More than 160 years ago Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and four Sisters of Providence arrived in Washington and began establishing hospitals, schools, and orphanages for the needy across the state.
In her final words before she died, Mother Joseph told her sisters, “Whatever concerns the poor is always our affair.”
Mother Joseph’s legacy of compassion was one of the main factors that inspired Erik Wexler to join Providence Health & Services as the senior vice president and chief executive of the Los Angeles region in May 2016.
Two months after signing on, the 53-year old Wexler worked closely with Providence leadership as it merged with St. Joseph Health to form a new organization, Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH).
Today, PSJH’s network spans across seven states (Alaska, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington) and includes 51 hospitals and more than 800 clinics.
Wexler leads the vast region of Los Angeles and Orange counties and the High Desert area that includes 13 hospitals, approximately 90 clinics, Trinity Care Hospice and its Trinity Kids Care pediatric hospice, Providence High School, home health care services, eight wellness centers and numerous physician groups.
Together these ministries generate $7.5 billion in net revenue and have approximately 35,000 employees – called caregivers – and nearly 5,200 physicians on staff.
“From day one, the people at PSJH accepted me,” Wexler said. “They are committed to the mission of serving all, especially the poor and the vulnerable and that makes the difference. I think of this as a calling, not a job.”
Wexler was born in Long Island, New York, but the family that included his mother and father and two sisters moved to Aberdeen, New Jersey shortly after his birth. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a master’s in Business Administration from the University of Hartford.
It was during his time as a Hartford student that Wexler first became interested in health care.
“I was a security guard at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford and I felt a closeness and a compassion to the patients,” he said. “I felt health care was meaningful work and it became my calling.”
Ironically, it was a visit to a California hospital that introduced Wexler to Providence Health Care and it would change his life.
“My father was in Redondo Beach for work and he suffered a heart attack,” Wexler said. “My mother and I immediately traveled to California to be with my dad. He was a patient at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance and I was extremely impressed with the hospitals ministries and how they cared for my father. They saved his life and he recovered and is still doing well 10 years later.
“During my stay, I got to experience the South Bay and fantasized about living there.”
Wexler spent five years with Tenet Health Care as chief executive for its Northeast Region where he oversaw operations in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois. While at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, Wexler said he awoke one morning and felt he wanted to expand his horizons. He felt he was capable of taking on more responsibilities and he was interested in getting involved with a not-for-profit health organization, rather than dealing with stockholders and investors.
A few later weeks, Wexler was contacted by a recruiter and the process of his new career challenge would soon bring him to PSJH in California.
“It was an easy transition coming from the East Coast to the West Coast for us,” said Wexler. “My wife Stephanie and I love the outdoors. The weather is fantastic here and we hike, bicycle and camp year-round. It was a great match and we wished we did it 20 years ago.”
The real eye opener for Wexler, however, was the manner in which the PSJH caregivers carried out their daily mission.
“I was drawn to our caregivers–not only how they focus on their patients, but on each other,” Wexler said. “They display the values of compassion, dignity, justice, excellence and integrity every day.”
Wexler reflected on PSJH’s core values that began over 365 years ago when the Sisters of St. Joseph started their humanitarian work in France. Today, PSJH still fosters that same nurturing culture and high standards the Sisters of St. Joseph established centuries ago.
Wexler noted that PSJH invested $1.6 billion into its communities and continues to provide free services such as patient education, health screenings, immunizations, tattoo removals, as well as grants and donations to support community partners.
PSJH is establishing clinics that will include dental and eye care for the needy and its goal is to locate the clinics closer to its customers. Wexler cited that future plans will focus on expanding facilities to treat mental wellness and homelessness throughout Southern California.
More than a century after her death, Mother Joseph’s contributions to health care, education and social services continue to be recognized across America.
“I think Mother Joseph would be proud of how PSJH’s caregivers are continuing her work today,” Wexler said. “We aspire to provide dignity and compassion and that’s what Jesus did.”