SALEM, Ohio – Dr. Anita Hackstedde did not set out to become president and CEO of Salem Regional Medical Center.
She had planned to be a practicing physician throughout her career but her leadership capabilities were quickly recognized. When she was a fourth-year internal medicine resident at Akron General and Akron Children’s hospitals, a colleague cardiologist suggested her for chief resident, a position she held her last year in medical school.
The first time she was contacted by a recruiter about the chief medical officer opening at SRMC, Hackstedde said she ignored it. The second time, she decided to go on the interview. Someone again had recommended her for the job.
“Honestly, I kind of go with my gut,” says Hackstedde. “It felt like the right place. I loved the people here. I thought it had a fabulous program, really understood its mission. The CEO who interviewed me at the time made me feel like I could be a part of something bigger than myself.”
Reared in Niles, Hackstedde graduated from medical school at Ohio State University after obtaining her B.S. in biology and minor in chemistry at Youngstown State University, where she served as director of student health from 1998 to 2006. Before joining SRMC, she had a clinical practice in Boardman and served the former Forum Health as director of adolescent medicine, as well as assistant director of the internal medicine/pediatrics residency program.
She admits she has a strong personality, likes to solve problems and to learn new things. She took it upon herself to take courses in health care law, finance and human resources.
When the CEO position opened, the hospital board approached her about serving on an interim basis.
“The level of support that they gave me was phenomenal,” Hackstedde says. “I have never felt so appreciated in my life… I said, OK if they have faith in me, then I need to have faith in me. I did and it has been nine years.”
Hackstedde says the one thing she is most proud of is that SRMC is the only full-service, independent hospital still in the area, adding there are not many left in Ohio or the country. Because the volunteer board members live in the local community, she says they understand patients’ needs and strive to keep them from driving an hour away for their health care services.
“They want [patients] to have the best cancer care locally, the best orthopedic care locally, the best everything care locally,” Hackstedde says. SRMC strives to be experts at what it can provide and be the safety net with essential services. “I believe our board understands that priority and I have to say I’m proud that we follow our mission in every decision that we make,” she says.
Jeffrey M. Zimmerman, chairman of the SRMC board of directors, says as a physician herself, Hackstedde has advantages in recruiting other doctors to the staff and garners respect from everyone. Additionally, he says. Hackstedde is personally involved in “everything,” including new projects or services the hospital board considers.
He credits her with leading the collaboration with University Hospitals in Cleveland to bring the Seidman Cancer Center to SRMC, allowing local cancer patients to receive radiation therapy treatments with pinpoint accuracy, near home.
She’s now spearheading SRMC’s latest project, the Columbiana Surgery and Outpatient Pavilion.
“I don’t feel like we would be where we are if it hadn’t been for her leadership and her foresight into what our patients will need in the future,” Zimmerman says.
“It’s nice to expand and it’s great to be a CEO when you’re cutting ribbons on things,” Hackstedde says. “It isn’t as much fun when you have to make hard decisions or when big-time challenges come.”
Surprisingly, Hackstedde is not the first woman to lead the hospital, which has been serving the people in the Salem area for more than 100 years. When the hospital first opened, a female nurse was in charge of the operation. Hackstedde is the first female CEO.
Her leadership philosophy includes listening to those around her, the “brilliant people” who give her advice and are willing to tell her when she might be wrong. She says more women need be willing to speak up and tell others what they think, especially in the business world.
Professionally, she believes in following aspirations, balancing risks and not setting limits on oneself. One of her female mentors told her not to be afraid to make a change.
“Taking the job in Salem was a risk, but life is a journey,” Hackstedde says.
She believes SRMC can overcome resource differences by using critical thinking and problem-solving skills. She knew the staff had the expertise to take care of COVID-19 patients.
“People look at this tiny hospital and [think] they must be second class. No, absolutely not. We have the brightest minds right here,” says Hackstedde. She sees a staff driven by its passion for the hospital and helping people.
Now facing the post-pandemic challenge of health care staffing shortages and related wage pressures, Hackstedde says she is blessed with a lot of great people in HR and nursing who are developing programs to recruit and retain staff, including a nurse residency program and mentorship program.
“We’re getting there. But we’re getting there slowly,” Hackstedde says, noting wage pressures create tough decisions, including affordability. “Obviously, we are a people-oriented service organization so that has to be where most of our value goes. But everyone defines that value a little bit differently.”
And what does Hackstedde value? She credits her first-generation immigrant parents with instilling the American dream in their children. Her hardworking 80-year-old mother, Hackstedde says, epitomizes the importance of being humble and willing to go the extra mile.
“She’s a joyful person,” Hackstedde says. “She appreciates the little things because she knows what it’s like to come from nothing. I think it’s important to maintain that level of humility.”
Hackstedde tried to remain humble when she practiced medicine and does the same now in her leadership roles. She serves on the board of directors at the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center in Salem and on the YSU board of trustees where her term runs through 2030.
Dr. John R. Jakubek, chairman of the YSU board, says there are a lot of parallels in running a hospital and a university, including providing patients and students with the care they need and making sound fiduciary decisions. Hackstedde was a great fit for the YSU board, Jakubek says, and is very good at making decisions, weighing the risks and benefit ratios and asking great questions.
In whatever she does, Hackstedde says she tries to inspire others to do their absolute best, be kind to co-workers, bosses and patients, and choose to be positive, which is infectious. If more people brought an attitude of gratitude, she believes more would find joy in their lives just like her mother.
Others have seen that joy in Hackstedde as well. “She loves it. You can tell she enjoys it. Not that there are not headaches to go with it like everything else. But she puts everything into it and it shows,” says Zimmerman.