With a warm smile and a firm handshake, Florida Hospital Heartland Divisions' new chief executive officer Eric Stevens introduced himself and offered his vision for improving services that impact patient care in Highlands and Hardee counties.
"Health care in America has been rewarded for years for its acuity and volume, he said. "Most of the infrastructure has been built around taking care of ill people and doing it effectively rather than investing in keeping people healthy. We have a product that is too expense, that too many people don't have access to. We have to produce a product that is more reliable, safe and an experience that is more confidence inspiring."
On Jan. 2, Stevens assumed leadership of three area hospitals - Florida Hospital Heartland Medical Center in Sebring, Florida Hospital Lake Placid, and Florida Hospital Wauchula.
Stevens replaced Warren Santander who came out of retirement to act as interim CEO after Tim Cook's transfer to Florida Hospital Deland on Sept. 13.
A sign in the entry of Florida Hospital Heartland's second floor offices reads "Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ," a motto this 30 year veteran of the health care industry takes seriously.
A California native whose father was a Seven Day Adventist school teacher, Stevens always displayed a passion for the medical field.
He attended Pacific Union College, graduating with a bachelor's degree in nursing in 1985.
"Nursing offered me a way to finance my other goals," explained Stevens, who continued his education at St. Francis University, attaining his degree in health care administration.
Coming from humble beginnings and working his way up to become a senior executive in the Adventist Health System, Stevens has earned the respect and admiration of co-workers.
"I've been impressed with Eric's knowledge of health care and his quick grasp of the needs of patients in our rural areas," said state Sen. Denise Grimsley, who is vice president of operations at Florida Hospital Wauchula. "I think he is going to be a great asset to our community and (will) help us advance a better quality of life across the board."
Since 2000, Stevens has held several key positions with Adventist Health Systems, which has 44 hospitals in 10 states.
Before accepting the offer to oversee the Florida Hospital Heartland Division, Stevens was vice president of operations at Florida Hospital Orlando where he worked hand in hand with the Florida Hospital Transplant Institute and TransLife Organ Procurement Organization.
Stevens said that healthcare is an essential part of his family life, with his wife, Darlene, being a nurse practitioner who teaches at the University of Central Florida, College of Nursing.
The family has purchased a home on Lake Jackson and will be moving in the final week of January. Their son, Collin, is attending his first year of college at the University of Miami.
An avid reader, paddle boarder and golfer, the 52-year-old is looking forward to life in Highlands County.
"Both of us come from rural settings, despite having lived in larger cities, we like the feel of it and the ability to connect with community," he remarked. "I do want to learn how to bass fish."
Community service is also important to the Stevens family, who volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and Shepherd's Hope, an all-volunteer health center providing care for needy families in Orlando.
"We organized a group that built a home for the Udeh family," said Stevens, pointing to the 2012 Habitat for Humanity award displayed in his newly decorated Sebring office.
"Florida Hospital Heartland Division has 1500 employees. So when you think of the impact we can have on a community, not only with healthcare but as an economic engine, we are a group of well-intended people that can pull together and do large things," said Stevens.