Registered nurse-turned-CEO Art Gladstone now helms both Straub Clinic & Hospital as well as Pali Momi Medical Center.

Art Gladstone, the chief executive officer of Straub Clinic & Hospital and Pali Momi Hospital, is great at putting out fires—literally.

Before choosing a career in health care, Gladstone worked as a forestry firefighter in Alberta, Canada. Through that position, he met his wife, Michelle, and one of her family members introduced him to the idea of becoming a nurse, just a step beyond the emergency medical technician (EMT) career that he was already pursuing.

“I didn’t like being an EMT; it was too much boredom, followed by a little bit of excitement, then boredom,” Gladstone says. “I looked into psychiatric nursing, and decided it sounded pretty good.”

Gladstone worked as a psychiatric nurse at Ponoka Hospital, and after transferring to Red Deer College’s Registered Nursing Program, became the very first male registered on the gynecological floor. While Gladstone became a nurse when it was an unconventional decision for a man, he said his parents, who were from Pincher Creek—a small town of about 5,000 people in Southern Alberta, Canada—supported his decision. Gladstone says they saw nursing as a respectable job with opportunity for growth and stability.

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Photo by Nathalie Walker

The fifth and youngest child of a mechanic, Jack Gladstone, and a homemaker, Frances Gladstone, who served as the housekeeper for the Catholic Church, Gladstone says he grew up valuing hard work. At 11, he took over an older brother’s newspaper route; and by 14, he was working as a janitor for the small Catholic school. His ambitions took him to Mount Royal College in Calgary, where his cross-country coach put him on this current path by talking him out of becoming a physical education teacher/coach.

“I ended up working in forestry for three years, and then [I turned] to nursing,” Gladstone says.

In 1990, he interviewed at hospitals across O’ahu, ultimately settling on Pali Momi.

“Art is well respected as a leader in our organization. Many of the staff at Pali Momi remember him working alongside of them when he was a staff nurse, and many are very proud of his accomplishments,” says Brigitte McKale, vice president of patient services and chief nurse executive at Pali Momi Medical Center. “He is very personable, and manages to stay calm under pressure.”

After occupying progressively advanced leadership roles at Pali Momi, Gladstone moved into Straub Clinic & Hospital, where he did the same. In April 2013, he was named CEO of the 159-bed facility, which boasts more than 400 physicians and 1,916 employees. He took on the same role at Pali Momi on July 1, 2015. The 128-bed Pali Momi has 398 physicians on staff and some 1,190 employees.

Patty Boeckmann, chief operating officer, Straub Clinic & Hospital, says Gladstone’s sincerity and adherence to the organization’s mission have impressed her.

“Art can, at one minute, be picking up litter from the halls of the hospital, and the next, chairing a board,” she says. “He can be talking story with a housekeeper, and the next, transition fluidly into a conversation with a physician about a critical need.”

Under his leadership, Boeckmann says Straub has achieved six years of recognition for “Excellence in Patient Experience,” in addition to three years of recognition for safety from Healthgrades. Gallup has recognized the company four times as an outstanding place to work, and Consumer Reports has called it the safest hospital in Hawai`i.

“There are more awards and recognitions. But Art consistently reminds us that the reason we do what we do is not [about] the rewards, but to support and satisfy our missions,” she says.

Mary Boland, dean of the University of Hawai`i School of Nursing, says Gladstone’s nursing experience has made him an ideal health care manager.

“Nurses by nature are not usually ego-driven. They are about meeting people where they are, and taking them beyond where they often didn’t believe that they could go,” Boland says.

Chip Hammond, who serves as the Straub Clinic & Hospital board chairman, says he most admires Gladstone’s ability to lead.

“He encourages effort and ideas from his team, and trusts them to implement them,” Hammond states.

Gladstone says the secret to his team’s success is ensuring that everyone—from the housekeeping and maintenance staff, to physicians and beyond—are focused on delivering the highest-quality care.

“We need to make everything about the patients,” he says. “I don’t ask people to memorize our mission; I ask them to figure out how they can help make patient care the absolute best.”

Boeckmann says Gladstone sets a positive example by bringing an obviously strong moral framework to daily decisions. For example, she recalls a recent instance, where a patient needed a very rare and costly procedure.

“Art used his moral compass to make the decision that we needed to go ahead, even though, at that point, our ability to be paid for that procedure was in question,” she says. “His comment to me was, ‘Under similar circumstances, if it were my family member, I would want them to have every opportunity available.'”

Gladstone says it’s important to keep people at the heart of decisions, especially when hospitals throughout the nation are rapidly changing to accommodate new requirements and reimbursement programs. From his own experiences in patient care, Gladstone has learned that, often, it’s the little things that make the most difference.

While serving as the after-hours and weekend manager at Pali Momi, Gladstone says he developed a tight relationship with a patient—who he now calls “Mr. H”—who was a Japanese man frequently admitted to the hospital—first, for an aortic aneurysm, and later, cancer. Mr. H endured many lengthy hospital stays before transitioning to hospice.

“I still remember my last day with him. He told me, ‘I’m going home,'” Gladstone recalls. “Six hours later, he passed away. The coolest thing is that the family asked me to be the master of ceremonies at his memorial service. I still keep in touch with them. It has to be all about our patients; they have to come first.”