A Profile of Danielle Gathje
Counting on Facilities Teams to Take Care
Of What Matters Most to Patients
Vice President of Hospital Operations
Fairview Health Services - St. John's Hospital
Danielle Gathje, the Vice President of Hospital Operations for Fairview Health Services - St. John's Hospital, takes great joy in celebrating the wins – things like providing blood pressure cuffs in every room and quieter HEPA units for improved airflow for patients and safety for staff.
"What excites me is the idea that nearly every conversation can further our relationships and our understanding of what matters most to patients," she said.
Danielle Gathje's early personal and emotional experiences in the healthcare environment have been the driving force behind a career that has bridged both hospital facilities and hospital operations.
With a background in chemistry and biology, she could have gone in the direction of a provider, but instead, she went on a facility trajectory that includes life safety training, consulting, and business administration.
An admitted life-long learner, Danielle is now the Vice President of Hospital Operations at Fairview Health Services which encompasses 10 hospitals and 60 primary care clinics in Minnesota.
Her day usually starts off with tiered safety meetings.
Dealing with emergencies, such as floods, is sometimes part of life as a facilities and operations leader.
The physical damage floods cause is one thing, but floods also leave behind mold and fungus which impact patient health and safety.
"When your hospital is flooding down three floors with water rushing out at 80 psi from burst pipes, then that's a big problem which threatens pre-op areas," she said. "We're faced with migrating patients and canceling surgeries. These kinds of events can take weeks to clean up. Fortunately, I've always had good teams."
Another big issue on her mind these days is understanding the diversity between the different generations on her team. Humor is helpful.
One of her engineers laughed as he said he would have liked to call her on the rotary phone but offered an email instead.
Danielle is challenging older generation team members who prefer to talk through their areas of expertise to write down important information.
"It takes time and effort on everybody's part to make sure that we're always learning from each other so that there isn't as much of a knowledge gap when people leave," she said.
Using a "smooth-talking" communications style, which Danielle finds hilarious, she leads team meetings seeking updates on construction projects and what the team is learning from key performance indicators.
Sometimes it's just nice to get out and walk around the buildings and see what's happening. With renovations, there's increased concern about infection control, so she's carefully watching how contractors install correct Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) barriers, to protect susceptible patients from airborne contaminants.
The work requires focus and multi-tasking, but Danielle is calm, cool, and talkative about a wide range of hospital facility and operational topics from how technology can be best used for predictive and preventive maintenance, to the best ways to communicate with the hospital C-Suite, and working with the Joint Commission.
Getting quality time with her family on vacations, going to and from hockey games with her son, being with friends, and getting out on the lake (Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes) are some of the ways Danielle deals with the demands of hospital operations.
As she's earned academic degrees, including biology, chemistry, safety, health protection, and business administration, she's embraced the rewards of the healthcare environment from a diverse perspective and sees lots of opportunities at the intersection of healthcare and facility management.
"I find myself thinking about how we can influence regulatory components, policies, codes, and the direction of our organizations," Danielle said.
Fortunately, ASHE offers valuable networking opportunities for women in facilities.
"If you're looking for a truly rewarding career where you can support patients and staff, safety, drive quality improvement and use your compassion in a way that supports the larger picture of the organization instead of just one person at a time, then this is a great career for that," said Danielle.
"I feel that I positively influence exceptional patient care by supporting and driving different quality outcomes for the patients we serve. I tell everybody we take care of the building that takes care of the people, and I mean that sincerely," she said.