Close this search box.

Dr. Jeff Comer: Balancing Leadership, Innovation, and Compassion in Regional Healthcare

Dr. Jeff Comer

Follow Us:

Overview :

  • With two decades in hospital and corporate CEO roles, Dr. Jeff Comer now leads Summit Healthcare, a hospital prized for its familial environment.
  • As a hospital CEO at the young age of 31, he has led hospitals of all sizes and corporate roles, focusing on helping struggling hospitals remain open and thrive.
  • Dr. Comer expressed his passion for community hospitals, stating, “There is truly nothing like the family feel of participating in a hospital that is critical to the community and staffed by people who care what happens to it.”

Dr. Jeff Comer, FACHE is a seasoned healthcare executive with over 20 years of experience as a hospital and corporate CEO. Most recently, he found his calling at Summit Healthcare, a smaller community hospital that aligns with his preference for fostering a close-knit, family atmosphere.

Dr. Comer is a multi-faceted individual. He pens a regular column on stress, burnout, and psychoneuroimmunology for Psychology Today. His expertise has been featured in various media outlets like Yahoo Finance, the Economic Times, and Thrive Global. In addition, he is a sought-after speaker at industry events, tackling topics like leadership, healthcare administration, and navigating career challenges.

An avid aviator, Dr. Comer holds a certified Airline Transport Pilot license and has been flying since his high school days in Flagstaff, Arizona. His deep appreciation for the local culture around Summit Healthcare stems from his Arizona upbringing. He believes in understanding and aligning with the community’s values, which he sees as crucial for employee morale and overall success.

In a recent interview with Global Healthcare Magazine, Dr. Comer reiterated his passion for community hospitals, stating, “There is truly nothing like the family feel of participating in a hospital that is critical to the community and staffed by people who care what happens to it.” “We cannot think of a better place to call home,” he added.

GHM: Dr. Comer, your background is fascinating! Could you please tell us about your educational journey and the areas of specialization that shaped your career?

Dr. Jeff Comer: Growing up in Arizona, I was a loyal Sun Devil through and through (Arizona State University alumnus!). My initial passion was psychology, leading me to pursue a bachelor’s degree there. Later, I transitioned to the healthcare management field, obtaining a Master’s in Health Administration from Washington University in St. Louis.

However, my interest in psychology never truly waned. This led me to pursue a Doctorate in Psychology from California Southern University, focusing on psychoneuroimmunology – the connection between mind, body, and immune system.

My dissertation specifically explored effective treatments for PTSD in combat veterans. This research opened doors to share my knowledge with VA and active-duty clinical staff, which has been incredibly rewarding.

Rounding out my academic achievements, I hold a Fellowship from the American College of Healthcare Executives, a prestigious designation I’ve maintained for 30 years.

An Unexpected Turn towards Leadership

While my father, a hospital administrator, undoubtedly influenced me, becoming a hospital CEO at the young age of 31 wasn’t initially on my radar. However, I found myself following in his footsteps, leading hospitals of all sizes – from rural facilities to larger inner-city hospitals.

My career also involved corporate CEO roles, including my current position at Summit Healthcare. A significant portion of my work has focused on helping hospitals struggling to remain open and thrive.

GHM: Summit Healthcare seems to hold a significant place in the community. Can you tell us about its origins and core values?

Dr. Jeff Comer: Absolutely. Summit Healthcare is a proud independent health system with over 50 years of serving our community. It began as a merger between two smaller hospitals, evolving into the regional referral center and largest employer it is today. We provide comprehensive care to a population exceeding 120,000 within our primary service area.

Our mission statement perfectly encapsulates our purpose: “We are trusted to deliver exceptional, compassionate care close to home.” This core principle guides every decision we make, from myself to the Board of Directors. It’s the foundation upon which we strive to provide exceptional healthcare to our community.

GHM: As a regional medical center, Summit Healthcare prioritizes patient care close to home. Could you please elaborate on your core offerings and what makes them unique?

Dr. Jeff Comer: That’s a great question. While we function as a full-service general medical and surgical health system, what truly sets Summit apart is the breadth of specialized services we provide – a rarity for a regional center.

We offer expertise in areas often unseen in smaller settings, such as medical and radiation oncology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, electrophysiology, neonatal intensive care, and invasive cardiology. Additionally, we boast comprehensive imaging services, ensuring patients have access to the latest diagnostic tools.

GHM: What age groups do you primarily serve, and what are their most common pain points?

Dr. Comer: At Summit Healthcare, we truly believe in comprehensive care across generations. We serve everyone, from critically ill newborns requiring neonatal intensive care to our valued senior population needing compassionate end-of-life services. We take pride in our ability to address a broad spectrum of needs, from routine outpatient procedures like blood work to complex surgical interventions.

GHM: Leading a regional medical center like Summit Healthcare must be a demanding role. Can you give us a glimpse into your typical workday and what aspects you find most fulfilling?

Dr. Jeff Comer: I wish there was a typical day! They are all highly variable, which keeps it exciting. I always start my day with an early morning workout with my wife – a great way to clear my head and energize for the day ahead. Then, it’s tackling emails and texts before diving into a mix of internal rounds, strategic planning sessions, meetings, and community events.

The most rewarding aspects of my job are twofold. Firstly, I’m a strategic thinker at heart. I love analyzing market data, disease trends, financials, and community needs. This allows me to develop strategic plans that improve our community’s health while maintaining financial stability. It is quite rewarding to make decisions that positively affect entire populations.

Secondly, I have deep respect for the people who work in hospitals. Dealing with the immense pressure and stress of life-or-death situations takes a special kind of person. This applies to everyone, regardless of title or position.

GHM: What challenges did you face in your career journey? How did you tackle them?

Dr. Jeff Comer: I have spent a large part of my career completing turnarounds at hospitals that were on the verge of closing. These facilities faced a multitude of issues: negative financial margins, quality concerns, low staff morale, and a weak community image. Often, the situation demanded immediate action focused on cost control, leaving little room for long-term growth strategies. These decisions were often difficult and painful.

I won’t deny that these roles took a toll on me and my family – a burden I still carry. However, I always approached these challenges head-on with complete transparency. My priority was ensuring the hospital’s long-term viability, which meant making tough decisions.

While these periods were personally demanding, I am proud to know that there are hospitals still in business, taking care of their communities due to my efforts. Thankfully, my current role at Summit allows me to focus entirely on positive growth and expansion, a welcome change!

GHM: Strong leadership is essential in the healthcare industry. What strategies do you employ to build and lead a successful team within Summit Healthcare?

Dr. Jeff Comer: In my view, we’ve overcomplicated leadership. The core principles are actually quite simple: openness, transparency, visibility, hard work, and trust. I strive to clearly communicate expectations and the rationale for them, then empower my team members to excel in their roles. This allows me to function as a coach, cheerleader, and supporter rolled into one.

GHM: The healthcare landscape is constantly evolving. What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities you see on the horizon for regional medical centers like Summit Healthcare?

Dr. Jeff Comer: The answer, frankly, is complex. Nationally, healthcare faces a precarious situation. Reimbursement rates are steadily declining, regulations are on the rise, consumer expectations are shifting, and staffing shortages – both nurses and physicians – are reaching critical levels. All while costs continue to skyrocket. Studies suggest that approximately 65% of hospitals are operating at a loss. This isn’t sustainable.

In my view, survival for hospitals hinges on critical and innovative strategic thinking. Unfortunately, many hospitals have been absorbed into large healthcare systems, not known for their entrepreneurial spirit. We cannot continue to simply look into our four walls and do what we have done for the last 50 years.

We must consider new revenue streams, financing mechanisms, and creative approaches to bringing care to our populations. Furthermore, we must rebuild a strong sense of community, with hospitals at the center.

At Summit Healthcare, we’re actively pursuing unique and exciting strategies, all focused on benefiting our community.

GHM: With the future of healthcare in mind, what exciting new services or solutions is Summit Healthcare developing to serve your patients best?

Dr. Jeff Comer: We are thrilled to be implementing Acute Hospital Care at Home, aligning perfectly with our mission. This innovative approach allows us to admit lower-acuity patients to their homes instead of traditional hospital rooms. Medicare now offers waivers for acute care hospitals to provide this service with full reimbursement.

Patients in this program receive two daily nursing visits and one physician visit; all while being monitored with advanced technology that allows clinical staff to track their vitals continuously. The empirical research on this approach is incredibly promising, demonstrating improvements in patient satisfaction, nurse satisfaction, and clinical outcomes.

Furthermore, it reduces costs, falls, hospital-acquired infections, and patient stress. This cutting-edge strategy is generating a lot of excitement within our community, and we’re eager to get started.

GHM: How do you manage to have a perfect work-life balance? What are your hobbies/interests beyond the cabin?

Dr. Jeff Comer: Perfect work-life balance? Still working on that! Technology has blurred the lines between work and personal life, and that’s likely here to stay. However, my wife Mariah is my earth, moon, and sky – my priority when I’m home is giving her my full attention, and minimizing texts and emails. Luckily, we share a love for the outdoors, exercise, reading, and simply enjoying a cup of coffee together.

Adding another exciting chapter to our lives, we’re in the process of adopting Si-Yu, an orphaned girl from Taiwan. We expect her to join our family this fall. These personal commitments provide a calming sense of balance from the demanding role of the CEO.

GHM: With over 20 years of experience as a CEO in both healthcare and corporate settings, what advice would you offer aspiring leaders looking to follow in your footsteps?

Dr. Jeff Comer: Having both a CEO background and a Doctorate in Psychology allows me to offer a unique perspective. Leadership positions, particularly CEO roles, are demanding and often misunderstood. They can be isolating, requiring tough decisions that others might shy away from. Inevitably, CEOs face criticism and negativity – something not taught in graduate school.

In my experience, four core values have served me well: courage, humility, integrity, and perseverance. Courage is about making tough choices that benefit the organization, even when personally difficult. I’ve made decisions that were challenging for me but ultimately propelled my organization forward.

Humility is a daily practice. It requires prioritizing the greater good and subjugating your own ego. This involves listening attentively and trusting others with an empathetic approach.

Integrity goes beyond honesty. It demands consistently doing the right thing, acting in the best interests of others, and avoiding gossip or negativity. It’s about keeping your promises and expecting nothing in return.

Perseverance has been crucial. It’s the ability to weather storms – resistance to change, negativity, and insecurity. Developing a thick skin is essential!

Perhaps the best advice I ever received came from my mom at the start of my career: “Always take time to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets.”


Dr. Jeff Comer Quote

Also read: The 10 Most Visionary Healthcare CEOs of 2024

Featured Magazines →

Recent Posts →

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join The Community Of More Than 80,000+ Informed Professionals
Scroll to Top