Patti Ellish is now a high-profile hospital administrator as the president and CEO of St. Tammany Parish Hospital (STPH), but she began her career as a nurse. And the inspiration for her first career originated when Ellish was a high school student at Archbishop Chapelle High School in New Orleans.
“No one else in my family had been a nurse, so what I knew about the profession was what I learned about at a career day when I heard a nurse speak,” Ellish says. “I think it connected with something that would not only be of interest to me but also fill a need. And I thought, ‘Let me look into this.’”
Ellish graduated from Charity Hospital School of Nursing in 1974 and started her career at West Jefferson Medical Center as an intensive care nurse. She moved up the ladder, becoming director of nursing at West Jefferson in 1996. Ellish then became vice president and chief operating officer for Memorial Health System of East Texas and was chosen as STPH’s CEO in 2000.
Though she’s risen to the role of administrator, Ellish hasn’t forgotten her roots at patients’ bedsides.
“For me it’s of tremendous value that I can relate to the complexity of what we’re trying to be of service for,” Ellish says. “In other words we are providing a service for the community. Folks put their lives in our hands, and I don’t take that lightly. I also understand what it’s like to work the nights, the long hours, to understand the complexity of facing life and death decisions. It gives me a unique perspective.”
Moving up the chain of command suited Ellish’s natural leadership abilities, but she didn’t set out to be the head of a hospital.
“If you’d asked me some 40 years ago, would I have believed that I would be at the CEO level, then my answer would have been ‘No.’ But I think the fact that I am able to continue to make a difference in the role of a CEO, having been a nurse brings tremendous value to the position.”
Ellish has quite a few accolades to her name: She’s a fellow of the American College of Health Care Executives, board member of Louisiana Hospital Association and Northshore Healthcare Alliance and member of Northshore Business Council and Women’s Leadership Council of Greater New Orleans. Her awards include YLC Role Model, Top 10 Female Achievers, New Orleans City Business Woman of the Year, and City Business Hall of Famer.
Among her most impressive accomplishments is the growth through which she’s guided STPH. During Ellish’s 14 year tenure as CEO, the hospital has tripled its footprint to keep up with the parish’s rapid growth post-Katrina. “What I drove up to for the interview is certainly not what you see today,” Ellish recalls. “The physical plant has grown to meet the needs of the community.” And STPH has met those needs with consistently high satisfactory ratings.
As she transforms a small, community hospital into a thriving, regional medical center, Ellish refuses to forget her roots as a clinician. “Despite how large we become, we can’t forget what it is we are trying to do for the community, to fulfill our mission providing excellent medical care. And I think there’s a genuine warmth you feel when you get here. We want to match the great care with the beautiful facilities.”
Personal accolades aside, Ellish points to hospital-wide accomplishments as among her most proud: STPH was awarded an “A” rating by the Standard of Boards for its fiscal responsibility, which was important for Ellish because it meant “not having to ask the community to pay more in terms of taxes to support us. The fact that the system is fiscally solid makes me really proud.”
The hospital also has been awarded a national Employer of Choice designation multiple times for being among the top five percent of employers in the nation and was named among the Best Places to Work by New Orleans CityBusiness.
“It is the people who are really doing the work day in and day out that make us who we are,” Ellish says. “We’re the second-largest employer in the parish, and we take that seriously. I would say that, for me, those types of accomplishments keep me rooted.”