By Bobby Quinten
Juan Fresquez Jr. always knew he wanted a career in healthcare. After graduating from the Dallas ISD Magnet School of Health Professionals, Juan headed off to college to learn dentistry.
Through the twists and turns of college and career, Fresquez instead found himself drawn away from molars and bicuspids to a 33-year career in healthcare leadership. In 2019, that journey brought Fresquez to Methodist Mansfield Medical Center as its new president.
Sitting at his favorite place in town, El Primo’s Mexican Grill & Cantina, Fresquez discussed his career journey.
“My wife Carla and I came here right after we moved and fell in love with this place,” Fresquez said. “It felt like the local hangout, the watering hole. I met the owner Todd (Tonore) and other civic leaders here. We love it.”
After graduating from University of the Incarnate Word, Fresquez’s post-college work earned him notice from Houston Northwest Medical Center, which hired him in Healthcare Administration. Eventually, he would become chief operating officer at Houston Northwest, a hospital owned by Tenet Healthcare. Tenet respected Fresquez’s work so much they asked him to work with other hospitals as a “fixer.”
“I would work with system hospitals in dire need of change,” Fresquez said, admitting that he was not always welcomed with open arms. “The changes they needed typically were invasive, somewhat unpopular, but necessary to improve the hospital’s service quality.”
He welcomed the challenge, and today he takes great pride in those service quality improvements while at Tenet.
For the record, Fresquez loves challenges.
“I am a competitor by nature,” he confessed. “Competition is my No. 1 strength. I do not like to lose.”
In an industry where the average tenure of a hospital leader is five to seven years, Fresquez said the variety of challenging opportunities in Houston helped keep him from “getting stale.”
His final “fixer upper” took Fresquez, his wife and their three children away from Texas.
“Tenet purchased St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson and needed someone to facilitate the business integration,” he said.
He took a three-year contract and “lots of lip balm” to Arizona, where St. Joseph’s expanded from a Level 3 to Level 1 trauma center during his tenure.
As his contract expired in Tucson, Juan discovered he needed a change after 30 years as a fixer.
“I wanted to lead a hospital already in great shape with a great culture. I wanted to lead a place where I could be less hands-on and much more strategic.”
He found that in Mansfield.
Dallas-based Methodist Health Systems hired Fresquez as president of Methodist Mansfield Medical Center in February 2019. Upon arriving here, he made two discoveries in short order.
First, he knew he had found what he was looking for.
“Methodist Mansfield had a culture of everyone doing whatever is needed to help others,” Fresquez recalled, which was exactly what he had sought for his next role. “This is who we are when we say, ‘We Are Methodist Mansfield.’”
As he learned more about the community through Leadership Mansfield, Fresquez found that same spirit collectively in the citizenry.
“Methodist Mansfield reflects the residents’ overall culture of helping wherever they can.”
Juan and Carla Fresquez fell in love with Mansfield and built a home here, and he is determined that “I’m not leaving Mansfield. This is my last hospital.”
The second discovery concerned the growing national nursing shortage and its impact upon Mansfield. In a 2021 published statement, Fresquez explained, “It is our responsibility to seek new ways to expand access to care, in order to best meet the needs of the communities we serve.”
With that purpose in mind, Methodist Mansfield collaborated with the City of Mansfield and convinced Texas Tech University to create a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program on the hospital’s campus. Texas Tech will graduate its first Mansfield nursing cohort in December.
“I am very proud to have Texas Tech as a part of our family here,” Fresquez said.
Fresquez raved regularly about his leadership team at Methodist Mansfield. In a marked contrast to his past quality improvement roles, Fresquez said he leads here from a position of building upon an already strong foundation.
“Here, I have the freedom to empower our strong team to be the best that they can be,” he explained. “It is my job to provide them the resources they need to excel. What do they need to improve patient satisfaction and employee satisfaction?”
His leadership team is encouraged to “speak freely and respectfully” while working together to “provide the right care in the right setting at the right time.”
Fresquez likens leadership to running a ship.
“I let the experts ensure that all engines are running, and I let my leadership team take the wheel. My role is more strategic, to plot the course and set the direction.”
Additionally, in a highly regulated industry, Fresquez works to keep the “ship” safe and legally compliant at all times.
By empowering others to do their jobs well, Fresquez said, “I can keep the hospital’s future growth on the forefront through visioning and recruiting.”
For example, Fresquez thinks that Mansfield soon will require both a pediatric care center and a geriatric care center to meet the future healthcare demands of a growing city. He is thinking about how to do those things.
Fresquez led Methodist Mansfield Medical Center for one year before COVID-19 swept the world and brought unprecedented challenges to the healthcare industry.
“Our greatest concern as a medical facility was the sudden influx of patients,” he recalled. “Hospitals maintain a certain number of beds in ratio to the population. Then a pandemic brings a disease that no one has ever had before, and suddenly the entire population is susceptible all at once. That was scary.”
In that moment of crisis, Fresquez made a crucial decision to not take the wheel of the ship.
“At times, one must adjust their leadership style to be most effective in that moment,” he said. “I chose to remain focused on strategy and moving the hospital forward. I compartmentalized COVID as a clinical crisis and trusted my nursing and medical staff leaders to manage it. And they did a phenomenal job.”
Fresquez admits other hospital leaders might have chosen a more hands-on approach to managing their organization.
“It was not an easy decision for me to make,” he said. “It took maybe some managerial courage.”
Fresquez also admitted that, because of his long-time, in-the-details fixer experience, “I had to put my ego aside and let our experts do what they do best.” He also expressed gratitude for Methodist Health leadership who “gave me autonomy to do my job and make decisions rapidly in the best interests of our patients and the community.”
Today Methodist Mansfield is coming out of the pandemic still focused on key strategic goals. Not only did the nursing school open during that time, but the hospital remains well on track to elevating its services and resources to a Level 2 Trauma Center. Fresquez said this validates his leadership decision.
“I’m sure some are wondering how Methodist Mansfield got all this stuff done during COVID,” he said. “We did it because we were able to do two things at once.”
Meanwhile, Texas Health Hospital opened its Mansfield facility in December 2020. Adding a new hospital in town pushed the competitive leader and his team harder toward meeting Methodist Mansfield’s long-term strategic goals.
“More than ever, we need to be the best we can be at providing accessible and equitable healthcare to everyone,” he said.
Fresquez believes that the healthcare industry benefitted overall from the Coronavirus crisis.
“For instance, COVID catapulted our industry forward toward virtual care and technology, at least a decade faster than we would have gotten there,” Fresquez estimated.
Among healthcare workers, Fresquez stated that handwashing and face masking have been “hard-wired” into the clinical culture, thanks to the pandemic.
“We always focused on these activities to reduce contamination and infection rates,” he said, “but now every person does them every time. COVID drove home the importance.”
Consequently, the hospital now buys six times the previous amount of hand sanitizer.
When asked about his greatest accomplishment, Fresquez did not hesitate to answer. However, his answer may surprise you. He did not mention Tucson or Methodist Mansfield’s heroic COVID work or even landing a major university nursing program.
“My biggest accomplishment is marrying my best friend Carla 33 years ago,” he said. “If you choose the right partner in life, everything else falls into place. I adore her. I cherish every moment with her and our three children.”
When asked what he would change, Fresquez replied, “Nothing, really. I am very happy with my life as it turned out. I feel very fulfilled. Any bad things were lessons that I would not have learned otherwise. I survived it all.”
He paused thoughtfully.
Then he added, “Actually, if I could change one thing, I would have proposed to Carla seven years earlier. I cheated myself out of seven more years being married to my best friend.”
Mansfield, Texas, is a booming city, nestled between Fort Worth and Dallas, but with a personality all its own. The city’s 76,247 citizens enjoy an award-winning school district, vibrant economy, historic downtown, prize-winning park system and community focus spread across 37 square miles. The Mansfield Record is dedicated to reporting city and school news, community happenings, police and fire news, business, food and restaurants, parks and recreation, library, historical archives and special events. The city’s only online newspaper launched in September 2020 and will offer introductory advertising rates for the first three months at three different rates.