George Mejias – Valley Health System
It’s far from the most expensive project he’s tackled as a healthcare construction executive, but it just might be the most challenging. There’s lots for George Mejias to consider as Valley Health System constructs a new hospital in Paramus, New Jersey, with related projects at 60-plus properties throughout the Garden State.
“A very diversified position that requires lots of problem-solving and outside-the-box thinking,” he tells Blueprint this past November. “But I’m just one member of a team.”
Flash forward to the third quarter of 2023 and the new 354-bed, 910,000-square-foot hospital is expected to open. For Mejias, the task isn’t so much the hospital but freeing up resources for its behalf. This he’s doing by consolidating and optimizing the network’s vast real estate portfolio and overseeing the renovation of facilities.
Though he directed a $2 billion-plus project in Iowa some years ago, Mejias says this $145 million effort packs its own complexities. There are practices and offices in New Jersey locales that are consolidating, and a more efficient spoke-and-wheel healthcare network to fine-tune. There’s an 80,000-square-foot renovation underway at one facility to accommodate centers for excellence in cardiology and women’s health; and a project around half that size for mixed medical purposes.
“We want our patients to know that when they arrive at one of our facilities, they understand where they are and know what kind of care to expect,” he says. “It projects a level of professionalism and we’re taking that concept and developing it for the long-term future.”
Meeting a standard
Asked his modus operandi, he responds “standardization.” Time, he reminds, is money—a lesson Mejias says was drummed in during his long-ago stretch as a JP Morgan Chase & Co. second vice president of capital projects.
Only he didn’t opt to stay in that position for much more than six years. Healthcare construction and property development are his passions and he’s been pursuing them for the greater part of four decades.
“Standardization contributes to speed and reduces risk and that’s vital in health care,” he says. “I may only have eight months to open a 20,000-square-foot office. I’m talking about being truly standardized with the same hardware, doors, toilets, beds—especially in this supply chain.”
The Paramus project concurrent with pandemic-caused supply shortages, Mejias says Valley Health System has mitigated issues through its relationships with vendors. For instance, the network has long relied upon several medical supply companies to maintain levels for equipment and durable goods.
“The same goes for MRIs and high-tech equipment,” Mejias says. “The market’s been horrible with labor and commodity prices up. We’re seeing 20-to-40-percent increases in some budgets, and we’ve got to make prudent, efficient decisions.”
At the same time, Mejias says he’s experienced the risk of lump-sum low bids.
“With prudent construction management comes efficiency and the means for aggressive procurement,” he says. “There are lots of ways to skin a cat once you’re standardized and have a plan of action.”
Down to earth
Time was when Mejias seemed inclined for such hazards. As a young man growing up in Brooklyn, he fantasized about being a fighter pilot, but that gave way to him excelling at prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School and earning degrees in architecture and environmental studies from City University of New York in 1982. One year later he followed that with more architectural credentials from City College of New York.
Urban planning became his next interest, but somewhere along the way Mejias took a part-time job at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn and became intrigued with how hospitals functioned. Following his thesis on alternative birthing methods, he commenced his career as an assistant staff architect at Mount Sinai Health System from 1982 to 1984.
He left for a project manager’s position at NYU Langone Medical Center in 1984 and, four years later, went to JPMorgan Chase & Co.
“That’s why I believe I’m successful,” he says. “I understand the business and healthcare side. Many know just one side but knowing business gives me a unique perspective.”
Mejias deepened that perspective when he became director of facilities planning at Montefiore Health System in the Bronx from 1991 to 1997, resuming his primary interest. He followed that job with roles at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics before joining Valley Health System in June 2017.
“Iowa also did much to prepare me for this job,” he says about the role, in which he oversaw a $2.2 billion project and another of around half that amount. “Midwesterners are dedicated to the idea that people should help each other. New Yorkers can lose sight of this in the hustle of the East Coast.”
If need be, velvet hammer
Mejias now looks to share and cites one hire who earned master’s degrees in English literature and architecture and implemented both. He’s trained former employees from the hospitality and service industries, believing their skills in commercial facilities are far-reaching enough to be applied to health care. Then there’s his project coordinator, Michaella Bermudez, who used to teach fourth grade.
“She’s the glue that keeps everything together,” he says. “I’ve got a great team and want to keep it. I hate to hire and train only to lose them because they’re so good.”
That said, Valley Health System will eventually have to rely on someone other than Mejias to oversee property acquisition, development and construction. He’s been at it for over 40 years and has moved into more of a mentoring role.
As to what might follow, Mejias says he and his wife anticipate an active retirement and can take comfort that their part of New Jersey has state-of-the-art healthcare that he’s helped fashion. But they’ll likely spend much time in other locales, including the British Virgin Islands, where the couple and their friends enjoy sailing.
“The best part is we don’t own the boat,” he says.
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. II 2023 Edition here.
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