By Rebecca Roybal Jones

Latinas Who Lead

SRMC CEO Jamie Silva-Steele Makes it Her Mission to Help Others

As a child, Jamie Silva-Steele knew nursing was her calling, one that has led her to the role of president and CEO of The University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center in Rio Rancho.

Nearly 300 days into the COVID-19 pandemic, Silva-Steele, RN, BSN, MBA, FACHE, says getting through the trials and tribulations of running a hospital wouldn’t be possible without her staff.

“It has really been a gut-wrenching experience as a health care leader and as a health care provider,” she says.

It all began with the Albuquerque native’s desire to help others.

As a first-grader, Silva-Steele knew she wanted to be a nurse. With three younger brothers who were always getting hurt, she was at the ready with bandages. “At a young age, I really liked helping people,” she says.

Over her 35 years with UNM Hospital and SRMC, she’s had many diverse opportunities that paved her path to CEO. She started out as an emergency medical technician while a student at UNM and moved on to work as a registered nurse in pediatrics after graduating from the UNM College of Nursing.

silva-steele_jamie-1626-2493-x-2493.jpgSilva-Steele completed her MBA in the mid-1990s, and from there she managed many areas of UNM Hospital, from the intermediate care nursery to ambulatory care. She also opened numerous UNM programs and clinics over the years, including the first Westside clinic, which was in the Cottonwood Mall area, and managed the NE Heights clinic at Wyoming and Academy shortly after it opened. 

She also helped to implement several hospital-wide changes that came with the arrival of managed care in the late 1990s, such as the concept of primary care panels and tracking prevention guidelines in electronic medical records.

SRMC was a year old when Silva-Steele was tapped to serve as the interim chief operating officer in 2013 to assist with many changes that were underway. She moved into the interim chief executive officer four months later, and eventually applied for, and was selected, as permanent CEO.

“I’ve have loved every minute of it,” she says. “It’s been the best job of my career.”

While she continues to educate herself and belongs to several boards and organizations – and received a fellowship in the American College of Healthcare Executives – she still draws on her calling to help others.

Her nursing career “provided the amazing opportunity to care for patients when they’re most vulnerable, particularly when they’re very ill,” she says. “That’s the type of situation I felt I could help in the most. To help to explain what was going on medically and be there to hold a hand and help keep families informed. It made me feel good every day that I did that work. I do miss it.”

Silva-Steele was raised in Albuquerque’s North Valley, and her family continues to run a stretch of businesses in the town of Bernalillo. An uncle operated Silva’s Saloon and her grandfather owned and operated several businesses including the Pottery House.

The family businesses, located where The Range restaurant is now located, housed a grocery store, a drug store, a tire store and more. Her parents were elementary school teachers, and her late father left the profession to work in the family business. Her mother, who passed away last year, was a chorus and language arts teacher for Albuquerque Public Schools.

Silva-Steele has fond memories of her first real job of sacking groceries and stocking shelves in the family’s grocery store. But her favorite part of the weekend job was making hamburgers in the grocery store’s cafe.

Silva-Steele has been married to Ernie Steele for 21 years, and they have three children, ages 32, 30 and 20. When her older kids were little, she was a single mom for some time. She knew it was up to her to provide for her children and with that determination, she went on to graduate school, along with her boss at the time.

“I was young,” she says. “I was grateful for my employer, UNMH, that I was able to work full time and obtain my MBA.”

She also has a 3-year-old grandbaby. “Family for us is a big thing,” she says. “We just lost my mom last year.”

Her mother’s death has changed how Silva-Steele and her siblings get together. “We’re still grieving and relearning how to be together without her. The pandemic has also complicated our ability to be together,” she says.

When Silva-Steele has some down time, she enjoys jamming out on her guitar or belting out a tune. In the early 2000s she and her brothers had a band called Perdido, which performed smooth jazz and some Top-40 covers in area casinos.

Her mother encouraged a love of music among her children, so growing up, she and her brothers were always playing music. She likes singing ballads, loves harmonies and enjoys listening to Pentatonix.

Back on the job, Silva-Steele is spending more time on Zoom meetings than she ever imagined, but the change has given her more time to physically be at SRMC so that she can focus on immediate needs and planning. She also serves as one of the incident commanders for the SRMC Emergency Operations Center.

“Some days I feel powerless because I’m not at the bedside caring for the patients,” she says. “I see the team and the amount of blood, sweat and tears they’re putting into taking care of patients. And as the patient volume has escalated, you feel helpless, and wish there was more you could do.”

“What’s rewarding for me . . . is to be able to provide the resources to our team and to our patients as fast as possible,” she adds. “Sometimes in our normal bureaucratic ways, it takes many hoops to jump through to get things done. But in the emergency operations structure, you remove all of those layers and you’re executing as fast as you can to get what’s needed as quickly as possible.”

Silva-Steele strives to build teams with differing backgrounds, and would like to see young people pursue leadership in health care so that it continues to be more diverse.

“Diversity has always been a part of who I am,” she says. “I want to solicit different ideas and outlooks at the table. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been here (in New Mexico) my whole life. I have a lot of knowledge about our state and community.”

Silva-Steele credits surrounding herself with dedicated professionals, who have helped ensure the hospital’s success.

“It’s definitely a team effort,” she says. “There were healthcare operational gaps I had when I joined, and the team filled those gaps in. I greatly value my team. Over the last seven years, it’s been predominantly the same team that has helped us advance as an organization, and now through the trials and tribulations of the pandemic. Their dedication has really been amazing and they have helped me become a better leader.”

One of the things she noticed on her climb to CEO was the lack of women and minorities at the top. “What I love about the Health Sciences Center is we call it out and we acknowledge it, and are doing something about it,” Silva-Steele says.

Now, in her other role as executive director of the UNM Health Sciences Rio Rancho Campus, she is focused on developing a first ever CNM-UNM medical assistant program with the UNM College of Nursing, which will also include new pre-health programs, Silva-Steele says. The campus has also offered a health careers academy for Sandoval County youth.

“There are so many opportunities in health care,” Silva-Steele says. “Getting diverse youth interested in health care is something I have a passion about. I want to bring them to those leadership roles.”

Categories: College of Nursing, Diversity, Top Stories