Kim Milstien’s career as a healthcare leader began quietly.
Although she had thought about pursuing a career as a doctor when she was in high school (her mother, Kate, is a retired ER nurse), Kim switched her major to organizational psychology while at Western University in London, the city in southwestern Ontario, Canada, where she grew up.
After marrying an American, the Canadian moved to Simi Valley, CA, and expected to wait 18 months before she could legally work.
While her husband, a movie set decorator, worked, Kim began volunteering at Simi Valley Hospital.
The chief executive officer saw her everywhere. The hospital ended up sponsoring her for an immigrant work visa and she assisted the CEO for four years before moving on to other roles in the system.
“I call that my healthcare residency,” Kim says with a laugh.
Sixteen years later, in 2012, Kim was named president and CEO of Simi Valley Hospital/Adventist Health – quite the testament to her skills as a hospital systems leader.
Now Kim’s settling into her role as CHOC’s executive vice president and chief operating officer (COO), effective late May 2023.
She’s not exactly a new face at CHOC.
In early 2022, Kim came to CHOC as a part-time interim strategy consultant. She then was tapped as chief strategy and affiliation officer. Now, following a nationwide search, she’s the COO.
“When I first came here,” Kim recalls, “I walked into the hospital and thought, ‘Wow, I love the feel of this hospital. I was sold the second I walked in.
“When you’ve worked in the healthcare industry for a long time, you get a feeling for a hospital pretty quickly. I walked in here and honestly fell in love with the mission, the people, and what CHOC does every day for children.”
In the brief time Kim worked at CHOC before her recent appointment, she achieved several accomplishments.
She partnered with leadership across the enterprise to realign and refresh the strategic plan, created a strategy activation function to support key projects, developed a streamlined and more effective cross-team business planning process, and supported the continued growth of CHOC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) network into new regions.
Such a fast start shouldn’t be a surprise. Kim brings to CHOC more than 25 years of experience leading acute care operations in a variety of healthcare settings, including large teaching hospitals and public hospital systems.
Kim was responsible for moving the 144-bed Simi Valley Hospital (SVH) from the lowest-quartile-performing to highest-quartile-performing hospital within Adventist Health during her tenure as CEO from July 2012 to December 2014. She also helped SVH achieve historic profitability.
After that, Kim served for 4 ½ years as CEO of a diverse acute safety-net organization operated by the County of Ventura.
In September 2019, she became a healthcare consultant, serving as principal and then managing principal of Health Management Associates. That’s where she was working when CHOC President and CEO Kimberly Chavalas Cripe asked if she would like to work for CHOC, initially as an interim strategy executive.
Kim, who also has an MBA in healthcare administration, didn’t hesitate.
“I loved working in consulting after being in operations for 25 years,” she says. “I wanted to have a bigger influence. Work felt very transactional toward the end, so the ability to really think at a systems level about changing policy was really exciting to me. But my heart has always been in operations and I’ve always loved hospitals.
“I knew all about CHOC before I got that call,” Kim adds. “I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for CHOC. I knew people who worked there. I had not met Kim Cripe, but her reputation was stellar.
“The esteem I held CHOC in had been completely validated.”
Focusing strategy, expanding services
CHOC’s new strategic plan has a three-year rather than annual cadence.
“We’ve made it more accessible across the entire organization,” Kim says. “We wanted to be able to prioritize the most important things to focus on each year. We have prioritized what needs to come first and have the ability to pivot, change, and assess, and not just ‘do, do, do.’”
She adds: “One of the reasons for the strategic plan realignment was to create a clear understanding of priorities. If we can all agree on what’s most important next, the work becomes less frenetic and we really have the ability to gain more traction.
“As the saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
On the NICU front, CHOC, in June 2023, took over NICU operations at two hospitals in the high desert and this summer is taking over NICU operations at two hospitals in the Inland Empire.
“They believe in our services, and we want to expand the care we provide to children,” Kim explains. “Our NICU program is really unique to us. One of the pillars of our strategic plan is population health and how we create healthy people and healthy communities. We believe in the quality of care we provide and believe it should be taken to where kids and families are.”
Meeting and learning
Coming into the COO role, Kim’s excited about getting to know all aspects of the enterprise.
“I’m doing a ton of touring now,” she says. “It’s exciting to be mostly through the pandemic and being able to meet face to face with people. I’m doing a lot of walking around and meeting people and I want to get to all areas of our enterprise.
“I’ve got such respect for the leaders at CHOC and I’m excited to collaborate with them all.”
Kim is deeply involved with community service.
In Ventura County, she was active on governing boards of local nonprofit organizations such as the Education Foundation, the YWCA, and Soroptimist International. She also served as local chair of the Ventura County region for the Hospital Association of Southern California, and on the HASC board for several years.
Kim and her husband and their daughter are in the process of moving to Orange County.
Their daughter, Callie, 15, will be a sophomore this fall. She plays volleyball and is interested in drama and dance.
Kim says work and her daughter are her hobbies, and that her family loves to travel together.
She also loves to read.
“I do like thriller mysteries,” she says. “They’re a great escape.”
Kim now is the second Kim in the C-suite at CHOC.
“Both (Kim Cripe and I) realized that if people called both of us Kim we’d be in trouble, so most people refer to me as Kim M.
“Kim (Cripe) deserves to stay as just Kim.”