Health system president/CEO embraces challenges and opportunities
By Julie Cooper
In a normal year, Ernie W. Sadau (M.S. ’85) would have his hands full at his job as the CEO and president of Texas-based CHRISTUS Health, a Catholic, faith-based, not-for-profit health system with $9 billion in total assets and $7 billion-plus in net revenue. It has more than 600 facilities and 45,000 associates.
Sadau could never have imagined that healthcare workers would be leading a battle against COVID-19 in 2020 or that the ensuing pandemic would make him even more committed to his chosen career path.
A Texas State Distinguished Alumnus, Sadau earned a master’s degree in healthcare administration. In 2006 he joined CHRISTUS as senior vice president of patient and resident care and got the CEO spot in 2011. “There are so many opportunities in healthcare,” he says. “Especially with some of the things we are going through today with COVID-19. It will open even more avenues that we can’t even imagine in healthcare from telemedicine — how that gets expanded and in what ways — to the technology side. Things are going to evolve over the next few years. It will be challenging and exciting.”
Those are the themes that Sadau comes back to — the challenges, the passion, the blessings, and the opportunities. “I have never looked back. I have never said to myself, ‘I wish I had checked out another career.’”
Sadau was in high school when he first considered his future career. Originally, the Texas native wanted to be a doctor. His grandfather, a rancher, wanted him to be a doctor. His parents simply wanted him to go to college.
While a high school junior, Sadau was hospitalized. “I was lying in bed and was thinking – who is running this place? When they brought my meal tray on the last day, there was a card asking about my care. I filled it out and wrote a note saying I would like to have a meeting with the administrator.” A few weeks later he got an invitation to have lunch and take a tour with the hospital administrator. He would later meet with two other hospital CEOs.
CHRISTUS Health operates in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, and New Mexico; and also serves Mexico, Chile, and Colombia. It includes 65 hospitals, along with ambulatory centers, physicians’ groups, and health plans. Newest among the CHRISTUS hospitals is Central Texas Medical Center in San Marcos, which was acquired in 2020.
His advice for those considering a career in healthcare: “They have to do what they feel they have a love and a passion for. Not just do it because it is potentially the hottest job on the market or just the pay.” To address the shortage of qualified people in the healthcare industry, Sadau says that CHRISTUS Health is working with universities — including Texas State — to build relationships and oversee the pipeline for residencies.
Sadau says that the CHRISTUS health system primarily has hospitals in midsized and rural markets in the U.S. “We have always worked from the standpoint of how can we provide the appropriate care? For example, a consult with a specialist who is in Tyler for a patient in a small rural community. That is how you provide access — to be more intentional about that is important. That’s one of the key areas — having access doesn’t mean you necessarily have to have a hospital,” he says. “There will be more avenues of technology; those healthcare needs can be taken care of and monitored.”
The keyword, Sadau says, is flexibility. “Be agile and move quickly in one direction or the next.” ★