New Riley president brings a bold vision for the future

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07/08/2021

Gil peri web

Gil Peri has worked in leadership at two Top 10 children’s hospitals in the country. He believes Riley is ready to take the next step into that top tier as it approaches its 100th birthday.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Gil Peri arrived early for an interview to be the next leader of Riley Children’s Health. He wanted to do a little reconnaissance.

“I wanted to see this place wake up and see how people treated each other and how they engaged with patients,” he said.

And the result?

“I was amazed. I’ve been at top children’s hospitals. The compassion, the attention to detail, the focus and the empathy I observed here – those are my values – so it aligns nicely. I can’t wait to get to know the team.”

The new Riley president is doing just that through “listening and learning tours” as he visits Riley’s vast number of specialty and sub-specialty units, as well as non-patient-facing teams.

He identifies his management style as that of a servant-leader first and foremost.

“My style is to really understand the needs of our team members and what it’s going to take to enable them to be successful,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re taking care of each other so we can take care of our patients. I will role model that as well.”

TEAM APPROACH

Peri is all about team, and in his view, Riley is one team, everyone operating under the same tent. Early in his career, he began dedicating a block of time each Friday to round on a different unit in whatever hospital he was in. There was no agenda, no presentation. It was just a chance to see and hear from team members and to be seen as accessible himself.

To that end, the chocolate connoisseur has gotten into the habit of handing out chocolate on his Friday departmental visits. Last week, he launched his first “Chocolate Friday” tour at Riley, dropping in on the Heart Center, the new Mother-Baby Tower and a surgery unit.

His goal is to create an environment where people want to come to work and choose to stay. First, he plans to look at team member engagement scores to see how Riley is supporting its staff.

“We just had one of the toughest years in our history,” he said, referring to COVID-19. “I want to know how our team is feeling now, what supports they need as we go into post-pandemic. When you serve your team members, you serve your patients. I really believe in a team member first approach.”

REACHING HIGH

At 6 foot, 8 inches, it’s no surprise to hear that Peri was a basketball player in high school, alongside his twin brother, so he honed his competitive and team-building skills as a youth.

He had considered going into physical therapy in college, but then an adviser pointed him to a relatively new field at the time – public health. Turns out, it was a perfect fit, allowing him to combine his passions for science and caring for people while having a broad impact.

He earned master’s degrees in business administration and public health from the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he also obtained a bachelor’s in biology.

He comes to Riley from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, where he served as president and chief operating officer, overseeing health system operations, strategy and innovation. Previously, he held leadership roles at two Top 10 pediatric hospitals, Children’s Hospital Colorado and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

He believes Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health can and should be a Top 10 pediatric hospital in the nation. Currently, it hovers in the Top 20, though it ranks in the Top 10 in two specialties: Urology at No. 3, and Cardiology and Heart Surgery, No. 5. In addition, Riley is designated as the Midwest’s best hospital for children’s heart care, and it is ranked in nine specialty areas by U.S. News and World Report.

While rankings are an external validation of excellent work, he is not one to chase them, he said, choosing instead to be guided by great work and outcomes. The rankings will follow.

“Riley has all the foundational elements to impact more kids,” Peri said. “I think Riley has earned the position to impact all kids in Indiana and the broader Midwest. Now we need to take the next step in the Riley journey. In three years, we’ll be 100 years old, so what an honor to be able to help write the next chapter of the organization with a focus on helping more kids.”

Riley’s new maternity tower, opening in the fall, also has him excited about the future.

“I feel blessed to have landed here when all these things are happening. We will be one of the only children’s hospitals that has a maternity tower dedicated to moms and babies.”

Why is that important? Peace of mind, he says, for moms and families.

“We hope that nothing happens to that baby, but God forbid if something does happen, this is where you want to be because we have all the expertise for the baby and for the mom,” Peri said. “The team has done an amazing job designing this.”

It is one more way to ensure Riley’s continued pre-eminence in pediatric care, he said, making it a destination not just for Indiana families but beyond.

“Indianapolis is easy to get in and out of, it’s proximal to the whole country, we have the infrastructure to accommodate people, and most importantly, we have the clinical expertise to care. We do see patients from around the country, around the world, now, but we need to see more. That’s what I mean by impact,” he said.

“HUMBLE EXPERTISE”

In addition to his identical twin, Peri also has a younger brother. The boys grew up in Colorado and Florida, but Peri’s brothers now both live in the Cincinnati area and work for Procter & Gamble.

Peri’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and his dad was born in a refugee camp in Germany before moving to Israel with his parents. When he came to the United States, Peri’s father took the name Peri, rather than keep his given surname of Pollack.

As the younger Peri reflects on his move to the Midwest, he repeats something many of us have heard before – Riley is one of Indiana’s best-kept secrets.

But he wants to change that.

“I love what I’ll call our humble expertise,” he said. “It’s very true here at Riley. We have talent here that we could put up against any organization in the country. We have some of the best and brightest. My interest is to keep that humble expertise but to also be bold in letting people know what we’re doing here and the impact we have on kids.”

Bold but not brash.

“When I talk about being bold, I mean making sure all providers know that our outcomes, our access, our depth of expertise is why they should send their kids to us,” Peri said. “Referring physicians and parents should know about the expertise we have here. Literally there is a child here in Indiana right now who is going to an adult provider that doesn’t focus on kids or an alternative children’s provider that doesn’t have the depth that we have, and that child deserves to be at Riley Children’s. I really believe that,” he said.

“It's not growth for the sake of growth or for the sake of revenue, although those things help because we can reinvest into the community. It’s growth for the sake of impact.”

In his view, Riley will be the one writing the book on how to care for kids.

“We have some of the world’s experts right here. We’re going to continue to focus on quality and safety – the number one driver of outcomes,” he said.

After that, the attention must be on patient and family experience and accessibility. Only then can Riley grow, Peri said.

“Riley Children’s Health has the opportunity to impact kids before they come to the hospital, while they’re at the hospital and afterward,” he said. “We have to be a leader in that space, not just when kids are ill or injured.”

Peri and his wife, Bethany, a pediatric endocrinologist and informaticist, are sports and nature lovers, as well as theater buffs, so they are looking forward to experiencing all that Central Indiana has to offer. They have two children: Ari, 7, and Zoa, 5. The family will make their home in Carmel once they complete the move from Connecticut later this month.

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org