By Vanessa Orr, South Florida Hospital News, for ACHE of South Florida
In 2021, Ken Hetlage, LFACHE, retired from Memorial Healthcare System after 33 years. The ACHE and ACHE of South Florida Life Fellow, who has been involved in healthcare since working as a paramedic while in college, says that while it feels pretty good to be retired after more than 45 years of working in the field, he couldn’t have made a better career choice. “It’s been a great ride; I couldn’t have chosen a better field,” said Hetlage, who was recruited for an administrative role at Barnes Hospital while earning his MHA at Washington University in St. Louis. “The biggest advantage now is that I have more time to do what I want to do when I want to do it; the biggest drawback is that I forget what day of the week it is, but that’s still a good thing.”
After seven years at Barnes, Hetlage moved to South Florida, where he served as CEO of four Memorial hospitals before becoming executive vice president of the Memorial Healthcare System in 2016.
“I stayed at Memorial because I believe in its culture; a lot of places talk about patient and family-centered care, but Memorial lives it on a day-to-day basis,” he explained. “Every decision we made was focused on what was best for patients and families.”
“We also grew at such a rapid rate that there were always new opportunities,” added Hetlage, whose achievements included leading the construction and opening of Memorial Hospital Miramar and opening a graduate medical education program at Memorial Hospital West.
Hetlage first joined ACHE while in graduate school as a student associate. “I remained a member as I became an assistant administrator and later, as a CEO, because I found the networking, continuing education, conferences and publications extremely worthwhile,” he said. “ACHE provides a perspective on the industry not just in your backyard, but around the country.” “ACHE provided me with new ideas and new perspectives on how I could better contribute to my own organization,” he added. “And their continuing education opportunities—whether the iconic negotiations course or the more practical day-to-day operations advice—were very helpful. I’ve never gone to an ACHE conference where I haven’t come home with new ideas, and plans that I could implement to further patient and family-centered care.”
Hetlage said that he is honored to become a Life Fellow, and also appreciates the fact that it will enable him to stay in touch with what’s happening in healthcare. “It’s important to keep a toe in the water as to what’s going on in the industry,” he said. “Now that I’m retired, people ask me what I’m thinking about this or that issue, and even though I’ve only been out for six months, I don’t want to lose the edge of having the most recent information. ACHE helps keep me up-to-date on what’s going on from the hospital perspective and that’s very valuable.”
Hetlage advises those in the healthcare field to join ACHE, no matter where they may be in their careers. “Whether a person is a student, moving up, or mature in their career and looking for bigger opportunities, ACHE is an incredible way to network and their continuing education opportunities are extraordinary,” he said.
He also has some advice for those entering the healthcare field.
“You’ve got to develop your own culture and decide what you stand for; for me, that was a commitment to quality care, patients and families,” he said. “There’s a lot of pull in healthcare toward growth and financial performance, but you’ve always got to do the right thing. At the end of the day, can you sleep with yourself? Are you comfortable that you’ve done what’s right?”
“Also, look for mentors throughout your entire career, and don’t forget to mentor those coming up behind you,” he added. “Remember where you came from, stay humble and maintain your values and integrity.”