Ernie headshot 2023
Ernie Bovio

Incoming Coastal region and Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center President Ernie Bovio is bringing “bold aspirations” wrapped in a “laid-back” leadership style as he prepares to join the organization in January.

Oversight of the Coastal region includes Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center, Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, Novant Health Pender Medical Center, Novant Health New Hanover Orthopedic Hospital and the future Novant Health Scotts Hill Medical Center.

Bovio joins Novant Health from UNC Health, where he most recently led the academic system’s Triangle east region, including UNC Health Rex in Raleigh and three other hospitals. He’s spent most of his career in fast-growing markets and is experienced balancing the need to grow services with other priorities, such as collaborating to advance health access in historically underserved areas and maintaining rural care. (News release here.)

In a wide-ranging discussion with Healthy Headlines, Bovio talked about expanding access to health care, the importance of shadowing health care team members to understand their challenges, and the joys of taking in the Carolina Beach Christmas Parade.

Can you tell us a little bit why this job appealed to you?

One thing is the growth that's taken place in the area. I've been in fast-growing markets most of my career. I understand the importance of trying to keep up with the growth of the community by building capacity and creating more access for those who are seeking our services.

Was there any point in the interviews that made you think: I belong here.

I really got excited when I came down and met with the board and members of the medical staff and the senior leadership team there. I felt a really strong connection to all of them. I thought we kind of hit it off as soon as we started talking and felt really comfortable with all of those groups.

And I'm interested in advancing the Novant Health mission in the region, the commitments that have been made to the health care community, and ensuring that we meet those needs and meet those commitments.

You’ve mentioned the importance of expanding access. What’s an example of your accomplishments around that in your current position?

I think one example that's currently underway is the development of the Scotts Hill hospital. We did something similar in Wake County a couple of years ago, when we opened a hospital in an underserved region of the county. That was in Holly Springs. We partnered with the Federally Qualified Health Center program in Wake County to help provide specialty providers and specialty physicians in their primary care clinics. We started that a couple of years ago, and it's been very successful.

What do you want southeastern North Carolina and Novant Health team members to know about you?

First, I want them to know that I'm excited about getting to know the community. I’ll be bringing my 25-plus years of experience in health care. And I feel like I've been preparing my entire career for this role.

I want everyone to know that I will be visible, accessible and approachable. I want to partner and collaborate with the community. I've got bold aspirations for the region. We’re going to aspire to perform at a level, from a quality, safety and patient experience perspective, that deserves recognition as being among the best hospitals in the state and country to receive health care.

And I'd like to make this the best place for clinicians to provide care. For physicians, for our team members, to be an employer of choice for clinical and clinical support teams.

The region you’ll be overseeing includes a lot of rural areas, including Pender Medical Center. Do you have experience on that front?

In most of the markets that I've served, I've always had rural hospitals and critical access hospitals, so I'm very familiar with their unique needs. And I’m also sensitive to the cultures that exist in those health care facilities. And I want to ensure that we maintain the best of that local team’s culture, but also continue to integrate and bring the best that Novant Health has into those facilities.

You have a reputation for “management by walking around,” getting away from the desk to engage with team members and see the challenges they face firsthand. Why is that important to you?

I don't have a medical background, so I'll dedicate a day a month to work in a particular department with a team member or physician shadowing, rounding to walk in their shoes to see what their day is like. That’s an important part of my routine. I spend a lot of time in the hospital with the physicians, the surgeons in between cases, or before their day starts, I find that's just the best way to keep up pulse checks, solve problems and issues that they're that they're experiencing. That way, as we’re making decisions in the boardroom about resources and other issues, I have a strong perspective.

Any specific example in your current job where you feel like that approach paid off?

Sometimes it’s small things. Recently, I was in the operating rooms with some physicians and a couple of nurses and just listened to their struggles with the electronic health records. They were easy to solve. But no one had and they needed me to escalate it to a certain level to get it solved. That's fulfilling, and it feels good to be able to help them out with those things.

Have you had any family/personal experiences with health care from a patient’s perspective?

I've been pretty healthy my entire life and not really needed to seek extensive health care. But about six, seven years ago, I was diagnosed with a sebaceous carcinoma on my eye lid and had to have surgery to remove the tumor.

As a patient, I was just fascinated by the number of people who I interacted with on the day of surgery. At one point some of the pain meds were wearing off and I was aware of how painful it was. I'm surrounded by a care team. And all of a sudden, someone, I’m not sure who it was, a woman from the lab maybe, reached out and grabbed my hand. And as soon as she did, the pain went away.

It was just an amazing experience to have that physical connection. I’ll never forget that.

What should the people you work with expect when it comes to your leadership style.

I'm very informal and I'm just going to be myself with everyone I interact with. And I think that just being authentic and genuine helps to create trust and credibility. I just try to be down to earth and understand how I can help and support the teams in advancing the mission. I think I'm kind of laid back and I know this has served me well over the past 20-plus years.

You own a condo on the beach, is that correct? What are your impressions of the area and where are you going to live?

We've been down in the Wilmington area hanging out at Carolina Beach for the past three years.

It's very community focused and community oriented. There are always these neat community events going on. And we really enjoy that. Plus, it's small town. And the Christmas parade flotilla is one of the funnest things. We attended a couple of weeks ago. There's just a lot of neat things going on.

And it also meets our lifestyle. We like to be on the water, in the water or by the water. We just want to be outside and want to take advantage of Carolina Beach State Park. It’s just what we like to do.

So this will be a switch for you, coming from Raleigh. You’ll be the president of a large hospital in a relatively small town and bound to hear a variety of opinions and feedback on experiences.

Well, I expect that and welcome it. And, as a matter of fact, over the past couple of months, I've been informally polling residents at Carolina Beach, or in Wilmington. If I'm at a restaurant or in a store, I inquire about health care in the region and I've gotten responses that cover the spectrum. I want to know to how people are experiencing our care, even when the experience is less than stellar. I want to hear about it and work to make it better.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I ride my bike long distances. It's a really good opportunity for meditation, for solving problems. When you spend a lot of time alone on a bike or running, you really have to be comfortable getting in your own head. And I've just found that to be a great, great opportunity for me to reflect and think about things I want to accomplish and how to accomplish them – to problem-solve.