When Dr. Larry Antonucci arrived in Southwest Florida more than 30 years ago, he never imagined he’d one day run Lee Health, the largest not-for-profit public health system in the state receiving no direct tax support.
By the early 1990s, his initial plans were already in full swing. He had co-formed a private practice in obstetrics and gynecology, and co-founded Physicians’ Primary Care, a Lee County-based, multispecialty physician practice, where he served as first president and CEO.
“I felt like I would continue to [practice] and be a physician-group leader until I retired,” Antonucci says.
But when Jim Nathan—the recently retired president and CEO of Lee Health—called on him to become chief administrator of Cape Coral Hospital, those plans changed. Antonucci would have to give up his practice in order to pursue the position, but was intrigued by the idea of affecting healthcare change on a greater scale.
After taking the job, Antonucci worked his way up in the health sys- tem, and by 2011 was appointed chief operating officer. As he advanced in his career, he continued to build his reputation as a trustworthy leader. That’s why when Nathan stepped down in June 2017, Lee Health’s board of directors voted nearly unanimously for Antonucci to take the reins. The support he received from the community was almost overwhelming.
“It was really amazing. Dozens of people came to the public board meeting and spoke on my behalf, and I didn’t know they were coming. It was really unexpected,” Antonucci says. “It made me feel so honored and humbled to have that kind of support.” Lee Health’s new leader has some bold goals moving forward. “I really want to change the way care is delivered in this community, and I want to build a model of collaborative care that will be the envy of the nation,” Antonucci says. “I think we’ve got all the pieces here to do that—we’ve got the best people and the best technology—now it’s just about building the processes and systems in place to deliver that care.”
He plans to reach those goals partly by empowering team members. “Your team has to know that you’re there for them and that you’ll listen to what they have to say, because after all, they’re the ones who are doing the work and under- stand the problems,” he says.
“When problems arrive in an organization, the worst people to make decisions are the leaders because they don’t know what’s going on. So the role of the leader is to build teams who can solve these problems and are empowered to do so. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re empowering our frontline staff to solve problems.”
While Antonucci didn’t originally intend to lead the crusade for optimum healthcare in Lee County, he says the journey to his newfound role has served as an important lesson he hopes to pass onto others.
“Whenever I mentor anyone, I always tell them it’s good to have a plan, but don’t get so hyper-focused that you miss something out in the periphery that could be good for you,” he says. “That’s surely the story of my career. The opportunities just presented themselves, and I’ve taken them and run with them and succeeded, and that success breeds success.”