In the early 1990s, work in the trades was feast or famine. Jeff Cook was working as an electrician in a small shop with less than six workers when he was brought on to do contract work for Reid Health, an Indiana-based hospital and physicians network meeting healthcare needs and delivering a mission of being “right beside” its patients.
“I liked the environment and guys that worked there, and when an electrician position opened, I applied but only intended to stay until work picked up outside,” Cook recalls. “Once I arrived at Reid, I felt at home. The work was rewarding, and the learning opportunities were vast. It was a way to give back to the community using my skill set. A bonus was it was warm and dry all year round and no layoffs.”
That was in 1993. Today, Cook works as director of engineering and environmental services, and has amassed a variety of duties. These include leadership and administration, project management, and participating with the governing board, as well as overseeing installation of equipment and managing 150 people and 66 buildings in 9 counties and 2 states.
“This also includes several hundred tradesmen working around Reid World on a variety of projects at any given point in time,” Cook says. “Today’s list would include a new CT scanner and a replacement linear accelerator, a new childcare center, and a new primary care office.”
With so many under his watch, Cook notes the secret to being a good leader is making sure his people have what they need, whether that’s a pat on the back, extra coaching, or leading from the front. “If my team is cold and wet, I usually am as well. If they are here working an unusual project at an odd hour or a weekend, I am here as well,” he explains. “Sometimes, like for instance events with COVID-19, there is no balance. There are long days and no days off to make sure my team has what they want and that I am available to others throughout the organization.”
The engineering director meets with his team once a week to review agendas and builds trust by listening and communicating effectively. His philosophy is simple: “don’t bring a problem, bring a solution.”
“I like to be straightforward and to the point,” Cook says. “I want to provide my team with the right tools to get the job done, but I’m not afraid to get dirty and help with what needs to be done myself.”
Since he joined the company, Cook has been charged with renovating many primary care offices throughout the service area. While there is no boilerplate plan, he notes, the team does accomplish a “Reid Look” through paint finishes and casework to ground visitors in the environment, letting them know they’re in a Reid office.
“These are all challenging projects since most of the office managers do one in a lifetime while we do several each year,” Cook says. “The managers do not always know why some of their wish lists can’t be granted due to codes and standards for life safety or local and state codes.”
A unique opportunity for the director’s team came when he was responsible for the renovation of an urgent care center in a Meijer department store just north of the main campus. The store contained two exam rooms in place of where the tobacco area had been, and therefore offered no waiting or staff space.
“Two years later we expanded to have three exam rooms, a small waiting room, and restroom,” Cook says. “Unlike most renovations, we plan our specifications around what works for us and it is approved by the team working on the project. With this one, it went to the corporate office of Meijer’s, and they work at a much slower pace than we are used to.
“They also have many special rules for contractors and even our staff that is in the building,” he continues, adding that it was not a bad experience, just something different that helped them become more adaptable.
Currently, Cook is working on a long-awaited child healthcare center—a project with one of the highest amounts of planning he has ever undertaken.
The three-year process included ideation, preliminary design, budgeting, gaining board approval of the concept, cost management, and of course, finding a partner to handle childcare. After Kinder Care was named partner of choice, the final design and budget were both attained, and construction documents were sent out to local contractors. During this time, the economy improved, which resulted in escalated costs and the need for a rebid and additional funding. “We now have the design release and have started foundations,” Cook reports.
Looking ahead, Cook will also be working on Reid Health’s new wellness center and women’s center, though both are still early in planning and are on hold during shelter-in-place restrictions. No stranger to navigating a challenge, Cook plans to continue sticking around.