March 31, 2015

From the Editor: The Ladder of Success

Kathy Bridge-Liles tells of her climb to chief administrative officer of Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida

 

“I always had ideas on ways to fix problems.”

—Kathy Bridge-Liles, onetime nurse at, and now chief administrative officer of, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida

 

Is it really this simple? Is this how a little girl from a working-class family in Philadelphia—who said, at 7, she wanted to be a pediatric nurse—turned out many years later to be running the crown jewel of child care in Southwest Florida? Just on ideas? Let’s look at her success story because it’s, well, just plain inspiring. It seems that every time someone gave Kathy a job, she ended up in charge of things. And she’s not the least bit conniving or bossy.

“I grew up in a row house in Philadelphia, with five brothers in a family of little means,” Kathy says. “But it was there I first learned the value of hard work by watching my mom and dad. Mom was up at 4:30 every morning, getting the family ready for the day and then going off to her job as inventory control clerk for Spiegel Catalog. My dad sold band uniforms, and, at night and on weekends, my mother would pitch in and make the gold cords that went over the shoulders and under the arms.”

After high school, Kathy was admitted to nursing school, but couldn’t afford to go. In the years ahead, she took medical and nurse assistant jobs where she could, got married, had a son and then, in a breakthrough, got hired as an assistant at the Germantown Medical Center.

Great Leap Forward

The physician/owner, Dr. Sam Rubinstein, became her mentor. “You’re good at organizing and planning,” he said, and he named her the administrator of the center in charge of payroll, hiring, training the staff and more. “I learned everything in my 12 years there,” Kathy recalls, “and always went above and beyond, even coming in on weekends to mop and clean the place.” When Rubinstein retired and closed the center, Kathy, with the help of student loans, finally got her Associate of Science nursing degree at Hahneman University, where she was vice-president of her class.

She took a job as a pediatric nurse at Albert Einstein in Philadelphia. “I never dreamed of more than that,” she says. But again, she kept getting asked to take the lead on projects. “I always wanted to make things better,” Kathy says.

In the name of escaping the cold weather, the family moved to Southwest Florida in 1990. She found work as a nurse in the obstetric unit at Cape Coral Hospital and, in 1992, began her run, and ascension, from nurse to leader, at the Children’s Hospital at Health Park. Listen to the programs she developed and served: the Early Intervention Program, the Pediatric Extended Care Center, the Pediatric Outpatient Cancer Program, Pediatric Patient Care Services, Women’s and Children’s Services, and, finally, her current CAO post. In her spare time—ha—she got bachelor and master of science degrees from Barry University.

Memorable Moments

The highlights looking back? She has always wanted to help the sickest kids, but remembers one night when she felt her medical assistance couldn’t do enough: “A little boy was dying and his parents took turns holding him in his last hours. I sat with the dad, held the mom’s hand as she cried on my shoulder. I was so touched when the parents later told me how great it was for them to have my support at that time.” On the more upbeat side, Kathy recalls how thrilled she was with the startup of the new Pediatric Intensive Care Center in Health Park. “I knew this was the beginning of establishing a real health care system for kids, not just seniors.” And, of course, there was her personal moment of truth. It was while she was with the Pediatric Extended Care Unit. She didn’t want to give up bedside nursing, but knew she couldn’t do that and her administrative work and do justice to both. “A friend told me,” she says, “that I could remove more barriers, create more programs and have more impact as an administrator.”

And so she has. She’s excited that the Children’s Hospital’s current expansion plans got input from children and their families in the design phase—and that the new facilities will include a stand-alone pharmacy and a separate pediatric emergency department. And you can count on Kathy’s ideas, work ethic and big heart to keep making things better. “Ninety-eight percent of kids,” she says, “get better and are running down the halls blowing you kisses. It’s beautiful. It’s rewarding. We make them well.”