Hard Work, Family and Community

Meet Estela Chapa, the CHRISTUS Spohn Health System bigwig who has more than earned her reputation as “the nurse who helps people.”

By: Steven Alford

When she was a little girl, Estela Chapa and her family drove upon a horrible car wreck along the highway. She and her family rushed to see how they could help. A young Estela handed out blankets to the injured and stood by and watched as medical professionals rushed into action and provided CPR.

It was a defining moment for the future nurse and now executive vice president and chief operating officer of CHRISTUS Spohn Health System, South Texas’ largest health care provider. “From that day on, I wanted to work in health care,” Chapa said. “I wanted to know how to save lives just like I saw on the side of that road.”

The boardrooms and executive offices are a long way from the humble beginnings she and her six siblings experienced in Rio Grande City. She and her family split their year working between Texas and California picking fruit in the fields. It was a time of change; social upheaval was just down the road as labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez protested unfair conditions for migrant workers.

Though they grew up poor, Chapa’s mother never let it define who they were or could be. “We didn’t always have the best,” Chapa reminisced, “but we were taught to make the best out of whatever we had.”

When one of her eldest sisters became the first person in her family to attend college, the dream of rising up from her working-class beginnings became more real. During a field trip with her high school band, Chapa visited Corpus Christi for the first time. The sparkling bay front was a beautiful sight, she said – one that inspired her to work hard and return one day.

Chapa graduated high school and enrolled in Texas Women’s University, earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and later, a master’s degree of science in nursing administration. From there, she worked in several Texas hospitals, including Kindred Hospital, where she was named CEO of the Year by Kindred Health, as well as Corpus Christi Specialty Hospital, Driscoll Children’s Hospital and nearby Memorial Medical Center, now known as CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial.

Chapa says she has deep ties to Memorial; it’s where she grew as a leader and learned how to trust her instincts and lead by example. “To me, being a leader has always been about taking pride in what you do and making yourself responsible for the people you are working for,” she said. “I don’t know everything, but I can recognize those skills in others that I don’t have. Being a good leader is about surrounding yourself with talented people and serving them.”

It’s an interesting time for health care and the hospital where Chapa learned how to lead as a young nurse. CHRISTUS Spohn Health System has proposed a transformation of the Memorial campus, investing millions to replace the aging structure with a 40,000-square-foot family health center to provide preventative and outpatient services.

“We’ve got to make a positive change in people’s lives moving forward,” Chapa said. “I think this transformation has given us the opportunity to do things differently. It’s about changing the way we deliver health care to create better outcomes – treating the whole person, not just the medical issue.”

CHRISTUS Spohn has proposed naming the facility the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Family Health Center, honoring the legacy of Corpus Christi’s own civil rights pioneer.

The hospital’s Level II trauma center and resident physician programs are proposed to move to nearby CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Shoreline, which houses the health system’s nationally recognized neuroscience, stroke, cardiac and cancer programs. Chapa says it makes sense to consolidate those services when you look at the direction health care is moving – preventing diseases rather than just treating them. According to her, that’s what CHRISTUS Spohn’s new strategic plan is all about. That means providing services at the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Family Health Center to not just heal, but foster a healthier life for South Texas residents.

It’s a new way of looking at health care that could be the norm as the industry moves toward treating patients not just in the four walls of a hospital, but at many different care points in the community.

CHRISTUS Spohn’s strategic plan to transform Corpus Christi’s hospitals and health clinics is estimated to cost $325 million – with no taxpayer dollars required. CHRISTUS Health has agreed to provide $275 million, the single largest investment the health system has ever made in one of its regions. The rest is planned to be raised by the region’s philanthropic community.

That’s a big symbol of CHRISTUS Spohn’s commitment to the Coastal Bend community, Chapa said, ensuring Dr. Spohn and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word legacy is here to stay for hundreds more years.

Though it’s a busy time in Chapa’s life, she always makes time for her two children and five grandchildren. She and her husband of more than 30 years, Luis, enjoy taking camping trips and outdoor excursions, most recently taking the family to Alaska to see the breathtaking wilderness.

But wherever she travels, always near to Chapa’s heart is her calling to care for others that began when she was a young girl. Since that day on the highway when she tended to car wreck victims, Chapa has been known by her peers as “the nurse who helps people.”

Her talent for leadership and vision has been recognized widely in the communities she serves. Chapa has been named an outstanding community leader by LULAC, and later, she was honored with the Las Estrellas Award by the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas. It’s no surprise for those who know her best.

“On her outer core, she’s a tough woman,” said Mary LaFrancois, executive vice president of human resources for CHRISTUS Spohn Health System. “But once you get to know her, you learn just how much she is loved and respected in this community.”

About CHRISTUS Spohn Health System
CHRISTUS Spohn Health System is the region’s largest health care system consisting of six hospital campuses: CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi (Shoreline, Memorial and South), CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice, CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Beeville and CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Kleberg (Kingsville). The health system is consistently ranked a leading health system in the area, and it has received national recognition for several pioneering programs, including cardiac care, clinical excellence and oncology. For more than 100 years, CHRISTUS Spohn has been distinguished by its high-caliber staff and affiliated physicians, its comprehensive and innovative services and its long history of responding to the needs of the community it serves.

For more information about CHRISTUS Spohn Health System, visit www.christusspohn.org

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