Ron Telles likes to walk.
Whidbey General Hospital’s new CFO said he walks around various hospital departments — the ER, the birthing center, rehabilitation — because he doesn’t like to forget why he’s in his office crunching numbers in the first place.
“You forget why you’re really here,” Telles said. “When I go up and see people, patients in the rooms with loved ones, I think, ‘That’s why we’re here.’ I enjoy it.”
Telles comes to Whidbey General Hospital at a critical moment in its history. The hospital has been operating in the red for a number of years, leadership has seen a high level of turnover and Telles is joining the team just months after new CEO Geri Forbes has taken the helm. Telles said it was shocking for him to find out that the hospital has had something like five CFOs in six years.
“That’s a challenge for any sort of leadership to get any work done,” Telles said.
The financial difficulties experienced by the hospital can, at least in part, be attributed to the problem experienced by hospitals nationally when billing was converted to electronic submission about two years ago, Telles said. A delay in getting bills out under the new system lead to a decline in income, quickly running the hospital into the negative, Telles said.
“Things became eroded,” Telles said. “It became a challenge.”
That challenge is exactly why Telles took the job as the hospital’s permanent CFO. Telles’ background has been in assisting smaller hospitals out of “dire financial straights.”
“My experience is to be someone who goes in there to help facilitate the changes to help them at least break even,” Telles said. “I came here because of the excitement that we’re building something here. The community has given us their trust, so OK, we’ve got to do the best we can. It gets your juices flowing because we can make a difference.”
Telles said he also took the job because he found he shares a mindset with Forbes.
“We have the same philosophy of feeling the trust of the community,” Telles said. “Our philosophy is being very transparent. The community feels they have ownership of the hospital, and that’s appropriate. I want to go to the grocery store and not be ashamed. Part of our philosophy is to be out in the community. I do want to hear the good and the bad.”
Telles said he was encouraged when he learned the community had voted last year in favor of the $50 million bond for the hospital expansion that is expected to break ground in August.
“That made me feel like this community does support this hospital,” Telles said. “It should feel like we are there for them and we should feel like they are here for us. It’s a relationship.”
Moving forward, Telles said he has a book filled with “to-dos,” but at the top of his list is improving the hospital’s financial outlook and improving the conversation with the community, staff and customers. To those ends, he looks forward to familiarizing himself with island residents.
“Whidbey is a beautiful place,” Telles said. “A treasure of an island.”