LEWISTON — In the three months since Chris A. Chekouras became the newest president and CEO of St. Mary’s Health System, he’s met with dozens of people.

Hospital leaders. Doctors. St. Mary’s board members. Community members. About 100 in all, and all consistently positive, eager to talk about St. Mary’s care, compassion and commitment.

But Chekouras always has a question: What would you do differently?

“It ranges from folks saying, ‘Well, we have too many meetings, to plans for how do we take programs that we have here and continue to expand,” Chekouras said. “People have been very open with their suggestions.”

Any suggestions he’s excited about?

“I’m excited about it all,” he said.

Chekouras, 52, was hired in July to replace outgoing president and CEO Lee Myles. He took over Oct. 5, overseeing both the health system and its St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, one of the largest hospitals in the state.

Chekouras is no stranger to hospital leadership. Before St. Mary’s, he was senior vice president of post-acute and community-based services at Virtua, a southern New Jersey health care system with three hospitals.

But Chekouras didn’t start out wanting a career in health care administration. Raised in Pennsylvania, he graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in child and adolescent development and plans to attend the University of Maryland’s graduate social work program.

At the University of Maryland, he’d hoped to research family dynamics surrounding alcoholism and substance abuse, but it wasn’t to be. The research wasn’t available, he said, and he became disillusioned with graduate school.

Chekouras left school and went to work for the American Red Cross, where he spent the next 14 years working on collection and distribution of blood with hospitals throughout the mid-Atlantic region. 

Chekouras returned to graduate school — Loyola University Maryland — where he earned a master’s degree in business administration. He spent several years at Harbor Hospital in Maryland, where he worked in business development, marketing/communication and philanthropy.

He spent the past nine years at Virtua.

“My entire career has been in areas that are in the service industry, providing services and care for other people. That’s always been the attraction,” he said.

Chekouras and his wife began looking for a new adventure last year, when the youngest of their two daughters was getting ready to graduate from high school. Around that time, St. Mary’s started looking for a new CEO. 

The opportunity was far from his New Jersey home and his mid-Atlantic roots. But he was taken with the Lewiston health system.

“St. Mary’s has a rich history here in this community serving the needs of patients of all religions, all ethnicities. Serving the needs of those that are on the fringes of the community. That mission to serve was very appealing to me,” Chekouras said. “I had not worked for a Catholic health system before, but that also had an appeal to me.”

The people clinched it for him.

“Everybody that we met here at St. Mary’s or associated with St. Mary’s was extremely committed to the mission, exhibited the values. They just embodied them,” Chekouras said. “Everyone that we met in the community was very welcoming and supportive. My wife and I said, ‘This feels right’.”

Chekouras has no big changes planned for St. Mary’s. However, he can foresee a future with greater collaboration with other hospitals and more use of health monitoring and technology to help people stay out of the hospital — for both better care and lower costs.    

“Health care as an industry is going through a lot of changes and we have to continue to adapt to those changes and be prepared to do the best we can to meet the needs of the community,” he said. “There’s a lot for us to focus on.”

He sees a bright future for St. Mary’s, and it’s one he plans to be there for. Although Chekouras has been there just three months, he sees himself leaving St. Mary’s only for retirement.

“There’s such a strong group of folks here, I’m very proud to be associated with them,” he said.

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