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He had dreamt of becoming a doctor, which was the reason why he enrolled in the Bachelor of Zoology program at the University of the Philippines. However, Raul C. Pagdanganan, President and CEO of Cardinal Santos Medical Center (CSMC) realized that the smell of formalin was too strong for him and decided to shift to the College of Business Administration where he took up Business Administration and Accountancy.
“I did not become a doctor but destiny has a way of leading one towards his/her true vocation. I did end up working with doctors,” Pagdanganan said.
He was able to finish the five-year course in four and a half years because he was making up for lost time. He graduated in 1981 and his hard work paid off as he ended up in the top 20 of the successful examinees for the Certified Public Accountancy (CPA) board exam at that time.
Pagdanganan started his career with Sycip, Gorres, Velayo & Co. (SGV) where he worked as an auditor. After 11 months, he decided to join the private sector to help out his family. All in all, he has 25 years of experience as a senior finance executive, and as a member of management committees of different companies.
“I hopped from one company to another, from one industry to another. But the bulk of my experience is really with the Metro Pacific Group of Companies,” he related. “And my first foray into the healthcare industry was when I got out of Alphaland and Eastern Communication. I was invited then by Metro Pacific, particularly Augie Palisoc and Bing Cochangco who wanted to engage me as a financial consultant to conduct due diligence on a hospital that the group wanted to acquire.”
That hospital was De Los Santos Medical Center. Pagdanganan recalled that when the due diligence was being conducted, the entire Metro Manila was submerged in floodwaters. That already gave Metro Pacific second thoughts about acquiring the hospital.
Pagdanganan, however, made his case and pointed out that the value of the hospital is not solely “in its present state but also on its potential to become a strategic addition to the group’s growing portfolio.”
“I recognized the hospital’s potential as being strategically located along two major thoroughfares – E. Rodriguez Sr. and Araneta Avenues,” he said.
“It has Quezon City as its main catchment area and Quezon City is the largest city in the National Capital Region. So it makes sense. There is really a market for that. There is also Araneta Avenue, never mind the flood for a while. It comes only once, twice a year. But the other thing that makes it strategic is that it is very accessible to Central Luzon because of the Northern Luzon Expressway,” he added.
So Metro Pacific took over De Los Santos and partnered with the former owners. Pagdanganan was given the opportunity to work in the hospital and was appointed President and CEO of De Los Santos. He was also appointed Board of Director of Marikina Valley Hospital and Chairman of the Board and CEO of Jesus Delgado Memorial Hospital.
Pagdanganan was overwhelmed with the task that was given to him since this would be the first time that he would be immersed in hospital operations. In fact, even his siblings doubted his abilities.
“It was indeed a challenging task. A lot of people doubted whether I would be able to take the job simply because I did not have any experience working in a hospital. Even my own siblings did not believe that I would be appointed to lead a hospital,” he said.
He added that he did a lot of soul searching “that quite frankly from a practical standpoint, my lone experience and exposure was really as part of the due diligence.”
“Being part of the due diligence would indicate that you would have to understand the nuts and bolts of the operations of a hospital. And also the financial implications,” he said. “But the greatest challenge was really how to grow the hospital.”
He stayed at De Los Santos Medical Center for seven years and on September 1, 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, he was assigned to lead Cardinal Santos Medical Center, one of the leading private hospitals in the country. For Pagdanganan, it was a homecoming of sorts since he is a resident of Mandaluyong and all his children were born in Cardinal.
“So when I started with Cardinal Santos in September, a lot of people were saying congratulations. What I wanted to hear was good luck. Why? Because the hospital was attending to more COVID cases compared to De Los Santos. So I immediately set my priorities,” he said. I wanted to hit the ground running on my first day by convening my first Senior Management Committee meeting in CSMC.”
Pagdanganan buckled down to work on his first day at CSMC and he was briefed by the different members of the Management Committee on what was happening at the hospital. He also set down his activities for the first 100 days “which was focused on implementing changes that were very simple, yet concrete and felt by all.”
“I initiated the rehabilitation of our lobby and improvements in various areas of the main hospital. We improved our facilities and further improved our safety protocols, then we came out with the different programs and initiatives to support our workplace where health, safety and well-being of every patient, physician, partner and employee is protected,” he said.
He also made sure that the staff would be provided with additional leaves, salary adjustments and allowances as well as medical and other protective and contingent provisions especially for those assigned to the COVID areas. “I always remind our employees to take good care of our patients and we will take care of them.”
“Another thing that is very important for me is constant and consistent communication. In crisis, a leader should be very good in two things– there has got to be visibility and communication. He attended his first townhall meeting with the CSMC community where one of the employees commented that he was happy to work with Pagdanganan because he spoke Tagalog.
To get to know the employees better, Pagdanganan institutionalized a “TLC or Talk, Listen and enjoy a cup of Coffee with RCP” where he gets to meet virtually and have coffee with five to six employees every week.
“We talk about their families, we talk about life in the pandemic, we talk about our common predicament” he said, adding that he would show his paternalistic side by encouraging employees to voice out their suggestions and recommendations for the improvement of the hospital and its services to patients. Whenever a participant happens to be celebrating an important milestone or event, he would send a cake or pizza or any food treat that the employee would request or ask for.
“We also did our part in communicating to and engaging with the communities we serve through our regular webicons (webinar plus press conference) about the pandemic. “What is more important here is that the doctors, the employees and our partners have seen that a lot of things can be done even amdist the pandemic, provided that we are all on the same boat,” Pagdanganan said.
Enhanced Quarantine Facility
So far, CSMC has been able to weather the storm even if they had to deal with a long waiting list. With Cardinal’s strong family culture, Pagdanganan said they made sure that all the patients on the waiting list would at least be seen by a doctor. This was achieved through their e-consult and COVID Outpatient Care services. He also paved the way for the construction of an Enhanced Quarantine Facility within the hospital, increasing the hospital’s COVID capacity.
“It’s about 23 beds and the facility accommodated those who could not be accommodated in the main hospital. They were able to avail of X-ray, laboratory works and CT scan if needed,” he said.
In addition to being paternalistic, Pagdanganan describes himself as being a visionary and “entrepreneurial to a certain extent and maybe this is because once upon a time, I was a newspaper boy.”
“Obviously, I am very hands on but at the same time, I would like to say that it is not because I want to micromanage. I also look at the members of my team. It has to be situational. If I see that we are consistent with what we are doing, it’s time for me to let go,” he said.
As for his future plans for CSMC, Pagdanganan said he wants to ramp up and focus on the needs of the hospital’s non-COVID patients. He is also keen on setting up the hospital’s own primary clinics to cater to patients who do not want to go to the hospital for medical care.
“We have a lot of mobile clinics here. We call it Cardinal on Wheels. We started with that and soon we’re launching the Cardinal Santos Hospital on Wheels. I think we are ready for it because we already have the learning curve on the Cardinal on Wheels so it’s more about increasing the services but this time for the corporate accounts,” he said.
Board of Regents
In July, Pagdanganan added another feather to his cap when he was appointed to the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines. He saw the appointment as a way of giving back to UP.
“As far as I am concerned, this is an opportunity to help define policies and programs that could sustain the national university. It is not just a question of honor and excellence but a contribution to the nation. I hope I can help in carrying out the institution’s purpose in the propagation of knowledge and dedication to public service particularly at this time of uncertainty brought about by Covid,” he said.
Pagdanganan will also be pushing for patient experience, adding that the only thing he can put on the table in managing a hospital is by looking at it from a patient’s perspective. He added that Cardinal is poised to deliver the desired patient experience, given its family culture.
“From all of these experiences and episodes in the hospital, putting the patients at the heart of everything we do is how we will be able to institutionalize our collective knowledge, experience, expertise and dreams for the future so that we will be able to consistently and sustainably do our mandate of serving our patients better,” he said.
His ultimate dream is for Cardinal Santos to have 500 beds because he wants to be able to dedicate more beds to serve the indigent population.
“I am the first CPA in the Philippines to manage a tertiary hospital. My role as a finance person [means] I do not manage the patients, I manage the hospital, for which reason I should be able to bring our institution to the pink of its financial health, so that it will be able to consistently ensure its sustainability and viability. That is why I say this is probably why the good Lord made this part of my destiny,” he said.
Found his niche
After years of working in two hospitals, Pagdanganan said he has finally found his niche.
“It is very rare for non-doctors to manage hospitals and I have always considered it a privilege to serve alongside excellent and caring doctors and healthcare workers especially in this pandemic. I told my wife that with everything I had experienced in my professional career, I just want to be able to be a better husband and a better father to my three daughters, who will soon pursue their own careers. I hope I am setting a good example for them as they chart their own course in life,” he said.
When asked about what’s next for Raul Pagdanganan – the CEO and the newspaper boy from Calumpit, Bulacan, Pagdanganan smiled and said “Life has given me great surprises so far. I know that given the opportunity, I am ready and willing to do more and to serve more.”