Texas Health Stephenville President Enjoys Community, Sees Great Opportunities for Health Care

Note: This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Erath County Living.

Texas Health Stephenville President Christopher Leu enjoys spending time with his wife, Melissa, and 7-year-old twins, Katie and Connor.
Texas Health Stephenville President Christopher Leu enjoys spending time with his wife, Melissa, and 7-year-old twins, Katie and Connor.
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Moving to just outside Stephenville has presented its share of adventures for Christopher Leu. He recalls one time getting a frantic call from his wife about a large snake slithering along the back porch. At work in his typical business suit attire, Leu headed home to remedy the snake situation. It’s those kinds of adventures that Leu says wouldn’t be possible in a larger city and provide great memories for his young family.

From his first visit to Stephenville, Leu said he was impressed by the friendliness and warmth of the community. He moved to Stephenville three years ago to lead Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Stephenville. And after three years living and working in Erath County, Leu said that his first impression was right on target. “Everybody is very friendly and looks you in the eye and wants to get to know you,” he said.

Leu isn’t a stranger to smaller communities. The 44-year-old originally hails from Council Bluffs, Iowa, with the nearest big city being Omaha, Neb. He earned his bachelor’s degree in finance and speech communication from Texas Christian University before returning to Iowa to start his path into health care. He earned a master’s degree in business administration and hospital and health care administration from the University of Iowa. Most recently, he spent 14 years working for Texas Health Resources in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex before moving to Stephenville to lead the Texas Health hospital.

As the father to 7-year-old twins, Katie and Connor, Leu said living in Stephenville offers him the flexibility that isn’t possible many places. “As a parent with young kids, I can quickly get to a sporting event after school or take a few minutes out of my work day to attend school awards programs,” he said. “I treasure that I can be a part of their everyday activities in a way that’s not practical everywhere.”

And having room to roam is a great way to raise his family, Leu said. He half-jokingly says that the nearest neighbors are five donkeys on an adjacent property.

So far most of Leu’s free time has been spent helping his family adjust and get involved in many activities. His wife, Melissa, works as an emergency department physician at Cook Children’s Medical Center in downtown Fort Worth several shifts a month. It’s a challenge, but because of their commitment to their family, they juggle schedules on nights and weekends she’s on call to enable her to keep feeding her passion for helping make children well.

Leu says he values the way the Stephenville community rallies among itself when faced with challenges. He hopes to get more involved in community affairs now that his family is settled in and he’s gotten more familiar with the community.

As president of Texas Health Stephenville, Leu has overseen numerous initiatives in the past three years. One of the most tangible changes is that Texas Health Stephenville now utilizes an electronic health record, which enables hospital employees and physicians to share information in a seamless and secure way. This allows physicians outside the hospital to access records from their office or home and if someone has an illness that requires transport to another Texas Health hospital, the record can be shared with the click of the button.

“I think the electronic health record holds many possibilities for us,” Leu said. “There’s a great movement within health care for providers to better communicate with each other to care for the whole person rather than each individual ailment a person might have.”

Leu adds that being part of the Texas Health Resources system enables the hospital to make investments in items such as the electronic health record. “It’s challenging to be a small, rural hospital in today’s environment,” he said. “Having the support of a larger system helps the community in Erath County in numerous ways.”

The electronic system will also enable Texas Health Stephenville to more easily track measurements of quality of care and continue to improve the care provided by using the latest evidence-based measures. “In health care we are always trying to improve our processes and look for better ways to care for our patients that can help to heal them faster, with less pain and less time in the hospital,” Leu said. “One good example of that is with minimally invasive surgeries. We are continually looking for ways to treat patients with smaller incisions so they’re able to heal faster. Surgeries that a decade ago took days or weeks to recover from now require a minimal hospital stay, if any, and a recovery time of mere days. That’s better for the patients and their families.”

Leu is proud of several improvements made inside the hospital walls, including a remodeled radiology department, the addition of digital mammography and conversion of several semi-private patient rooms to single rooms for the comfort of patients staying at the hospital for their care.

In addition to physical renovations, hospital employees and physicians on the medical staff are working diligently to provide high quality care to each patient. Having Dr. Jeffrey Edwards assume the role of chief quality officer this spring is another spoke in the plans for continually improving the care offered at the hospital. Leu said he’s been impressed with Edwards’ cooperative spirit and willingness to dive into the role.

Working more closely with other health care providers in the community is a goal of Leu’s. Providers across Stephenville are working together to recruit more physicians to the community. The process often can be long, but having a collective effort is helpful.

“In Stephenville we have an unique opportunity to move toward a community based health care provider model,” Leu said. “We can provide nearly the complete continuum of care right here in Stephenville and that is best accomplished by working together. In the future I see us working together even more closely as we see how health care reform evolves and what changes that brings to the system.”

In the end, Leu said, he is invested in the future of the hospital not just as the president of the institution, but as a member of the community.

“We live here too and Texas Health Stephenville is the first stop for my family in an emergency,” he said. “I want the best possible care for my family and for all the families of Erath County.”