A Pediatric Penchant

Head of legal for Children’s Hospital Colorado, Michelle Lucero, complements her counsel with a passion that goes far beyond legalities

What’s keeping you busy at Children’s Hospital Colorado?
As an organization, we are primarily committed to high-quality care and low patient harm while also staying committed to transparency. These are issues that usually have some degree of risk from a litigation perspective. So one area that keeps me busy is my interaction with our risk management and quality/patient safety teams as we endeavor to be as transparent as possible, while still protecting our organization. We are in one of the most regulated industries in the country. As such, there are always new regulations and laws that need to be analyzed and implemented. Recently hot on that list are the changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), amending privacy and security regulations regarding personal health information.

thumb_500_Michelle-Lucero-(123)-2013_v2What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
I get emotional when I think about it, but it would have to be being at an organization that truly lives the mission of caring for kids and fighting to cure their diseases. There’s not a day that I don’t walk through our lobby, look into the eyes of these parents, and tear up. But as a friend recently reminded me, I am affected in that way because of my love and passion for the mission. The day I stop tearing up is the day I’ll leave.

How did you decide to pursue your career in the health care field?
I actually grew up wanting to be a physician, not a lawyer. Then I got to college and began considering the number of years it would take to become a doctor. Frankly, I got lazy. I knew I wanted to get married, have kids, and give back to the community and didn’t want to sacrifice the time for those things. An advisor suggested being an attorney in the health care field to fuel both passions.

What would people say are the character traits that serve you best as an attorney?
A few months after I had been in my general counsel role, I met with an executive coach for a review. He discussed my work characteristics, made some assessments, and noted that I had an extremely strong work ethic. He asked what I was working toward, and I answered, to get a position like this: general counsel at one of the top children’s hospitals in the country. He said, “Well, you’ve made it.” I paused, and he said, “You don’t have to work so hard now.” I’m just so used to driving and striving—especially as a Latina. I feel we have this sense that we have to prove we’re good enough, if not better.

Where did you learn that ethic?
My mom was my greatest inspiration for achieving my goals. She only had an eighth-grade education before she fell in love and had children. It was many years later that she earned her GED. And in her 30s she began working toward a college degree—all while raising 11 children. We are a very strong, matriarchal family. Dinner was always on the table, she was at every school function, all while working full-time and being profoundly involved in our community.

What did you respect so much about her?
To my mother, giving back was a given. I remember countless times when a new family came to town, my mom would say, “Let’s get a basket together.” And if there were kids in the family, we’d buy socks or pajamas for them. We would call her sayings “Phyllis-isms.” One of them was, “Whenever you’ve made it, reach down and pull someone else up.”
My mom was tenacious. She once ran for town council against a male incumbent. I remember being at our little town hall for a debate. My mom’s closing statement was smartly deliberate: “You should vote for me because I’m the best man for the job.” I thought, “Wow, that’s my mother!”

What keeps you grounded?
I will adjust a well-known saying, “Behind every successful Latina is a group of sister-friends who love, support, and line her out when necessary.” I have wonderful girlfriends in spades. I simply wouldn’t be where I am without them. And above all, my kids. I have three amazing, caring, giving, smart, and talented children, Jordan, Alex, and Noah Anthony.