David Strong — CEO of Orlando Health

By Eric Wright

With almost 100 years of history in Central Florida, Orlando Health is one of the oldest continually operating organizations in the region. In addition, it is the area’s fifth largest employer with over 15,000 employees and more than 2,000 affiliated physicians. Its central campus, a fixture on the southern end of downtown Orlando, is one of the state’s six major teaching hospitals and includes the Orlando Regional Medical Center, the only Level One Trauma Center in Central Florida. It is also home to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies and the UF Health Cancer Center- Orlando Health. David Strong, who took the helm in April of 2015, has helped continue the resurgence of Orlando Health as one of the leading healthcare providers in the state.

The Beginnings…

When I was in elementary school, I lived in a small town in Oklahoma and the local hospital administrator visited our school. I still remember him; it must have made an impact on me. In high school I had two jobs, I mopped floors in the surgical unit of the hospital and I worked at the first Hobby Lobby. David Greene started the company in his garage, next to my aunt and uncle’s house and I was one of the first assistant managers.

I loved the managerial side of business and was amazed at what happened in hospitals. When people are in a hospital you have this remarkable opportunity to make a difference in their lives. Seeing that firsthand was fascinating. The clinical side didn’t attract me as a profession, but I did enjoy being in the company of so many very bright and committed people. It is always intellectually challenging, coupled with this very clear sense of mission.

Inspiring a team…

The higher you get in an organization the more you recognize you can accomplish nothing on your own. If you are a highly specialized surgeon, we have to have you, because if need arises someone’s life is in your hands. But the same is true of the guy that works on the HVAC. These are incredibly complex systems in facilities like this. Well, not having those climate systems working
at maximum efficiency can bring down our ORs or ERs, not to mention the impact on our staff and patient services. So it takes everyone. Mother Teresa once said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things that I cannot; together we can do great things.” Healthcare takes people from every skill set, whether you’re a clinician or on the business side.

I want Orlando Health to be an irresistible place to work; that is one of our strategic goals. Wherever you are in the country I want you to wish you were here. I recently got a letter from a nurse who was here visiting one of the parks and had to come to one of our ERs. She wrote us, “I wish I could come and work with all of you.” I wrote her back and said, “Central Florida is a lot better than Atlanta!” If you enjoy your job, if you understand where the organization is headed and the leadership is transparent so that there is trust, that’s what I want to be a part of; that makes a great organization.


Mike Packnett who is now a CEO in Indiana, helped me become comfortable in my own skin. That I didn’t have to have his or anyone else’s style, other than my own. I want to be a servant leader and he was instrumental in helping me appreciate that. For me that means it is my job to create an environment where, no matter what position you have here, you can achieve your God-given potential.

A second was a nun named Sister Rockledge, “Sister Rock.” She used to say, “Give the gift of presence,” in other words though you are present with someone, are you really there? My young son would sometimes grab my face and turn it towards him – that is being present, it is an important lesson.

The last was the board chair at my previous job, Dale Jenkins. He helped me appreciate both excellence and execution. Strategic plans are great, but unless you can execute and deliver results it’s a vapor.


I don’t think anyone wants to be mediocre, regardless of their job; everyone wants to do it in an outstanding way and people want to be a part of something that is excellent. Every job has great purpose if it is understood. We have to be reminded of why we are here and why we were drawn to this profession. Sometimes the daily tasks can draw your attention from that. Also, if you are open to talk about what isn’t working in the organization, that increases transparency, which increases quality and outcomes. We provide platforms for that to happen.

I get to work with some of the smartest people in the world; that is who physicians are. I like listening and engaging with them. There is no part of our operation where we don’t want their ideas and input, even if it is outside their expertise. No health system will achieve great results without the input of the physicians who are responsible to deliver care. They push us to look at the latest technology and are a voice or advocate for the patients; the same is true of nurses.

I want to attract and surround myself with people who are looking at opportunities, not excuses. As Chuck Swindoll said, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond.” In healthcare today we need people like that. If you look at the data, there is going to be a shortage of healthcare workers, but there is also going to be a shortage of places they want to work. We want to create that environment.

The Orlando Health Culture…

I was recruited here by the same man who recruited me to my last job. He put me in an amazing place and told me when he walked out of the boardroom here I was the first person he called. He thought Orlando Health would be a good fit and that meant a lot, as he was a trusted friend and professional.

As I got to know the board, I saw they were ready to move forward. Also I interviewed with over one hundred doctors. There are many changes in healthcare, but it is fundamentally still what I saw in the OR when I was a teenager people who were incredibly skilled and incredibly dedicated to helping people. That is what I found here.

I’m optimistic; you can get caught up in cost management or negotiating with managed care companies, but we should never confuse the business that we are in with the work that we do. The business we are in is complex and rapidly changing, but the work is what gives dignity and purpose to the business and we can’t lose sight of that.

Sometimes if I am having a not so great day, I can go to anyone of our hospitals and my attitude gets an immediate adjustment. A couple of weeks ago our house was flooded and I was over at the children’s hospital with Orlando City’s Kaka, later in the day. Here was this mother telling me how fortunate they were that their son, who is facing paralysis, is here in our hospital.
I thought, “what flood?”

The health of Orlando Health…

We did go through a very difficult time and had market share losses. Sometimes decisions are made that maybe were premature and if you lose even less than a percentage point, in a multi-billion-dollar company, those numbers are very big. The interim CEO Dr. Jamal Hakim, who is also an anesthesiologist, did an incredible job and is now our chief operating officer. He had worked at all our hospitals, so there was a lot of knowledge and earned trust. He was an incredibly calming influence.

Our challenge is to maintain a balance between innovation and quality on one side and saving costs and revenue on the other. It is a good tension that has to be balanced. Part of a good leadership team is having healthy robust debate between the two advocating sides. But whether on the clinical or the fiduciary side, they all can see the broader picture. That is why we need diversity of thought, talent and even professional perspective, along with an environment where you are comfortable expressing that.

At Orlando Health, we realize as we become better, as we raise our metrics across the board, that makes all the other healthcare organizations in the area get better right along with us. There is so much opportunity in this region and the level of amazing treatments are so dramatic that we are able to showcase.