Health care professional Aurelio Fernandez succeeds by putting people first

Robyn A. Friedman, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·4 min read

Aurelio Fernandez has been a healthcare professional in South Florida for over 40 years. He served in a variety of roles at Palm-Med Health Services and Tenet Healthcare before joining Memorial Hospital Miramar as chief executive officer in 2007. In March 2016, Fernandez was appointed president and chief executive officer of Memorial Healthcare System, one of the largest public healthcare systems in the United States.

Ask Fernandez what he considers to be the key to his success, and he’ll give you a simple answer: putting other people first.

“I will never ask anyone to do something that I have not done in my career or willing to do,” he said. “I’ve done everything you can imagine in the hospital — pushed gurneys, cleaned floors, cleaned bathrooms. If I asked someone to do something, and I’ve not done it, it would not reflect the commitment I have toward the organization.”

And Fernandez is committed to his organization. Despite strains on the hospital system due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fernandez ensured that his team had an adequate inventory of face masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment.

“The most important accomplishment was the ability to create a safe environment for the staff,” he said. “It’s a commitment to the community and to this organization that has allowed us to provide a level of care that is quite unique in this market.”

In recognition of his business achievements and contributions to the community, Fernandez has been named winner of the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Excalibur Award as Large Business Leader of the Year in Broward County.

One of Fernandez’s initiatives has been to retain talented physicians in South Florida. “We embarked upon a graduate medical education program three years ago,” he said. “What that does is provide a venue to keep those who graduate from medical schools in the area to stay in the area.” There’s a similar graduate program for nurses.

Fernandez is committed to the community as well. He is active in numerous organizations, including serving on the board of directors of Catholic Health Services, the Florida Hospital Association and Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, as well as the board of advisors of the South Florida Hospital & Healthcare Association.

He is a past recipient of the annual Torch Award, the highest honor bestowed upon alumni and faculty by the Florida International University Alumni Association, and he was inducted into Miami Dade College’s Hall of Fame in 2017 in recognition of his professional success and contributions to the community.

Leah Carpenter, administrator and chief executive officer of Memorial Hospital West, has known Fernandez for 20 years. She said he keeps a printout of his daily schedule, carefully folded into quarters, in his jacket pocket, using it to not only know where he needs to be next but also to jot down things he needs to follow up on, whether that’s a condolence card to an employee who lost a family member or an exceptional employee he wants to thank with a handwritten note.

“He is very committed,” she said. “Very devoted to award and recognition and to making sure people feel valued and appreciated throughout the organization.”

Carpenter also said that Fernandez uses his sense of humor to alleviate stress in even some of the most challenging times, such as the current pandemic.

Others colleagues cite Fernandez’s ability to laugh at himself as one of the keys to his success. “He and I were talking about laparoscopic surgery one day, and he asked me with a straight face why we don’t use oxygen to fill the abdomen up with air when we’re doing these procedures,” recalled Stanley Marks, MD, a general and vascular surgeon who recently retired as Memorial Healthcare System’s chief medical officer after a 42-year affiliation. “And I said, ‘You do realize that oxygen is highly flammable,’ and I guess he had the visual of an abdomen filled with oxygen and somebody then using a cautery, and he started laughing uncontrollably. He thrilled in telling that story. That’s Aurelio — he’s somebody who can learn, who can laugh at himself and who has a great sense of humor. To me, that story tells it all.”


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