As retirement nears, Rose reflects on tenure with Nanticoke

Steve Rose, Nanticoke Health Services’ president/CEO for more than decade, is officially retiring at the end of January. He is pictured here being honored at the Nanticoke Tributes event in November. (Special to the Delaware State News/Jim Hill, Hilltop Studios)

SEAFORD – Retirement is calling for Steve Rose.

After 30 years with the U.S. Army and National Guard and more than four decades in hospitals and healthcare, he says now is the time.

Mr. Rose, who as chief executive officer led Nanticoke Health Services through challenging times, is retiring after 11-plus years with the healthcare organization based in Seaford. Retirement officially is Jan. 31.

“It’s all good,” he said.

Mr. Rose, who turns 69 in March, began his career with Nanticoke in July 2008. He provided vision, empowered his team and led Nanticoke to become the high quality, honored healthcare system it is today.

In 2019, Nanticoke received an IBM-Watson 100 Top Hospital award and was recently recognized by Becker’s Hospital Review as one of this year’s 100 Great Community Hospitals.

Mr. Rose himself was recognized by Becker’s from 2014 through 2019 as one of the Top 50 Rural CEOs to Know. Also, during his tenure, the Nanticoke Physician Network grew from five physicians to over 50 providers.

All these accolades from a healthcare system that nearly 12 years ago was broke – literally.

“The challenges when we came to Nanticoke, we’re pretty clear,” said Mr. Rose. “It had no money. It was bankrupt. We didn’t know how we were going to approach that, how we were going to make the payroll. The employee satisfaction was at rock bottom; they couldn’t measure it any lower. Our patient satisfaction was horrible.”

Prior to Mr. Rose’s arrival, a series of closures had taken place at Nanticoke Memorial — the fifth floor, the first floor and pediatrics.

“And I was like the fifth CEO in four years. It was a revolving door and they couldn’t keep anybody there,” Mr. Rose said. “So, I presented a plan to the board. I said, ‘Look, I think I can turn it around but you kind of have to go by the plan. You’re not going to make this work by keep closing beds. You need to open those beds. To open those beds, you need physicians. They are the ones who fill the beds, not the hospital.’ We needed to go out and hire some more doctors. I put together a plan.”

Steve Rose was honored at the 2019 Nanticoke Tributes event for his many years of service to Nanticoke Health Services. From left, Penny Short, president, Nanticoke Memorial Hospital; Mr. Rose; and David Crouse, chair of Nanticoke Health Services board of directors. (Special to the Delaware State News/ Jim Hill, Hilltop Studios)

Mr. Rose also instituted a more local approach, noting several high-level officials were interim directors. A couple lived far away from Western Sussex County, in Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

“We needed local people,” said Mr. Rose.

He interviewed Penny Short, who took on the role of chief nurse. Tom Brown was asked to add physician recruitment to his role with Nanticoke. “He did a great job with it and grew the physician network,” said Mr. Rose.

A couple years later, Denise Jester came aboard as chief financial officer for Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.

The ship was no longer sinking.

“And we started working with our employees. We started making rounds all the time, to find out what was going wrong – and just talking to them,” said Mr. Rose.

To address Nanticoke’s immediate financial woes, Mr. Rose recalls calling upon then-Sen. Thurman Adams, a powerful, influential member of the Delaware General Assembly.

“On the money, it’s that old story about going to see Sen. Adams in Bridgeville and telling him that I needed like $4 million,” said Mr. Rose. “He picks up the phone and calls what was then the economic development office, and says, ‘I need a check for $4 million by Friday. It was like $4,283,000 – a lot of money. He did it, which is pretty amazing and a great reflection on Delaware, I think.”

The turnabout did not happen overnight.

“It took a long time,” said Mr. Rose. “We had to gain the trust of the employees. We had to gain the trust of the community. We had to gain the trust of the physicians. It took a lot of time and a lot of effort.”

“We went from being worst to first, really. In 2019 we got the IBM-Watson Top 100 Hospital Award, which is just phenomenal. That’s like the Oscars of hospital awards,” Mr. Rose said. “There is like 3,500 hospitals. They pick the top 100. There are five categories, about 20 in each group. So, you figure, out of all the hospitals that have 100 beds of less, which is a lot of them, and we were in the top 100. That all reflects on our quality, our service and our finances. So, pretty cool!”

“Steve’s leadership over the last 11 years has been invaluable. He came to us at a critical time in our history. He saw the potential of our people and our community. With his guidance, Nanticoke earned the prestigious IBM Watson Top 100 Hospital,” said David Crouse, chair of the Nanticoke Health Services board of directors. “He leaves us with a strong leadership team and a new and exciting partnership with Peninsula Regional Health Services, ensuring we can continue our mission. Steve has a love for this institution and the employees that is truly inspiring. The Nanticoke community will miss him deeply.”

Indeed, Mr. Rose is leaving as Nanticoke embarks on the affiliation with Peninsula Regional Health Services. The actual “membership substitution” as Mr. Rose calls it occurred Jan. 1, 2020. Through it, Nanticoke Health Services essentially dissolved; Nanticoke Memorial Hospital retains its name.

Ms. Short in 2019 was named president of Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.

The affiliation process was a long process.

“When we were going through it, we took a long time – we, being the board of directors and my staff,” said Mr. Rose. “And we sort of made the analogy to dating. You know you always want to date while you look good. So, that’s what we did. We looked pretty good. We are a Top 100 hospital. We were very appealing to a lot of suiters. And it was a great process. We think we made a great choice in working with Peninsula.”

One of Mr. Rose’s treasured memories is becoming a first for the First State on the American Hospital Association board. He served a three-year term.

“I think one of the highlights for my career was being on the board of directors for the American Hospital Association, which started by the way 1898. I was the first Delawarean on the board, so it took a long time for a Delawarean to get on the board,” he said. “I was very humbled by that. It was a lot of work and a lot travel. But it really gave me an opportunity to bring a lot back to my hospital.”

About Steve Rose

Mr. Rose graduated from Penn State University on an Army scholarship in 1974 armed with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant and spent three years on active duty at West Point’s U.S. Military Academy Hospital.

He returned to Penn State and earned a master’s degree in nursing with the intent to be a nurse practitioner but chose a career in hospital administration accepting the position as chief nurse at Germantown Hospital in Philadelphia in 1978.

In 1985 he became the chief operating officer at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania until 1996. He then held similar positions in hospitals in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Indiana before arriving in Delaware.

Mr. Rose also earned a post-master’s certificate in hospital administration from Villanova University.

In addition to his term on American Hospital Association board of directors during which he chaired the AHA’s Region 3 Policy Board, Mr. Rose has also chaired the Delaware Healthcare Association Board and was the inaugural board chair of eBrightHealth, a joint venture of five Delaware hospitals.

Currently he is on the board of the Coalition to Protect America’s Hospitals.

Mr. Rose retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of lieutenant colonel with 30 years of total service. He and his wife Rosie reside in Heritage Shores in Bridgeville. They have seven children, 10 grandchildren and three dogs.

“I have no plans to go anywhere else,” said Mr. Rose. “I am going to be 69 years old. I have worked for 45 years. Now, that I have been mulling this over I think my wife and I are planning to travel a little bit more and see our 10 grandchildren more often … and do some other things.”

They plan to stay put in Delaware.

“Our kids are all spread out,” Mr. Rose said. “We like it here. We like Delaware.”