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December 2004 - Volume 1 - Issue 5
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Ralph Aleman: Engineering Success at Palmetto General Hospital

If there’s one thing Ralph Aleman brings to his position as president and chief executive officer of Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah, it’s perspective.

Asked to cite a career highlight or two, Aleman quickly offered the experience he had opening a hospital in San Antonio, Texas.

"It was exciting building from scratch," he said. "I got to open it, build the medical staff, and, because I was there seven years, I helped it go through a major expansion."

After a pause, Aleman added, "Of course, it also was pretty exciting when my kids were born and when I married my current wife."

Aleman has built a successful career in healthcare management, spanning more than 25 years. He has held positions for a variety of organizations, including a major national consulting firm, and both not-for-profit and investor-owned hospitals. During his career, he has served as CEO of five different hospitals, including Palmetto General Hospital.

His success is even more impressive considering it wasn’t what he set out to do in the first place. He entered the University of Florida at Gainesville to pursue the Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering.

"My background is in industrial and systems engineering," Aleman said. "While finishing my degree, I stumbled upon a job at a hospital. I saw what it was all about, and I never left the health care field. I found it to be a meaningful line of work. I put my knowledge and skills to good use. I felt I wanted to continue to do it. It was not my original design; it just happened."

Aleman earned the Master of Business Administration and Health Care Administration form George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

"I was at a consulting company, working around the country," he said. "After writing a lot of consulting reports for healthcare organizations, recommending to others how to do it, I wanted to do it myself. So I got an MBA while still with the consulting company."

In 1978, Aleman became administrator of Southwest General Hospital in San Antonio, the facility he helped build from the ground up. He then became district vice president for HCA Management Company, with operational responsibility for a group of 15 hospitals in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

Aleman next moved to Miami, to become chief executive officer and president of Victoria Hospital.

"I was born and raised in Cuba until I was 14," Aleman said. "When I arrived in the U.S. in the early 1960s, I spent a short time in Miami, then moved to Belle Grade, Florida before going to college and then to Texas.

"But like all Cubans, I had to head back to Miami at some time in my career. Also, I have a lot of family here."

While at Victoria Hospital, Aleman achieved what he called a second significant highlight of his career: a merger between his facility and Cedars Medical Center.

"This was probably one of the largest, most complex, mergers between two private medical centers," said Aleman, who became chief executive officer of the newly formed entity under the name Cedars Medical Center. "Cedars became at the time the largest investor-owned hospital in Florida."

Prior to his appointment as CEO of Palmetto General Hospital, Aleman 57, also served as chief operating officer of the South Florida division of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation and as CEO of Miami Heart Institute and Medical Center

Palmetto General Hospital, part of Tenet South Florida, is a 360-bed acute-care hospital in Hialeah, Florida that was founded in 1971 to serve northwest Dade and south Broward Counties.

"Being CEO of a hospital is one of the toughest leadership positions you can have—you work in a complex institution, with high technology, different types of people, all providing a very personal service," Aleman said. "You deal with a large staff that reports to you, but you also have a private, self-governed medical staff who is a customer and a partner at the same time."

At Palmetto General, Aleman has accepted that challenge and, at least so far appears to be handling it quite well. For the sixth year, Palmetto General Hospital was named one of America’s 100 Top Hospitals by Solucient, an independent healthcare research firm. The hospital is undergoing a multi-million dollar expansion of its emergency department, Maternity Care Center, critical care unit, and surgery department.

"We are significantly enhancing the hospital," said Aleman. "We are doubling the size of the ER, adding a new ICU, expanding the operating rooms, and adding capacity to the maternity program."

Also, after many years of trying, the hospital was finally granted a Certificate of Need by the State to ad an Open Heart Surgery program.

"By the end of next year, we plan to add open heart surgery. We see ourselves as a regional referral center. We are strategically located in a corridor with significant growth. Right now we are seen as a primary care facility. But we will become more of a secondary and tertiary care facility."

While Aleman’s ambitions for his facility might appear lofty, he is very much grounded by family, community and his own sense of commitment to his work. He and his wife, Dianne, live in Coral Springs. The couple has four children, Alicia, Jon, Tyra and Brittney. According to Aleman, Dianne, a former ICU nurse who is now a vice president for a hospital in Boca Raton, offers him much support.

"She understands the demands of the job," he said.

For any healthcare executive, those demands usually spread beyond the walls of his or her facility into the community and for Aleman it is no different. He has been involved in community activities throughout his career, having served as Pillar Trustee of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and served on the Board of Directors of the Aventura Marketing Council. In addition to being cochair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s One Community One Goal Healthcare Committee, he was on the board of the One Nation Citizenship Initiatives, the Wages Coalition of Dade and Monroe Counties, and the Job Education Partnership of Dade and Monroe Counties. He has also been active with the United Way and American Heart Association and currently serves on the Board of Dade County’s American Cancer Society.

"What I like is making a difference in people’s lives, from saving a life to improving the quality of a life," Aleman said. "We take care of the community’s needs—this is a large community, somewhat underserved. This part of town is not the most economically affluent. It is, for the most part, a working community of young families. We deliver 3000 babies every year and perform thousands of surgeries.

It is meaningful work, and we make a real impact and take great pride in the important role we play in this community."

For more information about Palmetto General Hospital visit the Web site at www.palmettogeneral.com or call 1-800-522-5292 or (305) 823-5000.
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