For some people, a cancer diagnosis and the difficult journey into remission would have deterred them from wanting to spend more time at a medical facility. However, for Kirkpatrick “Kapua” Conley, his diagnosis and recovery were the detour that transported him from the Information Technology (IT) lane into the healthcare arena, where he shifted into his higher purpose. Conley is president of Sentara Port Warwick in Newport News and Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton.
“My journey into healthcare was somewhat of a winding road,” says Conley. He graduated from Tulane University as a business major with a strong IT emphasis. “When I finished school, I got into IT consulting and did that for several years. My last year on scholarship, I took a whole bunch of programming classes so I kind of cut my business-side with some programming and really got into the technical aspect of IT.”
Conley eventually shifted from the technical side to the business side of IT consulting. He excelled in process improvement, working with several Fortune 500 companies, particularly in the oil and gas industries. During this time, he was living in New Orleans and enjoying life.
“Then, I got diagnosed with cancer and that’s when my perspective on life changed a little bit,” Conley says. “So, I went through that ordeal and when you’re a person of faith, you kind of lean on that.” He says that during this time, he became introspective, examining where he was going and what he was doing. Says Conley, “I realized at that time, that my perspective on life was a little bit skewed.”
At Tulane University, he was around people with a lot of money and he wanted that life too. Says Conley, “Growing up, my dad always said, ‘Success is really about touching lives—not about making money.’ So, that’s something I always knew growing up, but you kind of get skewed when you get around people who have a lot of money. That was my reason for getting into IT and when I went through that ordeal, it kind of re-based me.”
While Conley was in the in-patient unit, he realized that he could take the things he learned through IT and apply them to healthcare. He smiles as he says, “Once I got into remission, I immediately gave my job my two weeks notice and I enrolled back into Tulane University.” He graduated with a Master of Health Administration degree. “And, then the journey just started from there,” he says.
From that point, he worked in a variety of capacities that included comprehensive oncology care, the ambulatory side of the business and academics. Having made significant impact in these arenas, he set his course toward community-based medicine and jumped into the community arena.
Before coming to Hampton Roads last April, he was in San Diego working for a healthcare district. He and his wife have an 18-month-old daughter. His wife is from the East Coast and believed it was time for them to move closer to family. Conley also has a 21-year-old daughter who is a student at the University of Delaware.
When Conley’s contract with the San Diego district was coming up, his desire was to move into a medically comprehensive integrated network. Sentara had what he was looking for. He reached out to Sentara and was hired. “Sentara has everything that I’m looking for,” he says. “It has the community focus which for me has always been a priority; it has great quality outcomes, it has a great perspective on growth relative to providing care and access to the community and a strong commitment to the Peninsula, which for me is key.”
Conley primarily divides his time equally between Port Warwick and CarePlex, ensuring that the clinicians have everything they need to provide the best patient experience. There are approximately 1,200 employees under his umbrella. “We all have different roles and different titles but the reality is that if you are not engaging in patient care, then your job should be providing for those who do.”
Port Warwick and CarePlex compliment each other. Port Warwick was designed to address outpatient needs in Newport News. In Hampton, CarePlex stands ready for those who require outpatient care and/or inpatient services. Says Conley, “The face of healthcare at Port Warwick and CarePlex is and should always be the caregivers. I’m kind of their spokesman but at the end of the day, when people come to the facility, they’re the ones taking care of them.”
Conley is a humble and gracious gentleman who brings warmth to an environment that is often seen as cold. It is evident that he has been successful in touching lives—especially for those who need hope. “When I had cancer, I didn’t care who the CEO was; I cared about my doctor and my nurse. What makes Sentara successful is the people who work here, and every day that goes by, I’m walking around thinking ‘hey, I’m so proud to be part of this team.’”
Sentara Port Warwick
Address: 11803 Jefferson Ave.,
Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Liz Vandendriessche