Karen Dethloff named MetroHealth's Vice President of Facilities Management
Karen Dethloff has been promoted to Vice President of Facilities Management at MetroHealth System.
Karen will mark 14 years with MetroHealth in July. She is among more and more women breaking through glass ceilings in the male-dominated fields of facilities and construction. In her new role, she will be supervising the team fixing any mechanical, electrical or structural issue at MetroHealth.
But Karen doesn’t really believe in glass ceilings. “You create your own barriers,” she says. “If you want to do something, go do it. If you have a roadblock somewhere, figure a way around and keep going.”
That’s exactly what she did in her early days at MetroHealth. Karen recognized the need to invest in the infrastructure. She informed her peers that she was going to get the money to fix things.
Her peers were less than optimistic.“They said, ‘no you’re not’. I hate when people make excuses like we are just the county hospital. I tell them, ‘no, we’re the Level 1 trauma center and we need to be good enough to take care of any person that comes in the door.”
Karen began documenting items that needed to be repaired or replaced. She took pictures and arranged tours with leaders to gain their support. Karen received the funding she requested and raised the bar for her department.“I always like to make things better. I’m never happy with the status quo,” she says.
Heading the Facilities Management Department of an aging hospital is a never-ending job. Karen’s phone is constantly pinging. The morning’s texts come in rapid succession. She reads the messages and grimaces. A relatively new piece of equipment experienced a catastrophic failure, which caused flooding. Karen wastes no time to ensure her staff has what they need to fix the problem.“I have a tremendous staff,” she says. “The level of competence is the highest it’s been since I started.” She meets up with her team to inspect the damages. Industrial sized fans are already in place to dry the water-soaked floors.
According to Karen, her staff of 117 has evolved into a “well-oiled machine.”
“My management team communicates by group text, so everyone is fully informed when an urgent issue arises. The immediacy helps us be efficient and effective. It also helps to have a team that’s willing to do that,” she says.
Karen’s days begin at 4:50 a.m., when she reaches for her phone to see if any alarms have been triggered overnight. Her phone is programmed to alert her to every fire alarm and generator that is activated.“Last Sunday morning, I woke up and saw a series of generators had started. I immediately knew a feeder to the hospital was down, so I called CEI,” she explains. “I knew instantly what it was. And then, you just deal with it.”
Karen has learned to deal with whatever the “it” is. One of her biggest challenges is trying to determine what infrastructure component to invest in to prevent serious downtime or disruptions to operations given the age and condition of the system.Another challenge is finding good skilled trades people. “Everybody thinks they have to go to college,” she says, lamenting the fact that there are not as many good trade schools as there once were.
She spends somewhere between 55 to 65 hours a week at work. Her upbringing prepared her for the demanding schedule. Karen’s father, who worked for the phone company, “was always doing his job and working overtime when he needed to,” she says. “And when the weekend came, we all had our jobs to do. But there was always time to play, too.”
Karen received her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at The Ohio State University, her Masters in Electrical Engineering at Cleveland State University, and her MBA at Case Western Reserve University. During college, Karen spent three months at MetroHealth as a clinical engineering intern. Back then, there were very few women in engineering. She joined numerous professional organizations and assumed leadership positions not only locally, but at the state and national level. She also became a Certified Healthcare Facilities Manager and is the only woman hospital engineer who has earned Fellow designation in the American Society for Healthcare Engineering.
Karen describes herself as a risk manager. “I prevent the development of untoward situations,” she says. “We work hard behind the scenes doing preventive maintenance and replacing things past their useful life, so the hospital can run at optimum.” Between planning for the new hospital, managing emergencies and keeping the system compliant and functioning, Karen has her work cut out, but she’s up for the challenge.“It’s my patient,” she says. “It’s got lungs - a piping system just like blood vessels, and it’s roughly 30 conjoined buildings across the campus.”
She also has a fondness for the people at MetroHealth.“There are incredibly dedicated and friendly people who work here. Everybody stops in the hallway and helps people who are lost. And managers are so supportive of each other,” she says.
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit metrohealth.org.