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The first steps to success: Mission hospital CEO discusses beginnings

20121016-Mission-Regional-Medical-Center-Iruegas-003-featureMission Regional Medical Center CEO Javier Iruegas walks down a third floor corridor in the hospital Tuesday afternoon as he visits various departments. Progress Times photo by Doug YoungEveryone starts somewhere.

Before Javier Iruegas, CEO of Mission Regional Medical Center, began his career in health care administration, he was a college student putting himself through school with a part-time job at a pizza joint.

Starting as a cook at Shakey’s Pizza in his native San Antonio, Iruegas moved up to assistant manager as he worked toward his degree in business administration at Trinity University.  

While a future in leadership was in the cards for the young Iruegas, the world of pizza was not. He followed his fondness for business and science to his alma mater’s health care administration master’s program.

“The healthcare field had always interested me,” he said. “I did a lot of science courses in college, as well. I felt that would give me a great opportunity to actually get some real-life experience in a hospital while I was still a student and learn from people that were in the field.”

That took him to the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where he spent a year working as an administrative resident, learning the ins and outs of managing a hospital.

“Part of the training program was I needed to rotate and spend time at every department of the hospital,” Iruegas recalled, “everything from three or four days or weeks, depending on the size of the department, to get into the real details of what they did and how they did it, so it was a great experience.”

When his supervisors left for the evenings or weekends, Iruegas was in charge of administrative duties for the 1,200-bed hospital.  

“I think I knew this was what I wanted to do, but it’s a little scary the first time you’re told, ‘OK, you’re in charge of this 1,200-bed hospital for anything that happens for the next weekend,” he said. “It seems daunting at times, but it’s a team effort. It was a teaching hospital, so there’s always residents or faculty that were around.”

Among the things he dealt with were patients who needed emergency care, but couldn’t sign off on forms giving the hospital permission to perform surgery.

“Given the large trauma service that they had there, there were sometimes people that they would pick up or bring to the hospital that didn’t have a family member with them, so you have to basically be a surrogate, so to speak, for that individual to be able to get some of those documents reviewed and approved so that person could have the things they needed,” he said.

On another occasion, he had to help coordinate safely moving patients when a television set somehow caught fire.

“It was a stressful time, but it was also a great opportunity to learn about a large medical center and the ins and outs,” Iruegas said.

With his foot in the door, Iruegas earned an administrative assistant position at the hospital. He was later recruited by a consulting firm, which worked on projects to help the hospital make improvements, expansions or development.

In addition to his first post-college job, his residency also led him to his wife, Peggy, who was a recovery room nurse at Baylor University Medical Center.

After his company merged with another firm, Iruegas became a partner, and his family -- which grew to include three children all born at the hospital where he got his start -- moved to the Washington, D.C. area. With his home near the nation’s capital, he spent much of his time traveling the country to work with clients from Florida to California.

Outside of work, Iruegas and his wife were avid band parents.

“We enjoyed going to football games, not so much to watch the football games, but to watch the band at half-time, band competitions and different events like that,” he said. “We were involved in everything from the concession stands to traveling to different events related to the band.”

Iruegas said the time came for another change when his busy work schedule kept him from enjoying time with his family.

“You get to that age where baseball games and recitals and birthdays and things that are important to us as a family were starting to maybe get missed because of travel,” he said. “We just made a decision that I needed to get back into operations and have more of a one-place job, do a little bit less traveling and give me a chance to not miss important things.”

He took a job with a client in Laredo, where he helped plan and eventually witnessed the construction of the city’s replacement hospital.

Iruegas came to Mission as the new CEO of Mission Regional Medical Center in 2005.

“He is an extremely intelligent, polite, cordial individual,” said the hospital’s COO Carlos Treviño, who met Iruegas in 1995 when he was still working in Laredo. “He’s a visionary and knows where he wants to take the organization. He can get everyone to have a common goal, which is extremely difficult in health care.”

His children are all in college now, but Iruegas said that -- in addition to reading, action movies and church -- spending time with his family is his main pursuit outside the office. He also spends time giving back to the community by serving as an adviser on boards for the Texas Hospital Association, Mission’s Chamber of Commerce, Trinity University’s graduate health care administration program, and UTPA’s College of Health and Human Services, to name a few.

Looking back, Iruegas said that each step in his journey has prepared him for the next one.

“Every place that I’ve been has helped me to share those experiences…and it allows me to share those here in this role and this position,” he said. “It’s a growth process, so I wouldn’t change anything. All those experiences are important, and I’m learning new things every day.”

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