Coliseum leader’s health care path began at early age

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the title of Coliseum Chief Executive Officer Charles Briscoe.

When Charles Briscoe was young, he didn’t know for sure what he wanted to be when he grew up. But he was certain of one thing.

“I knew it would be something in health care,” he said.

Briscoe began working in his chosen field when he was in college, and he followed a path that led him up the ladder to a career in health care administration.

That journey most recently brought him back to Macon in April after accepting the position as chief executive officer of Coliseum Health System. Briscoe, 42, replaced Allen Golson, who had accepted another position in Florida.

Golson was killed and his wife injured in a place crash as he was preparing to land near Ocala, Fla., on a house-hunting trip.

Briscoe grew up listening to heath care-related discussions by his parents, as his father was a pharmacist and his mother a nurse. Both are now retired and live in Madison.

“Hearing it around the dinner table and seeing the life they could provide for their family ... and it was interesting to me,” he said. “But I didn’t really want to be a pharmacist, and I didn’t want to be a nurse. ... I didn’t really focus on it until I got to college.”

Briscoe’s family moved to Macon from Tennessee when he was a teen and he graduated from Stratford Academy. While attending the University of Georgia, he worked as a receiving clerk at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, which was a “perfect student job” as he was able to work around his class schedule.

After graduate school, Briscoe’s master’s degree in health administration required a residency, and former Coliseum CEO Mike Bogg hired him for a nine-month program as an administrative resident.

Boggs, who is now CEO of Regency Hospital of Central Georgia -- just across the street from the Coliseum hospital -- said when he first met Briscoe that he “liked this local boy who had decided to make a career in hospital administration.”

“He was really a nice young man,” Boggs said. “Very well-informed, very sure about himself and what he wanted to do. It was a pretty quick and easy decision.”

Briscoe, who counts Boggs as one of his mentors, said the program solidified his decision to pursue a career in health care administration.

“My program was very formal,” he said. “The first three months you go in essentially every department and just observe and learn operations and ask silly questions only residents could ask. Then the last six months was project work.”

Briscoe was able to work on a major expansion of the hospital campus in the late ’90s to early 2000s, and he was involved in the joint venture that formed the Coliseum Health System.

After the residency ended, Briscoe stayed on and ran engineering and housekeeping, and was over some physician practices for awhile.

He did “whatever jobs needed to be done just to keep my foot in the door,” he said. “I was fortunate that it led to becoming an assistant administrator here at Coliseum. It was the very best outcome that I could have wanted.”

Briscoe stayed in that position for about two years and then moved over to Middle Georgia Hospital in the same position.

By that time, Briscoe had established himself as someone in the pipeline at Hospital Corporation of America, the parent company of Coliseum.

He was promoted to chief operating officer at Doctors Hospital in Columbus in 2001. Four years later, he moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C. and held the same position at the Grand Strand Regional Medical Center for five years.

Briscoe was promoted again when he was hired in 2010 as CEO of Lake City Medical Center in Florida, and he was there until April when he returned to Macon.

Boggs said Briscoe was “fortunate to get positions with really well-established, successful CEOs. ... The stars lined up for him.”

Rewarding work, butno decision is easy

Briscoe now leads facilities that employ about 1,300 employees at Coliseum Medical Centers, Coliseum Northside Hospital and Coliseum Center for Behavioral Health, all in Macon.

While he was excited to return to Middle Georgia, especially to head up the hospital where he had started his career, it was difficult to come into the job following Golson’s tragic death.

“I pretty much addressed it with the leadership team that ‘I’m struggling right along with you,’ ” he said. “I lost a friend and a colleague just like they did.”

Briscoe wanted employees to feel comfortable talking about Golson and telling stories about his tenure, and that has been achieved, he said.

The best part of his job is being able to work every day with physicians, directors and employees -- “some of the brightest and most talented people,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing we do is hopefully provide service that improves the life and well-being for our patients and improve the quality of our community,” he said.

On the flip side, Briscoe had a hard time coming up with the least favorite part of his job, “because I really love my job,” he said.

“I’m sure there are things that frustrate me,” he said. “Anytime you get in a gridlock with one of your stakeholders, your employees or your physicians, you are trying to work through it and maybe it’s not working as quick as you would like, it gets a little frustrating. You just have to keep after it and keep the pace going and try to do what’s right. ... Virtually every decision I make affects a lot of different people. There’s no way to always make everybody happy.”

“There are no real easy decisions,” he added. “It’s just tough. You really have to think through every major decision that comes across your desk. Does it make our hospital better, does it provide better care for our patients, and what is the downside to that and to whom?”

One of the biggest challenges Briscoe faces is something most all health care facilities and professionals are facing: the uncertainty with health care reform.

“Who knows what’s going to ultimately play out,” he said. “The uncertainty is not just with the hospital, but the uncertainty is with the physicians and the patients we serve.”

But when it comes to dealing with decisions and with people, Briscoe relies on valuable advice he gleaned from a video his father gave him of former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz.

“One point I took away is there are three questions everyone should ask, and it just hit me as such a simple way to operate both personally and professionally,” he said. The questions are: “ ‘Can I trust you? Are you committed to excellence? And do you care about me as a person?’ And the way you answer those positively is to do what’s right and fair consistently, try to be your very best every day and you treat others the way you want to be treated. ... It’s not rocket science.”

Briscoe has a positive attitude looking ahead even with so much uncertainty facing the future of health care.

“I would like to be here and see five or 10 years of really strong growth at Coliseum Health System,” he said. At the same time, he would like to continue “to provide quality health care for our communities while still being flexible enough to adjust to whatever is coming down the road with heath care reform.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.