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Kūlia I Ka Nu‘u: Gail Lerch at Hawaii Pacific Health – Making a Difference in People’s Lives

Posted Tuesday, October 15, 2019 6:28 am

Gail Lerch, Executive Vice President of Human Resources and General Services at Hawaii Pacific Health (“HPH”), recently shared her experiences in making a difference in the lives of others.  At HPH, Gail oversees all functions of Human Resources, Organizational Effectiveness, General Services and Volunteer Services.

How did you get into Human Resources?

I started my career in Hawaii as a Registered Nurse at The Queen’s Medical Center and eventually worked as a RN recruiter at Queen’s.  After 5 years, I took a position at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children and worked in recruitment and eventually became the Manager of Recruitment.  I had many opportunities to progress my skills and experiences such that in 2001 at the HPH merger, I became the Head of Human Resources for the entire organization.

What would you consider your most rewarding accomplishment?

Redesigning the retirement plan from a final average defined benefit plan to a cash balance defined benefit plan in order to maintain a viable retirement program for our workforce.  HPH is one of the few companies to continue to offer a pension plan and a 403(b).  The redesign also involved amending 10 union collective bargaining agreements.  At HPH we provide educational offerings and opportunities for employees to look at their financial well-being.  It’s one of our strongest scoring questions by our employees in Gallup Engagement survey. 

Are there any professional or personal goals you would like to achieve or have achieved?

I achieved a goal to be “in charge” – meaning I wanted a role that would allow me to make a difference in people’s lives.  As a Registered Nurse, I wanted to be able to have a position that could help influence the care our patients receive.  Additionally I wanted to be able to play a role in influencing growth and development.  I have been involved in the recruitment and the development over the years for many of our current HPH leaders.  Having been in my role for several decades, I have been able to see individuals grow and blossom into new roles including mentoring and coaching individuals who now hold positions at the highest levels across HPH.

Eventually I would like to spend more time teaching, mentoring and coaching to develop strong HR professionals.

Is there anyone who you consider as a mentor or role model?

Claudia Rosenfeld, former Vice President of Human Resources at Kapiolani Health, who was actually selected for the position at the same time I was applying for the VP position.  I was informed by Roger Drue, President of Kapiolani Health, that I was not ready for the VP position, but I should take the opportunity to learn everything I could from Claudia.  From the time she was hired up to her recent passing, Claudia served as a mentor and coach to me.  Claudia allowed me to make mistakes and to learn.  She was one of the strongest HR leaders I have ever met.  To this day, there are times I ask myself, “What would Claudia do?”

How do you “decompress” from the stress of work?

Living by myself allows me to go home and enjoy quiet time and allows me to rest my mind.  I also find it relaxing to think things through while working out at the gym.  HR is such stressful work that we all need to spend time whenever possible recharging for the next HR challenge.

Speaking of working out, would you care to share on HPH’s Wellbeing Program?

Our Physical Wellbeing Biometric Program has a 97% participation rate and helps employees, spouses and dependents “know their numbers.”  The biometric screening portion of our Wellbeing Program has helped many employees detect potential health issues such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

HPH has a number of additional programs that help employees focus on emotional/spiritual wellbeing, financial wellbeing and career wellbeing.  We run a variety of educational offerings as well as “fun” engagement activities to keep our employees engaged.

Do you have any advice to someone starting their career in Human Resources?

For those starting their career in Human Resources, I recommend being open to any assignment.  Even if you do not feel you have the skill set, use the assignment as an opportunity to grow.  Also, as new HR leaders, do not be afraid to hire individuals who know more about an area of HR than you do.  I want the best people working with me and for me. Finally, find a HR mentor.  No matter who you are and what your skill level may be, everyone can use mentoring and advice.

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