When St. Andrew’s School opened its doors to girls in 1973, its first coed class was boy-heavy—108 boys and 26 girls.
One of those girls, an Episcopal priest’s daughter who attended on scholarship, grew up to be Dr. Janice Nevin, now at the helm of Delaware’s largest employer.
“It prepared me very well for the rest of my career,” joked Nevin, who took over as CEO of Christiana Care Health System on Tuesday.
Committed to delivering health services to Wilmington’s neediest citizens wherever they live, Nevin said she was shaped by her parents, a secretary and the pastor of the Church of the Ascension in Claymont. “They lived a life of service. They showed me that life was not about getting a job; it was about a vocation. We’re here to make a difference.”
People who remember her late father could draw a straight line from him to her. He once suggested all the denominations in the Claymont area combine their services in one building and use the excess space for practical uses, such as housing people. “He was one who was always taking on the hard problems, rather than the easy ones, so I got that from him,” Nevin said.
Nevin, a fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling Lean In advice book for businesswomen, was heartened to read that Sandberg and singer Beyoncé want to ban the word “bossy.”
“When I was little, my nickname was ‘Bossy,’ but what I learned from Sheryl Sandberg is that I had early executive leadership skills,” she said, laughing.
It was her father’s job at the Church of the Ascension that brought the new CEO to the U.S. as a young child. She returned to her native England on a Rotary International Scholarship after graduating from Harvard in 1982. It
was there that she found a mentor and an interest in medicine.
When Nevin returned to Delaware, she was accepted to Jefferson Medical College as one of the 20 Delaware students chosen to participate in the Dimer Scholarship and Tuition Supplement Program each year. The state pays the college to reserve 20 spots in its class of about 265 exclusively for Delaware applicants. That lowers the odds for a Delaware student to be accepted from about 265 in 12,000 to about 20 in 70. “I certainly really appreciate that opportunity I had,” Nevin said.
After medical school, she worked at Jefferson until 12 years ago, when she received a call asking her to consider an opening at Christiana Care. Dr. Charles Pohl, her husband, was the pediatrician who opened the first Nemours duPont Pediatrics clinic in 1993, so he already worked in Delaware. Still, she was reluctant to leave Jefferson—until she toured Christiana Care.
“I had never been in an organization where every single person I talked to not only knew the mission, but they lived the mission,” she said.
When she got home, she told her husband she would move to Christiana Care if they offered her a job.
For the past three years, she has served as the health system’s chief medical officer. The hospital currently absorbs about $30 million in costs for treatment of indigent Delawareans, and it also committed to programs to help them.
Medical Home Without Walls sends social workers and health professionals to meet residents wherever they are living. They do what’s necessary to improve patients’ health, from helping them find food and clothing to helping them find ways to pay for health care. “Often the people who can’t pay are our most vulnerable members of society and need more than a doctor, frankly,” Nevin said. “We meet them where they live, even if it’s under a bridge. We know that, when people have the basic necessities of life, they can then pay more attention to their health.”
The hospital also runs Project Engage, an early-intervention program designed to link patients who have substance-abuse problems with community treatment programs, and Independence at Home, a program that helps keep 400 frail elderly out of nursing homes.
Nevin said Christiana Care defines value as whatever it is that really makes a difference to the hospital’s neighbors in Delaware. She said she thinks Delawareans are now motivated by the changes happening in health care. “I really think the kind of conversation that’s happening around health care is the right conversation,” she said.
Any plans for the large tract that the hospital owns near Brick Mill Road in Middletown will depend on what residents of the area want, she said. “As the future starts to play itself out, we’re going to be talking with our community about what the needs are, and our campus will evolve to reflect that.”
She said the hospital will work with the community to design programs that work for all Christiana Care’s neighbors. “For me, what we design has to work for everybody,” she said.
Nevin spoke to the Wilmington West Rotary in October. As a Rotary scholarship recipient and daughter of a Rotarian, she said she will be speaking to Rotary Clubs throughout the state.