Charlotte Memorial Hospital received its first patients in 1940 as World War II raged in Europe. More than eighty years later, the stand-alone facility has grown into an integrated nonprofit health system known as Atrium Health. Although much has changed as the system has grown, its mission and vision remain the same: To bring high-quality care to everyone in the greater Charlotte region.
Daniel Gandarilla, Atrium Health’s senior vice president and chief talent officer, came to Atrium Health in 2020 to help its leaders fulfill that mission by strengthening corporate culture and building an effective workforce. While there’s plenty of work to be done, Gandarilla says the health system’s strong foundation attracted him to the role.
“We want to be national leaders in care, and we’re committed to improving health outcomes for all,” he explains. “Those two words—‘for all’—are very intentional and important to what we do, and they drive our strategy.”
In order to build strong teams that can provide the best care, Gandarilla knows he needs to, as he puts it, “get everyone moving in the same direction.” Fortunately, that’s something he’s spent his entire life doing, even before he started working in healthcare.
He’s worked as a resident assistant, tutor, teacher, and coach. After five years as a high school social studies teacher, Gandarilla realized that he wanted to expand his influence. “I was preparing young people and sending them out into the world, only to watch as they encountered barriers they needed assistance to overcome,” he says.
Although he already held a master’s degree from Stanford, the realization motivated him to pursue an MBA from Texas Christian University. Gandarilla intended to launch a charter school or start a nonprofit to help students find new career paths, but pivoted when he discovered human resources as a way to provide those same opportunities.
In 2012, Gandarilla joined Texas Health Resources to manage learning and organizational development, including a virtual career center. While there, he worked his way up to the role of chief learning officer. The eight years he spent at the organization made him passionate about focusing on people and creating strong employee experiences in the healthcare industry.
These experiences helped prepare Gandarilla to step into his latest position during an important era. By his arrival in 2020, Atrium Health (previously known as Carolinas HealthCare System) comprised forty hospitals and 1,400 care locations staffed by 70,000 employees, 3,700 physicians, and nearly 2,000 nurses.
Additionally, Atrium Health has formed high-profile “strategic combinations” to expand its reach. A partnership with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and Wake Forest University School of Medicine has created one of the nation’s largest academic health systems, while similar partnerships with Atrium Health Navicent and Atrium Health Floyd expand care to patients in Georgia and parts of Alabama.
Gandarilla is implementing the necessary leadership and organizational development strategies to unite all of the systems. “Forming strategic combinations gives us the opportunity to do things in better and more efficient ways as we leverage our strengths and discover the best practices we can carry forward through these relationships,” he says.
As Atrium Health expands and evolves, Gandarilla recognizes the chance to create opportunities for two populations: patients and employees, particularly those coming from underserved communities. Administrators will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into these strategic combinations to enhance care, skills, facilities, equipment, and technology over the next several years. At the same time, Gandarilla and team are helping those from underserved communities to discover pathways into the organization and find their way to economic mobility and a stable career.
One way he will accomplish that goal is through enhancing a career development center that launched in 2019. The center gives teammates and leaders the chance to learn about official development programs and access educational resources and other materials. “This is a focus for us because we want to onboard great talent, and we want the people who are already here to understand that they can get the training and certifications they desire to advance in their careers without having to leave the organization,” Gandarilla says.
The center is also home to Atrium Health’s Rise to Success initiative, a program that helps qualified high school graduates pursue associate degrees in healthcare fields from regional community colleagues as they seek employment at one of the system’s facilities. Atrium Health matches each participant with a career coach and pays for books, tuition, and other expenses.
These efforts are just some of the ways Daniel Gandarilla and his colleagues are helping Atrium Health win the war for talent—they’re also creating the right benefits, compensation, and rewards packages. Across-the-board wage increases plus incentive plans for its workers totaled more than $180 million last year. Increasing its minimum wage again this year represents an additional $25 million investment. In the past ten years, the health system has more than doubled its minimum wage. Atrium Health has also increased nursing pay by 17.5 percent in recent months.
In today’s hybrid work environment, employee engagement is more important than ever before. After leading a listening exercise, Gandarilla, his team, and HR colleagues introduced new culture commitments and huddle guides leaders can use to increase interactions and drive meaningful conversations. Some leaders connect with their teammates through remote “breakfast club” huddles or even virtual cooking demonstrations.
While these smaller events foster camaraderie and promote culture, one annual event unites employees like nothing else can. It’s the yearly Atrium Health Has Talent contest, which started in 2004 and helps celebrate the diversity, talent, and creativity within Atrium Health. Participants take to the stage to showcase their abilities in music, poetry, dance, and more.
Last year’s winner was Tia Jackson, a referral coordinator at the Women’s Center for Pelvic Health, who sang All I Ask by Adele. In the televised finale (which has more than 10,000 views on YouTube), Jackson shares why the experience is important to her. “Music is powerful because it’s therapeutic,” she says. “It feels good knowing that when I sing it touches people…this opportunity makes me feel Atrium Health proud because we’re still able to touch lives with our gifts outside of our normal work area.”
An engaged workforce is critical as Atrium Health has emerged as one of the leading systems in virtual care delivery. Gandarilla wants to train 750 new employees for new career paths in 2022 and 2,000 total trainees by the end of 2025.
As they look ahead, they’ll work with key partners to create pathways to the roles of the future. In March of 2022, Atrium Health and Wexford Science & Technology announced plans to become part of a new “The Pearl” innovation district, with Wake Forest University School of Medicine as an anchor tenant. “There are a lot of exciting developments happening,” Daniel Gandarilla says. “And we have the right people strategies in place to serve this region well into the future.”