2018 Lifetime Achievement Awards: Gail Markham and Dr. Allen Weiss
Recognizing the dedication and determination of two Southwest Florida leaders: Dr. Allen Weiss, president and CEO of NCH Healthcare System; and Gail Markham, stockholder and president of Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Co.
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Leading by Example
Dr. Allen Weiss emphasizes quality care and healthy lifestyles for Southwest Florida residents.
When a young Dr. Allen Weiss arrived in Naples in 1977, he became doctor No. 58 to set up shop in town. He had no connections here, but he saw all sorts of potential in this little community—a chance for his internal medicine, rheumatology and geriatrics practice to grow and flourish.
Here we are, 41 years later, and Weiss not only grew his own practice and stature, but as CEO and president of NCH Healthcare System, he’s also now responsible for leading an organization that includes 700 doctors and is setting the bar for high-quality, award-winning medical care.
“Never in the world did I dream I would be doing what I do these days,” Weiss says.
Philadelphia-born Weiss didn’t really imagine a career in medicine to begin with. He didn’t come from a family of doctors, and his early academic record was “undistinguished.” But as he buckled down in his schoolwork and enrolled at La Salle University to study biology and chemistry, his interest in medicine developed. Weiss ultimately won acceptance to Columbia University as an M.D.–Ph.D. candidate. La Salle was just 20 minutes from his parents’ home in the quiet suburbs, Columbia University in bustling New York City.
“It was a risk [to attend Columbia University], but if you don’t take the risk you don’t get the reward,” Weiss says.
Following his training, Weiss, his pregnant wife and their 2-year-old daughter relocated to Naples, a town so undeveloped that the family had to drive to Fort Myers to purchase baby clothes.
But the community’s size helped Weiss and his staff cultivate a close relationship with their patients. “It was pre-internet, so patients would call [the office] and a couple of [employees] actually knew people’s voices by phone,” Weiss recalls. He got to know the small circle of doctors well, too, and chaired Community Health Partners, a medical provider network affiliated with NCH. He went back to school, earning a Master of Business Administration from Florida Gulf Coast University, so that he could better manage the network’s financials.
That same year, Weiss became president of NCH Healthcare System, fresh from learning about quality parameters in school and eager to apply them to the role. He worked closely with the system’s officers to develop clinical quality, and, in 2003, NCH earned its first quality award for cardiology, as a result of a Code- Save-A-Heart initiative that reduced cardiac mortality.
“We had never gotten a quality award before that time, and now we’ve gotten so many I can’t even keep track of them,” Weiss says. “Quality and patient-centeredness really made the difference in our institution.”
Three years later, Weiss beat national contenders to also become CEO of NCH, and started leading a charge to shift the health care system’s focus from treating disease to preventing disease. “Eighty percent of what causes disease people do to themselves, so we’re working on that 80 percent,” Weiss says. “We want to keep people healthy; we don’t want them to be patients.”
Since 2013, NCH has sponsored the Blue Zones Project, a community-wide well-being improvement initiative to help Southwest Florida residents make healthy choices.
The region now holds the No. 1 spot in Gallup-Sharecare’s State of American Well-Being Community Rankings for an unprecedented three years in a row. The report measures how residents of 186 U.S. cities feel about their physical health, social ties, financial security, community and sense of purpose. Weiss credits his 4,300-member staff for accolades like that one. But former Florida State Sen. Garrett Richter, president and CEO of First Florida Integrity Bank and friend of Weiss’s for 20-plus years, says Weiss is worthy of main praise.
“If you were to point to one individual in our community who’s responsible for that rating ... I think it would be [Weiss].” Richter says. “He has had a great influence over the subtleties of leading a healthy life.”
Recently, NCH received five-star status among the top 7 percent of healthcare systems in the nation, measured by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Rankings like that draw patients from out of the area— and make NCH a regional “economic engine.”
During Weiss’ tenure, NCH opened its Heart Institute; joined the Mayo Clinic Care Network; built the region’s first freestanding emergency department; created a pediatric emergency room; constructed a new hospital tower downtown; started a medical residency program; and developed NCH Imaging, the county’s largest imaging service.
For Weiss, the former internist, the greatest payoff still comes in the form of patient interactions. This year, he met a man who experienced a sudden heart issue and was treated by the NCH Heart Institute. The patient was recovering in the ICU with his family when Weiss walked in.
“They were just so happy. His heart attack had been averted, his wife was not a widow, the daughter was not missing her dad, so they literally wanted to celebrate and hug,” Weiss says. “Patients remember these things and that’s thrilling for me. If you do the right thing often enough, you get the right results.”