A tower crane, situated on Carroll Hospital Center's campus, caught John Sernulka's eye. The piece of machinery was in use, constructing a parking garage, and Sernulka wanted to go up in it.
"I thought, 'He's just kidding,'" Maurice Spielman, the hospital's facility, planning and capital improvement director, said. "He's not going to climb that thing."
But in the tower crane Sernulka, the hospital's CEO and president, went, getting an aerial view of the campus and the new parking garage during its construction phase about five years ago.
"John's very hands on with bricks and mortar," Spielman said. "He likes expansion. Renovation projects are great, but some people, like John, like to keep building. And there's a need to."
Sernulka came to the hospital in 1988 as part of a succession plan to take the organization's helm as president and CEO, which he did just a few years later. After increasing the hospital's services and expanding its facility, Sernulka's last day as president is June 30, a post current Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President Leslie Simmons will assume.
Sernulka will remain on as CEO until summer 2015, helping to oversee the transition in leadership.
About 25 years ago, Sernulka came to Carroll Hospital Center with clear goals.
"The hospital had evolved to the point where they had basic services, so they were prepared to deal with bread-and-butter kind of cases," he said. "But a lot of the more sophisticated cases had to be transferred to other hospitals once you were stabilized here."
If a patient was suffering a heart attack, the hospital could stabilize them, but it couldn't treat the blockage. It could pinpoint a high-risk pregnancy but couldn't assist in that kind of birthing process, Sernulka said.
It was time for that to change, Sernulka had determined. So, he took a "big risk."
And that came in the form of taking the about $10 million the hospital had in its banking account and basically spending it all.
"It was a big gamble on all the latest equipment: radiology equipment, surgical equipment, cardiology equipment," he said. "And by having that equipment here, it began to attract doctors."
That started a domino effect, Sernulka said.
"As more and more doctors got comfortable, specialists [were] coming from the city out here to practice because they saw we had the services and the equipment. We got bigger," he said, "and then we had to expand and build more bed towers."
The number of beds went from 128 to 213. They went through two emergency department expansions, upgraded the special care nursery, built a satellite office in Eldersburg and added a behavioral health unit, a cancer center, hospice and home care, and more. Consequently, the number of associates increased five-fold, from about 400 to 2,000, according to Sernulka.
That's just Sernulka's way, Dr. Andrew Green, the hospital's chief of anesthesiology, said.
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"Once he finished one project, he always moved on to the next with a great vision and a great team that could execute the plan," said Green, who came to Carroll to re-organize the anesthesiology department in 1995.
After about 25 years of changes, the hospital has defined its role in the community, Sernulka said.
"I don't see us becoming a burn center or a shock trauma center. We're probably not going to be an open heart surgery center," he said. "We're probably not going to be a neuro or a brain center. We're pretty much what we are now."
That means Simmons is entering a new era of challenges. She'll be focusing on keeping up with ever-evolving technological advances and preventing disease through wellness check-ups and educating the public, according to Sernulka.
"Health care is going to change amazingly, and we have to build that system here as far as where medicine is going," he said. "It'll be less about the hospital's four walls and more about bringing the advances of medicine to this community and keeping the community well."
And Green said he knows that Simmons will continue to bring the hospital into the future, just like Sernulka transformed a small hospital into one with a wide array of services.
"The hospital has always done what they've said they're going to do," Green said. "And the bottom line is always about the patients and the high quality of care."