It is no coincidence that Kaua’i native Albert Souza’s last trip home to Kaua’i happened just before he took the position as chief executive officer of Norwalk Community Hospital near Los Angeles.
Since he took charge of the 50-bed, 217-employee facility, the hospital has been his life, he said.
As the man in charge, he has “24-hour responsibilities. Anything good, I get the credit for. Anything bad, I get the credit for,” Souza said by telephone from his office.
After being in the healthcare field since 1991, first as a respiratory therapist, Souza, son of Millie and Albert Souza of Lawa’i, worked his way slowly but surely into hospital management, via stints as head of a cardiopulmonary section manager, facilities manager, vice president of operations and, finally, as a chief executive officer.
He started at Norwalk Community Hospital in January of 2004, and his last trip home was in October of 2003, he said.
Primary chores from his first day in the CEO’s office have been finding out what those in the community want out of their hospital, and reconnecting with them, he said.
“It’s taking some time.”
Along the way, he has managed to spend lots of time out of his office, in the hospital rooms, where it’s obvious he cares, and belongs.
He’s active in bedside care, and responds to most emergency cases at his facility, he said.
To him, that’s what everyone in the business should be doing, from the roofer to the janitor to the food-service worker to the surgeon to the CEO.
“If you’re not in healthcare to help people, you’re in the wrong profession,” he said.
The thing that keeps him going, he said, is hearing the words “thank you” from that youngster who came in in critical condition and is going home in fine shape.
“Helping people, helping someone” go from critical to fine, “to me is very fulfilling,” Souza said.
His management style has caught the eye of many of those under him, including trauma surgeons and other professionals.
“He is wonderful,” said Dr. Arunpal Sehgal, a pulmonary critical-care physician at Norwalk Community Hospital.
“He is a most amazing person. He’s very available,” said Sehgal, who works at five different hospitals in the Los Angeles area, so is exposed to a number of different management styles from the CEOs at those facilities.
He finds Souza’s the most palatable. “His commitment is total to the hospital. He doesn’t have a life outside the hospital,” said Sehgal, maybe not even half-joking.
Souza is quick to say that he gets a lot of help from his staff. “It’s really all about the team. I certainly can’t do everything by myself.”
The 1982 Kaua’i High School graduate moved to California a few months after he graduated, with quite a sum of money he had saved from working during his highschool years, and some big dreams.
He thought he’d be able to buy a large piece of California with the money he had in his pocket, he said.
He quickly learned otherwise.
He washed dishes and floors, and did other odd jobs, while going to Concord Career College, where he earned a degree in respiratory therapy, and then to Los Angeles College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in hospital administration.
Souza, 40, said his public-schooling on Kaua’i did little to prepare him for the culture shock of a Kaua’i youth journeying to one of the world’s largest cities.
“It’s a whole different environment,” he said.
Still, he continually works to find the Hawai’i, the aloha, in folks over there, he said.
It’s sometimes a hard sell, in mefirst California, to get people in his chosen profession to understand that “it’s OK to go out of your way to help people.”
When his parents visited, they were surprised about the dearth of aloha that is so prevalent on Kaua’i and in Hawaii, he said.
Still, he remains optimistic. “Not everybody has been to Hawai’i, but everybody has some aloha,” he said.
As in Hawai’i and on Kaua’i, those in his chosen profession see their share of turmoil. “I know that healthcare in general is in dire need of fixes,” he said.
Informed of the vacancy in the president and chief executive officer’s office at Wilcox Health (Wilcox Memorial Hospital and Kauai Medical Clinic) in Lihu’e on his home island, Souza was asked that, if someone from Hawaii Pacific Health (the Wilcox Health parent company) called and offered him that position, would he come home?
That would be a “tough” call, he said, apparently leaning toward liking it right where he is.
Norwalk Community Hospital shares campuses with some of Los Angeles Community Hospital facilities, meaning Souza has some 425 employees under him.
That seems like it would create many management headaches. “More than you know,” he said. Twice during the telephone interview he had to excuse himself to tend to pressing matters, once putting Sehgal on the line to occupy the reporter while Souza dashed off to put out yet another management fire.
Souza, 40, is considered a baby in his chosen profession, surrounded by doctors and other staff much older than him, he said.
He and his wife Alexandra have been married two years, and live in nearby Bellflower. His father, Albert Souza, retired from Kauai Electric (now Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative) as a maintenance engineer.
He has two sisters, Donna Whitley, in Redding, Calif., and Margaret Kaneshiro, in ‘Oma’o.
- Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org.