Tommye Austin

While working at University Health in San Antonio, Texas, Tommye Austin, BJC HealthCare senior vice president and system chief nurse executive, designed a replacement mask with materials that block more than 96% of airborne particles and will protect healthcare employees if needed. She also repurposed a sterilization process used to decontaminate surgical equipment and began using it to clean N95 masks.

Tommye Austin has joined BJC HealthCare as its senior vice president and system chief nurse executive, and welcomes her role in St. Louis because she can serve more people.

Austin brings more than 30 years of experience in the nursing field to BJC, having most recently served as the senior vice president and chief nursing executive for University Health in San Antonio, Texas.

“I felt like I needed to get back into a role where I had the opportunity to provide guidance over more individuals,” Austin said. 

San Antonio has a smaller African American population than St. Louis, which according to Austin is a reason she was drawn to BJC. 

“In health care, a lot of the time people don’t trust health care workers because they haven’t always been treated well,” she said.

“I have an opportunity to make an impact on people in a way that they see a face that looks like theirs.”

As BJC’s senior nursing executive, Austin is accountable for developing and implementing targeted system-wide initiatives to improve patient outcomes, standardize care, and enhance effectiveness of the clinical workforce.

“The reason I went to San Antonio was because [it] didn’t provide stroke care and I worked with a stroke unit in Houston,” she said. 

“During my time in San Antonio, I worked with the hospitals to provide primary stroke care so now if you suffer from a stroke there, you will be well taken care of and I feel like I had a lot to do with that,” Austin said. 

Her plan at BJC incudes an assessment of the city in regards to education options, working with schools on their clinical programs, and work within the community. 

“I plan to work in the community to make sure there is good representation because I spoke with the president of the Goldfarb School of Nursing and she said she had 33% of African Americans in the school, which is wonderful,” Austin said.

“But I don’t know what the diversity ratio is in regard to patients to nurses in the hospitals.”

Austin said an incident involving her mother’s care personally demonstrated problems in the health care industry she is challenging.

“My mother had a massive heart attack when she was 61, days before her birthday. Luckily, I had just finished nursing and had been a nurse for five or six years, but I was in management,” she said. “My mother was flown to a small town with a level one trauma center.” 

According to Austin, the physician said he wasn’t going to do anything for her mother because she was “a smoker, overweight and had done this to herself.” 

“I worked with a famous trauma surgeon at [Memorial Herman Health Centers] in Houston,” she said. “The surgeon called that physician. I don’t know what he told him, but after that he treated my mother differently.”

Across the nation, racial and ethnic minority populations experience higher rates of poor health and disease in a range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, when compared to their white counterparts, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

This statistic illustrates how the incident with Austin’s mom is not an outlier but a consistent problem to be solved.

“What I learned from that interaction is that some people look at you, and based on your skin color, or what you do, or what you eat, and they make judgments,” Austin said.

“For me, no one should be worried about how they are going to be treated based on what they look like and I try to make sure that I am an example of treating everybody like you want to be treated.”

While at University Health, Austin gained national attention when healthcare employees feared they would be left unprotected by a shortage of personal protective equipment, PPE, including masks, gowns and gloves.

She designed a replacement mask with materials that block more than 96% of airborne particles and will protect healthcare employees if needed. She also repurposed a sterilization process used to decontaminate surgical equipment and began using it to clean N95 masks.

He is the past recipient of several awards and honors, including being named as a 2020 and 2019 Modern Healthcare 50 Most Influential Clinical Executive, and as a 2018 Modern Healthcare Top 10 to Watch Minority Executive. 

She is a member of several professional societies, has written and received many grants, and has been published in a multitude of professional publications.

According to a statement, Austin will succeed Denise Murphy, who shared her plans to retire in September earlier this year.

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