By Michaela Gibson Morris
TUPELO – Shane Spees’ career in health care administration took him to Houston, Texas, and Birmingham, Ala., before circling back home.
Now, the new chief executive of North Mississippi Health Services has an office on the same campus where he was born and had his tonsils removed.
“We’ve been away from Tupelo for 25 years,” Spees said. “It’s nice to reconnect.”
Spees’ career began at Memorial-Hermann Healthcare System and took him leadership roles first at Valley Baptist Health System in the Rio Grande Valley and on to Baptist Health System in Birmingham, Ala., where he served as president and chief executive from 2007 to 2014.
Since January when he took over the Tupelo-based six-hospital system, Spees said he’s found that North Mississippi Health Services has a lot to be proud of.
“We’re as good, if not better, than the providers in Houston and Birmingham,” Spees said.
There’s more on the line for Spees in his new role than just professional pride. His mother, Sandra Spees, recently moved back to Tupelo. His grandparents, Charles and Naomi Lee, live here, along with aunts, uncles and cousins. His father, Mike Spees, died in 2006.
“Being back brings a lot of reality to (the old saying) ‘if it was your mother, what would you do?’” Spees said.
Finding a vocation
Growing up, Spees never had any ambition to work in health care.
“I had no aspirations other than playing professional baseball,” Spees said.
Spees may not have seen his direction, but the people around him saw someone special.
“You could tell right away he had great things ahead of him,” said Larry Harmon, who coached Spees on the Tupelo High School baseball team.
Spees excelled on the diamond and in the classroom, Harmon remembered.
“He was serious about reaching his goals,” he said.
Spees worked for Jimmy Long at MLM Clothiers in downtown Tupelo during high school and college.
“He wanted to do things well,” Long said. “He worked hard, he studied hard… I’ve never met a kid that had more honor and integrity.”
Following a clerkship after his first year of law school, Spees came to a crossroads.
“I realized I didn’t want to practice law,” Spees said, and he started considering his career options.
That exploration led him to call Dan Wilford, who had served as the chief executive of NMMC in the 1970s and 1980s, and was then the chief executive of the Memorial-Hermann system in Houston. The connection led to a job offer and a plan. After he finished law school, he would work part time as an administrative resident and pursue a master’s in health care administration at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
“It was literally a leap of faith,” for Spees and his wife Parker, he remembered.
Wilford, who is now retired, describes Spees as smart, talented and a quick learner who is great with people.
“He’s one of the best,” Wilford said. “Of the young people in hospital administration, I don’t know of anybody better than Shane Spees.”
For Spees, managing nonprofit health care organizations became a vocation, offering the challenges of working with teams and managing resources with a great purpose, he said.
“There’s a direct connection with what we do every day and serving the broader community,” Spees said.
North Mississippi Health Services is in an enviable position with a strong system of community hospitals and clinics through its 24-county service area.
“You see firsthand the support the community has for the health system,” said Spees, who has been visiting doctors, nurse practitioners and community hospital staffs around the system. “You don’t get that in markets like Birmingham or Houston.”
However, health care is in a period of tremendous transformation, and the health care team is changing rapidly.
“It’s like straddling two canoes,” Spees said.
The challenge is to balance between the old model of health care – taking care of people when they get sick – and the new model – helping people optimize their health.
“We would like to be innovators, help the community move toward wellness and better managing their health,” Spees said. “We will push ourselves to be as efficient as we possibly can be while providing the highest quality care.”