Spotlight on Deb McGrew, chief operating officer, Health System

Jul 15, 2015, 14:42 PM by KirstiAnn Clifford
deb-mcgrewDeb McGrew has been at UTMB since 2013 and serves as vice president and chief operating officer of the UTMB Health System. She is responsible for leading, planning and integrating numerous aspects of the Health System, including its hospitals, clinics and ancillary services, as well as Correctional Managed Care.

McGrew shared what life is like as COO of a growing academic health center.


What does the Road Ahead look like for you?
UTMB has undergone tremendous growth, which has been good financially and is creating a clear footprint for UTMB within the market. When the League City Campus opens, we’ll become a three-hospital health system and this, along with the new clinic sites, will require a strategic approach to determine what services are offered at each location, ensure consistency of quality of care across all sites and preserve what makes each of these sites special while integrating and solidifying a common UTMB approach to care delivery.

Most importantly, all of this growth is really about our patients and families — providing them convenient access to exceptional health care and being their partners in managing their own health. We must continue to ask patients and families what’s best for them and provide services when, how and where they want them.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
What gets me excited about my work is serving our patients, staff and faculty. So the best part of my job is when we do something that improves patient care or makes things better for our faculty or staff. Every week I spend two hours shadowing our staff, and this is always the best part of my week because I get to meet our faculty and staff and learn so much. The weekly shadowing helps me understand how to best support our faculty and staff.

You recently had an article published in JAMA Internal Medicine, which is pretty unusual for an administrator. What’s the article about?
Yes, most administrators don’t spend a great deal of time on publications like our faculty colleagues do. After going through rounds of rejection and rewrites I have sincere admiration for our faculty who are balancing publications, grant applications and patient care. The article demonstrates that an Acute Care for the Elderly Unit (ACE) is more efficient than usual care. What is really interesting about the article is that it shows using the same staffing complement organized as an intra-professional team operating in a patient- and family-centered model actually saves money while demonstrating better patient outcomes.

What career advice would you give future leaders in health care administration?
When I work with graduate and undergraduate students I always encourage them to get a part-time job as a patient care tech or a patient services specialist in a clinic to help ground their classroom learning in reality. It helps them appreciate that trying to implement simple things to help patients are sometimes complicated by bad process, poor equipment choices, poor communication, poor change management, etc. I also advise them to find mentors inside and outside the field to serve as advisors throughout their career.

Describe what you were like at age 10.
I was a tomboy with a really bad Dorothy Hamill haircut. I loved science, reading and playing soccer and softball. I consulted my mom on this question and she said I “was a challenge at age 10!”

What have you always wanted to do but have not done yet? 
I’d love to have formal culinary training. I love to cook and to have time to actually learn the technical skills and foundations would be a lot of fun.

If you were stuck on an island what three things would you bring?
I’m a very practical person. Assuming I can’t choose a boat so I could leave when I was ready or Les Stroud from the show “Survivorman,” I would say a survival knife, a well-stocked first-aid kit and a survival guide because, while I have watched quite a bit of “Survivorman,” having a guide to collect water, find edible plants and build shelter would come in handy.