as why nurses no longer wear caps."

Linda White: "When we think about the complexity of giving patient care, you think about IV's, you think about IV lines, and those caps started getting in the way. So, the points of the cap would actually pull out some of the IV lines, but not today! The other thing about this was that more and more men were entering in nursing. Of course, they said, “I'm not going to wear a cap”. We never forced that, of course. So, they endorsed the pin and actually, all nurses wear pens representing their school of nursing."

Brad Byrd: "The Deaconess footprint has moved around, has changed dramatically over the past century for that matter. When you first got into this, did you have any idea how big this would become, and did you have any inkling that you would be leading this expansion?"

Linda White: "First of all, I had no idea that Deaconess would be the institution would be what it is today. We're always grounded in our mission statement, which is to provide quality healthcare service with a compassionate, caring spirit to the residents of the Tri-State. When you think about it, we are now serving about a million people. People will travel 70 miles one-way to receive the highly specialized care can serve. I think we often take that for granted, but we are the third largest city in the state of Indiana, and our healthcare is superior."

Brad Byrd: "And we're seeing the iron work go up, that glass tower out at Gateway. A lot of people look at that as brick and mortar and glass, but, what do you see with that new neuroscience orthopedic building going up?"

Linda White: "When we think about what is being constructed at Gateway and what you see as you travel the Lloyd Expressway is a 6-story orthopedic and neuroscience hospital. It is a tower totally owned by Deaconess, and what I see there is the opportunity to serve more people. And our expertise, the people make up Deaconess, it's not about the building. We just happen to have a beautiful facility for our people and for our patients."

Brad Byrd: "We talk about people, there are more of us now than there were 50 years ago. The demand for the next few decades is going to be so big on all medical providers. That takes us to the hospice house which is very dear to your heart, it bears your name at the main campus downtown. You're now serving patients down there, tell me about that."

Linda White: "This is a beautiful facility staffed by wonderful people who do this day in and day out. It's a beautiful facility to those nearing the end of life. We provide the comfort measures for the patient, for the family, and for all of those that are associated with that patient."

Brad Byrd: "And this was kind of a vision. You may not have been at the drawing board or the architectural aspects, but the hospice house is basically your vision. The way the rooms are situation, etc., the garden outside. You were very gracious to allow Chief Photographer John Simpson and I to take a tour of that about two or three months ago. The demand for that type of care is often misunderstood, but it is there right here in our local community."

Linda White: "And one of our goals is to educate the public about the services that we offer, because it is about bringing comfort to those that are not going to be here, those that need those extra comfort measures. It is just as important to comfort the family, so we have a very serene place for the family to gather around the patient."

Brad Byrd: "Healthcare this day in age is just consuming us. As journalists, the on-going debate in Washington, D. C. A lot of people look at that as a national story, but it is a local story because it impacts people right here. You being a CEO of a major health system in the Midwest, what do you see being the big challenges for what you see going on in Washington. I'm not trying to turn this into a political discussion, but what challenges do you see, what concerns do you have for the state of healthcare from this day forward?"

Linda White: "A lot of it is related to the cost of healthcare, and here we are, a healthcare provider talking about the cost of healthcare. We're very concerned. If the healthcare cost continued as it has over the last several years, it's not sustainable, we at Deaconess understand that. One of the greatest challenges is to keep people healthy. You may be surprised at that response, but it really is, “How can we keep this community healthy?” We're going to have lots of endeavors to make sure that we do our part in providing healthy environments."

Brad Byrd: "We've seen the research, the lifespan of our future generations may not be as long as our has, what does that tell you?"

Linda White: "It's about life habits, it's about behaviors, and you and I both know how difficult it is to change health behaviors. It's just universal, we have got to do something, and that has got to be our goal."

Brad Byrd: "A huge responsibility you have had, the Deaconess Foundation, you're going to be moving into that community pillar right after you retire this week. But there has been fun, is there one story that you can share with us before we conclude, is there one story that just stands out in your mind through all these years?"

Linda White: "This one I believe our community can relate to. It was the night that the University of Evansville basketball team lost their lives. I happened to be at Deaconess that evening, and I remember hearing the news. It was like, “How is that real?” They're young men about my age, and this just can't be, this can't be. Deaconess received one of the victims, and we did our best to keep him alive. There were just too many odds against him. But what it did to me, what it said to me was, “Every single day is a gift.” That has been instilled in me forever."

Brad Byrd: "On the other side of that equation, very sad night. The “Night it Rained Tears” is what one newspaper editor wrote in a headline. That fun aspect of it, I understand you like to bring food to staffers when they're working holidays or certain days?"

Linda White: "Sure, you can count it on July the 4th."

Brad Byrd: "I saw a picture, I believe you had donuts ready."

Linda White: "Donut holes!"

Brad Byrd: "That means a lot too, right?"

Linda White: "It says to our staff, we know you are making a lot of sacrifices to be at Deaconess doing your job and taking care of our patients, and we thank you."

Brad Byrd: "Linda White, you're going to have a recognition dinner tomorrow night. There will probably be a lot of laughs and tears tomorrow night. It is always good to see you, and it will be good to continue working with you with the Deaconess Foundation."

Linda White: "I would enjoy that."

Brad Byrd: "I don't think she's technically retiring."

Linda White: "I'm rebooting."

Brad Byrd: "Rebooting, alright. Linda White, thank you so much for what you've done for our community."

Linda White: "Thank you back."

(This story was originally published on June 28, 2017)

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