When the board of St. Elizabeth Healthcare went looking for a successor to President and CEO John Dubis, who resigned due to health reasons earlier this year, it didn’t have to look long or far.

Garren Colvin, 50, who has spent 32 years at the health care provider in a variety of financial and management roles, was named president and CEO in June, after serving as interim CEO for four months.

Colvin, a Northern Kentucky native, was described as “a proven and trusted leader” by Board Chair James Votruba in announcing his selection from three finalists following a nationwide search.

Colvin, who has an easygoing, approachable management style, says he has four priorities: “To elevate St. Elizabeth Healthcare to the top in quality. To have the best experience possible for our patients. To be the best place to work, or practice as a physician. And lastly, to build our presence in the community.”

Formed by the 2008 merger of the former St. Luke Hospital and the 154-year-old St. Elizabeth Hospital, St. Elizabeth Healthcare is Northern Kentucky’s largest employer with 7,400 employees, including more than 300 physicians, and operates six major facilities and 97 primary and specialty care offices.

Colvin is faced with guiding St. Elizabeth, one of the region’s largest health care providers, through an increasingly complex and changing health care environment.

Among the challenges: The changing reimbursement models, the shift from providing acute care to focusing on wellness and keeping people healthy, increased competition from other providers and maintaining quality care.

Those who know him say Colvin has the skills to negotiate those tricky waters.

“He’s very smart,” says Mike Arthur, a retired vice president for the hospital who was one of Colvin’s early mentors. “He’s got the ability to think and not just come up with the standard answers.”

Arthur says Colvin also has the people skills critical to managing a large, complex organization such as St. Elizabeth.

“I think he understands how important culture is in developing a successful organization,” says Arthur.

Colvin’s management team has implemented the “Sacred 60,” a 60-minute period each week they’re not to schedule meetings or phone calls but spend the time talking with patients and staff. He also tries to eat lunch in the hospital cafeteria two or three times a week to be able to connect with employees.

“I hate using the phase, ‘I’m just one of the guys,’” says Colvin. “But I kind of feel like I am.”

A native of Ludlow, where his father was a pipefitter and his mother worked in insurance, Colvin graduated from Ludlow High School in 1982 where he played football, basketball and baseball. “My favorite sport was whatever season we were in,” he says.

His curve ball was good enough to earn a scholarship to Thomas More College where he was an outfielder and pitcher on the baseball team. During his career with the Saints, he ranked among the school’s top 10 pitchers in innings pitched and he is a member of both the Ludlow High School and Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame.

While at Thomas More, Colvin, who majored in business and accounting, got a co-op job as an accounting clerk at St. Elizabeth in 1983, and, with the exception on one period of less than a year, never left. While at St. Elizabeth he also earned an MBA from Northern Kentucky University in 1996.

It’s a rarity today for an executive to spend nearly his entire career with one organization, but Colvin says he’s always been drawn to the hospital’s mission.

“St. Elizabeth is about making a difference in the community,” he says.

For example, in September St. Elizabeth made the second largest gift in Northern Kentucky University’s history, an $8 million investment in NKU’s new $97 million Health Innovation Center. The funds will support the design and construction of a two-story simulation center, including simulation space labs, clinical skills suites, nursing skills suites, imaging suites and classroom and collaborative spaces as well as the acquisition of simulation equipment to teach students and professionals new skills.

St. Elizabeth is also a partner with New Jersey-based Sun Behavioral Health, with the support of NorthKey Community Care, on a new 197-bed behavioral health and chemical dependency treatment hospital to be built in Erlanger that’s expected to open in a couple years.

The heroin epidemic remains one of Northern Kentucky’s biggest health challenges, and Colvin says he’s grateful state funding allowed distribution of Narcan, the injectable drug to counteract heroin overdoses, through hospital emergency rooms.

Over the last year and half about 1,400 lives have been saved because of the availability of the drug, he says. Because heroin addiction leads to Hepatitis C and AIDs, combating addiction has a ripple effect on controlling health care costs. “One course of Hepatitis C treatment costs $80,000,” he says.

Colvin sees the biggest challenges facing the hospital system as the changing health care reimbursement models and negotiating the move toward increasing overall community health. 

Thanks to the expansion of Medicaid and the creation of the state health benefits exchange under the Affordable Care Act, the amount of uncompensated care St. Elizabeth provides in the community has declined, he says. But when federal reimbursement decreases in a couple years, it will increase the burden on the state budget and the uncertainty for providers such as St. Elizabeth.

St. Elizabeth also is focusing on giving patients greater control of their health care, he says. One example is the expansion of the MyChart electronic records system for outpatient visits. About 60 percent of St. Elizabeth Physicians’ patients have used MyChart giving them online access to their medical records and test results in 24 hours.

Growing up in Northern Kentucky, Colvin says, has given him an appreciation for the role St. Elizabeth has in the community.

“Being part of this community my entire life,” he says. “I really care about this community. The patients we serve daily are our neighbors, or our friends and our family. Every decision we make we’re making in the best interests of our community. That’s why it’s very important to be a community partner.”