Listening, connecting hallmarks of new Hershey Medical Center president's style

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HERSHEY, Pa. — Dressed in scrubs and leaning in to smile reassuringly at a baby and his parents, Deborah Berini is doing what she likes best — connecting with people.

The president of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is shadowing Cara Kapaun, a registered nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

“It allows me to be present in the environment, get to know the people, see what is working and what isn’t — and all of that allows me to be a better advocate for our patients, staff and faculty,” said Berini, who took over the helm at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in September, becoming its first female president.

Whether with patients, staff or visitors at the Medical Center, the new president views her time spent outside the walls of her administrative office as key to the success of her goals for the organization.

There is so much to learn before I can work with our leaders to set a direction for the medical center,” said the St. Louis native, who most recently served as chief operating officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch Health System. There, she led its growth from a single campus university-affiliated medical center to a regional health system. This marks her first time in the president’s chair.

Berini’s inclusive style of leadership was immediately apparent, said Judy Himes, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at the Medical Center. 

“Deborah arrived at a time when the organization was developing a comprehensive response to workplace violence,” Himes said. “She listened and asked for the voice of the customer. In this case, how were the nurses as well as patients and their families involved in planning? She looked for a multifaceted approach, including prevention, improved assessment, communication and handoffs, as well as security enhancements.”

Alan Brechbill, previous president of the Medical Center and currently executive vice president and chief operating officer for Penn State Health, said Berini’s strong experience with academic medical centers and her obvious ability to work well with others made her stand out.

“We’re a growing health care system, and the Medical Center is a very key component of that,” he said. “Deborah is the person to keep that success growing in an incredibly competitive atmosphere.”

Berini said the collaborative environment at Penn State Health captivated her.

“There are a lot of really talented people here doing amazing things in the service of our patients, and I was drawn to working with them,” she said.

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