How University Hospitals plays a role in the region’s economic development

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Tom Zenty, CEO, University Hospitals Health System
Tom Zenty, CEO, University Hospitals Health System

$1.2 billion.
That’s a big number by nearly any standard, and that’s roughly how much University Hospitals spent over a five-year span as it accomplished its Vision 2010 strategic plan.
At a recent Smart Business Power Players luncheon, UH CEO Tom Zenty spoke about this ambitious plan and how UH is playing a key role in the economic development of the region.
[Watch the playlist of videos from the event on YouTube]
“We thought it was critically important to focus on the communities we serve in a variety of ways,” he says.
The plan included construction of new medical office buildings, the Seidman Cancer Center, the Ahuja Medical Center and new ambulatory centers. In addition, the program renovated the neo-natal intensive care unit and invested in other programs and services. On top of all of that, about $140 million was spent on creating an integrated electronic health record system.
It’s a lot of development and a lot of money spent, but what’s interesting was the commitment UH made to helping the region throughout all of these initiatives. The plan called for 5 percent of the money spent to go toward women business enterprises, 15 percent toward minority companies and 80 percent would be spent with local firms.
“We live in not one of the most rapidly growing population regions or one of the most robust business communities in the United States,” Zenty says. “We wanted to make sure we were helping all those who would have an opportunity to work on a project who might otherwise not have the opportunity to do so.”
When all was said and done, 7.5 percent of expenditures had gone to female businesses, 22 percent to minority companies and a whopping 92 percent had been with local companies.
“We didn’t have to do this, but this was something that we committed to the mayor to do, but as well, we want to make sure we’re not only good business partners but good neighbors,” he says.
In addition to local and minority commitments, the Vision 2010 plan had other elements to drive development. One element was to create a project labor agreement that called for a no-strike clause so that even if national unions decided to strike, local work would continue. Another element was calling for participation from local vocational and technical schools to help students in programs like architecture, engineering and mechanics. The agreement created a volunteer program that all contractors participated in to allow students to work on the project from an educational perspective.
“As a company that’s been around since 1866, we wanted to ensure that we would continue to grow and be a good neighbor to the business community,” Zenty says.
The Vision 2010 program also created about 5,200 jobs, of which about 1,250 will be permanent positions. And with 20,000 employees, UH is the fourth-largest private employer in the state. Zenty noted that additionally, the second-largest is a health care company in town as well, and between the two, it shows the prominent role that health care companies can have on a region.
“Hospitals are operational 24 hours a day. We have laundry services, environmental services, business services, pharmacists.”
With so many different people needed to ensure patients get the care they need, Zenty also stressed the importance of developing the next generation of workers. One way UH tackles this issue is by working with nursing programs at nine different schools to make sure there’s a steady supply of nurses entering the work force for them.
But he also pointed out this wasn’t just a key to UH’s long-term vitality but was important for the region as a whole. One of the big issues in the region is losing young people to other cities. He said that most of UH’s 8 percent turnover comes from people who have been there less than a year, and many of those are younger workers coming in out of school who leave for other opportunities.
“If our goal is to keep the youth in Ohio, we can do a much better job, quite frankly, focusing on what various industries’ needs are going to be both today and three, five, 10 and even 15 years from now,” Zenty says. “Let’s begin to true up the educational programs we offer at the community college level, the undergraduate level and the graduate level.”
For example, in health care alone, there are a tremendous amount of areas that he knows they’re going to have a need for while also recognizing there aren’t available resources today. The development and long-term success of our region depends on forecasting needs and making changes now to fill those future needs.
“We should be doing this in every industry here in Northeast Ohio — manufacturing, business, advertising, fill in the blank,” he says. “There are any number of people we know we’re going to be needing, and we can’t guarantee jobs but we can say with certainty these are the kinds of positions we’re going to be needing.”
How to reach: University Hospitals, (216) 844-8447 or