Odette Bolano surprised everyone earlier this month when Saint Alphonsus Health System announced she was returning to become CEO — a mere six weeks after Bolano left for a job with a Florida-based oncology practice.
Bolano first arrived in Boise three years ago. She was named president of the health system’s flagship operation, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.
But she’s ambitious, “always looking for a challenge, to learn and expand,” she told the Statesman in an interview Wednesday.
She started her career as a nurse, then climbed the health-administration ladder with investor-owned, nonprofit and fully integrated HMO-style organizations. Now in her late 50s with all that experience, Bolano said the oncology practice gave her a shot at stretching her wings beyond the U.S. border, she said.
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“I just found it intriguing, being able to do international health care,” she said. “To do international travel and learn different health systems ... how they interact or don’t interact.”
So she took the Florida job and thought it was for good.
Lest anyone wonder if she secretly planned to return, Bolano sold her home in Boise and bought a new one in Florida. It’s not exactly an easy time to be house-hunting in the Treasure Valley, she said, noting that she’s been living out of boxes in an apartment since she returned.
And, no, she hasn’t talked to former CEO Rodney Reider since the health system announced his sudden departure July 30, effective that day, with no explanation.
“I think that the mission of Saint Al’s has always been a very important thing to me,” Bolano said. “When there was a change in leadership, I had connected really well with the physicians in the community, and there was an outcry for me to come back to Boise to lead Saint Alphonsus Health System, and I just feel a true responsibility and commitment to who we are in this community. ... I think that we really have a mission to serve our community. This is a wonderful community, a growing community. If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t have looked back.”
Q: How have people reacted to your return?
A: I’m hearing wonderful things. I can’t walk down the halls of any of our facilities without people saying, “Welcome back, great to have you here.” Same thing in the community. ... It has been a very humbling and a very, very warm welcome.
Q: What questions are you getting?
A: How long have you been back? Did you sell your house in Boise? The answer is yes. Did you buy a house in Florida? The answer is yes. I literally just got my car yesterday. My car has traveled more in the past (several weeks) than probably any of us.
Q: How are you adjusting to the CEO role?
A: As president of Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, I was part of the Saint Alphonsus Health System leadership team, so actually it’s been very nice to step into that (CEO role) because I know a lot of the community. I know a lot of the physicians. It’s just a broader scale. Obviously, my goal when I was regional president was to spend time in the four walls of our regional center. Now I have been over to Nampa, Ontario, Baker City. It’s a much broader responsibility in the community.
Q: Did you want the CEO job before you left?
A: I think that if you look at my background, I’m always looking for opportunities to grow. We all have aspirations for different things. I don’t know that I was sitting around thinking that I was going to be CEO one day.
If you just look at my career, I started as a nurse, became a director ... a chief operating officer, a CEO. So I’m always looking at opportunities to continue to grow in my professional development. I’m always aspiring.
Q: How did the oncology company respond when you gave them the bad news?
A: I think any time you leave an organization, it’s always a hard conversation. But they were very noble and understanding that my passion was in my community that I’d been in for three years. They’re a great organization.
Q: Are your employees or fellow leaders concerned you might leave again?
A: That’s a fair question. I’ve made a significant commitment to the board, to the physicians, to the colleagues.
Q: What kind of commitment?
A: Just stating that I’m here for the long run.
Q: What are your goals now as CEO?
A: Strategic growth to service the community. Continued focus on quality and reliability. Continuing to grow our physician enterprise.
I’m kind of getting my hands around everything.
Considering I’ve been in this chair for a week and two days, I think that now my goal is to listen, to get reacquainted, to meet with our colleagues and physicians. To spend more deliberate time in some of our other facilities and the medical group. Just being present and visible and approachable to those who I am here to serve.
This interview was edited for clarity.