Employee development proves to be healthy business decision


There’s no question Deizel Sarte knows her way around a health clinic.

Unlike many in her profession, Sarte, the chief operating officer for North County Health Services, got her start on the front lines. She started out as a pediatric nurse at a hospital and then worked her way through the organization’s many clinic sites.

“You can’t B.S. me,” Sarte said with a laugh. “I’ve done it all — from giving flu shots to removing catheters to setting up appointments to organizing billing.”

It was her ability to tackle any and all of the challenges facing the various clinics within North County Health Services, even helping open up a new facility in Encinitas, that allowed her to move up in the organization.

“The administration started to take note. They were like ‘who is that nurse?’” she said. “They finally started giving me titles like nurse manager.”

But while she had practical experience and a knack for organizing, Sarte realized there were some gaps in her résumé that were holding her and North County Health Services back.

“I was getting antsy and thinking I was done. I thought I had reached the top,” she said.

But Irma Cota, the CEO of North County Health Services , thought otherwise. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, it was clear that the organization was going to need to retool itself to deal with the increased demand the new law would unleash.

“I looked at my team and realized I didn’t have the right people to handle the transformation in health care,” Cota said.

As part of a larger restructuring, Cota promoted Sarte to vice president of operations, putting her in charge of its ten health centers, which serve almost 60,000 low-income patients a year.

While Sarte embraced her new role and the challenges it presented, she wanted to round out her skill set to ensure she could provide the type of leadership North County Health Services needed at this critical juncture.

“There were things I didn’t know. I didn’t have any formal training in finance. I really needed to better understand the health-care system. I needed to learn about project management,” Sarte said. “I said ‘OK, I have to bite the bullet and get a master’s degree.’”

But questions remained: Where to go and how to pay for it? The first question was easily answered. Sarte decided to enter UC San Diego’s master’s in the Leadership of Healthcare Organizations program because of its curriculum and reputation.

“I’m a traditionalist. I was looking for a reputable school,” Sarte said, adding, “At an executive level, you can’t just throw around a non-brand name, and there is no better brand than UC San Diego.”

Paying for the program turned out to be an easy call – for Cota, that is. She decided to have North County Health Services cover the costs of Sarte’s schooling because it ultimately would benefit the organization.

First off, it would reward a strong employee and encourage her to stay and grow with the organization.

“Any position is costly to replace,” Cota said. “But turnover also slows down progress and it could mean lost opportunities.”

While it was Sarte who went through the program, the lessons she learned didn’t stay back in the classroom.

“A high tide raises all boats. Deizel is bringing along her direct reports by incorporating her new knowledge into her work,” Cota said, who promoted Sarte to chief operating officer while she was in the program. “Peers work better together when they are challenged and they see someone adding value.”

One example is Sarte’s work on group medical appointments. The thinking behind this new trend in health care is that by seeing up to a dozen patients with similar conditions you can cut costs while improving the patient experience.

Sarte said that by bringing a group of diabetic patients together, for example, health-care providers can give all of them the same information while a doctor sees each individually. It helps build community and creates a support system among the patients while allowing the doctor to see more patients in less time. If a doctor had to see a dozen patients individually, each visit would take at least half an hour. With a group visit, a clinic can serve more than four patients in around 2 hours.

When a recent flu outbreak was overwhelming the clinics, Sarte was quickly able to put into action a group appointment allowing North County Health Systems to see six kids in an hour and half.

Cota said that is just one of the many ways Sarte’s education has helped improve her organization.

“You cannot put a dollar figure on the return on investment but it is something that you can experience. It is a different energy and different frame of mind,” Cota said. “It really makes a difference.”

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