Visionary CEO Continues to Lead Athens Regional into the Future

drew-web_1When John A. Drew, FACHE, became president and CEO of Athens Regional Health Services in 1982 (then known as Athens General Hospital), he faced a number of challenges. As a struggling community hospital without a very good reputation, it was made up of antiquated facilities and the yearly budget didn’t provide the funds necessary to make major improvements.

Since taking the helm of the Athens Regional, however, Drew has transformed the hospital into a 315-bed referral center that now serves 17 counties in northeast Georgia, with plans to add 40 more beds in the future. More than $100 million in construction is underway or in the planning stages, and the hospital has undergone 10 major capital expansions since Drew became its president and CEO. The hospital’s former yearly budget is now less than what it spends on expenses each month.

“We were absolutely fortunate to have an influx of young specialists move into the area, at about the same time I took over,” explained Drew of Athens Regional’s success. “In addition, we had a dynamic board of directors, who, as they got comfortable with the area’s growth, were willing to take a substantial risk in terms of capital investments. When you combine a highly trained, credentialed young medical staff with a dynamic board, you have all the ingredients you need for success.”

In addition to providing capital to improve facilities, one of the hospital’s biggest challenges was acquiring the technology required by its medical staff. “You have to make sure that physicians have the assets they need to practice the type of medicine they are capable of practicing,” said Drew.

By the end of the 1980s, Athens Regional Health Service had made great
strides. “About that time, we capped off our clinical services with an open-heart surgery program,” said Drew. “There was very little reason for anyone to leave the Athens community for medical services, unless they needed something really extensive, like advanced cancer care or burn care.”

The hospital is currently undergoing even more expansion, including the completion of the East Tower, which is expected to be finished this spring. That expansion will include a 46-bed emergency department as well as new obstetric and wound care centers. In 2008, Athens Regional will embark on vertical and horizontal expansion of the main hospital, with two floors being added to the 1995 tower.  “We’ll be adding additional operating rooms, an endoscopy suite, replacement lab and possibly another office building,” said Drew.

According to the CEO, this major building boom is indicative of the population growth taking place in Atlanta and throughout northeast Georgia. “Also, the wave of the future is to provide more medical services closer to where people live so that they don’t need to navigate increasing traffic,” said Drew.

Innovations in technology have helped the hospital to grow. “Advances in medical imaging have exploded almost beyond belief in the past 10 to 15 years,” said Drew, “and we’ve made it a point to keep pace with such advancing technologies.”

Athens Regional is also preparing for the future by exploring the possibility of becoming a teaching hospital in order to deal with predicted physician shortages. “By 2015, this state will be short 15,000 physicians,” explained Drew. “We need additional training sites for medical students and residents across the state. We’re looking into the feasibility of a joint venture with the Medical College of Georgia and the University of Georgia to transform this hospital into a regional campus to provide education and training for physicians.”

Drew, who has always had an interest in teaching, recently accepted an appointment by the American Hospital Association (AHA) to act as its representative to the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME).  CAHME is responsible for reviewing and accrediting healthcare management education programs. Drew also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health.

“One of the responsibilities I take seriously is to keep looking down the road to define what Athens Regional Medical Center and Athens Regional Health Services need to be in, let’s say, two to five years,” said Drew of his success. “We then organize all of the resources that are needed to make that future happen and ask people to embrace that vision. That activity includes the board, medical staff, management team and our employees.

“People experiencing success upon success reinforces our ability as an organization to make changes and improvements at a fairly consistent and rapid pace, as we have done for nearly 20 years,” he added. “Virtually nothing becomes impossible!”

For more information on Athens Regional Health Services, visit or call (706) 475-7000.

-Vanessa Orr

Posted February 25, 2008.

Originally published in the Atlanta Hospital News.