Striking a Balance

Whether he’s kayaking by moonlight or ‘parting the wild horse’s mane,’ Frank Fernandez seeks relief from supply-chain-induced stress.

Paddling around the Florida Keys at night, watching the sunset and the moonrise.

Strumming on a nylon-string Spanish guitar, playing international style music.

Leading a group of young people on a canoe trip in the wilderness.

Practicing a Tai-Chi form whose result is a flowing, slow sequence of continuous movements and accompanying breathing technique.

Activities like these give Frank Fernandez balance in his life and help reduce what he calls “supply-chain-induced stress.” Fernandez is assistant vice president and corporate director of materials management at Baptist Health South Florida in Miami.

Study in contrasts
Indeed, Fernandez’s life is a study of contrasts and balance. He was born in Havana, Cuba, and raised in Sagua La Grande, a city in north central Cuba. “I remember it as a very historic town, laid out in the traditional Spanish colonial plan, with a central city square,” he explains. “It was known for bicycles and horse-drawn carriages that functioned as taxis, as well as its wonderful architecture.” In fact, when Fernandez was growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he used to go to school in a horse-drawn carriage.

“I never participated in organized sports in school,” he recalls. “I never learned how to throw a ball. The other kids made fun of me because they said I threw like a girl. I could not hold a bat correctly. I was a total klutz, an introvert, a nerd and a bookworm.” But he did take to the outdoors.

Living in the island nation of Cuba, it is no surprise he was drawn to water. He spent summers in a house built on pilings over the water in the port town Isabela de Sagua, “famous for some of the best seafood and some of the best fishing.” He had a small wooden skiff which he named “Estrellita,” or “Little Star.”

His mom was a concert pianist and a trained coloratura soprano. “I got my love for music from her,” he says. His dad was an avid fisherman and outdoorsman. It was he who introduced young Fernandez to Scouting. In fact, Fernandez was part of the same Boy Scout unit – Manada No. 3 – as Mel Martinez, the current U.S. Senator from the state of Florida.

But in 1959, life changed dramatically for young Fernandez and all Cubans. In December of that year, Fidel Castro led a revolution against Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista. The Jesuit priests who had run the school Fernandez attended had left the country years earlier, and another Catholic religious order from Spain had been running the school. But they were expelled in 1960. The Boy Scouts of Cuba was banned the following year as a counterrevolutionary organization.

In May 1962 the Fernandez family fled to the United States. “I came to the United States, along with my family, as an exile and political refugee, fleeing Communism and the Castro regime,” he says. His mother, father, a brother, two sisters and grandfather (originally from Asturias, Spain) lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Miami. “We were on welfare,” he says. “We received rations from the Department of Agriculture in the form of corn meal, flower, Spam-like canned mystery meat, powdered milk, powdered eggs, peanut butter, etc. We got very creative with those staples, and survived as best we could. A couple of years after we arrived, my dad called the welfare office and told them to take us off welfare, because he felt we could make it on our own without further government assistance.”

Fernandez graduated from Miami Senior High in 1969, and worked his way through college, first at Miami-Dade Community College, and then Florida International University, from where he graduated.

Community work
His first full-time job out of school was as a neighborhood worker in a community mental health program operated by the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital. It was part of a movement to bring the services of the medical center to the community, he says. Fernandez went door-to-door in neighborhoods dominated by various ethnic groups, introducing people to the services offered by the hospital. If someone needed access to a psychiatrist or medication, Fernandez would facilitate it. If a person was eligible for Supplement Security Income, Medicaid or Medicare, he would help them apply. “This way, they didn’t have to deal with going to this huge, intimidating medical center, one of the largest in the country,” he says. “It put me in some of the most depressed, poorest neighborhoods of Miami Dade County. It exposed me to the whole social service structure and all the processes – good and bad. I learned a lot about human nature and about how communities work.”

Patient unit manager
While working in the program, Fernandez became more acquainted with the hospital’s services, processes and people. When a position as patient unit manager for the hospital’s neonatal units opened up at Jackson Memorial, Fernandez applied for and got the job. “This was my lucky break,” he says. As patient unit manager, he was the manager responsible for a regional neonatal intensive care center, which included neonatal ICU, intermediate care, minimal care and neonatal surgery. Weekly, he, the nurse manager and medical director would meet to discuss the needs of the departments.

“It gave me first-hand appreciation of patient care and the commitment that nurses and doctors have for their patients,” he says. It also opened his eyes to the role supply chain management played in patient care. “The center was very supply- and equipment-intensive, so this was my first experience with complex inventories, medical instrumentation and medical technology,” he says. “This was in the late 1970s so I saw the introduction of the first volumetric micro-infusion pumps, fiberoptic lamps, umbilical catheter oximeters, transcutaneous PO2 monitors and other amazing technology. Because of the special nature of the neonatal center, I interfaced very intensively with the hospital’s materials management department.”

When the position of assistant administrator of materials management became available, Fernandez was hired. His boss was W. Daniel Cobbs, the department’s director, “a real pioneer of healthcare supply chain management.” When Cobbs left the organization, Fernandez was promoted to administrator of materials management. In March 1983, he was recruited by Baptist Hospital of Miami, which at the time was a stand-alone community hospital. Since then, it has developed into Baptist Health South Florida, comprising five (soon to be six) acute-care hospitals, as well as clinics and satellite patient care facilities.

High adventure
While building his healthcare supply chain career, Fernandez never forgot his love of the outdoors, especially his love of the water. When his son, Franco, was old enough, he introduced him to Scouting. “This opened the door for me to get involved with outdoor and high-adventure activities, something I lost as a child due to historical circumstances.”

He became an avid sea kayaker. Sea kayaks that are designed for touring generally measure between 16 and 19 feet, and are used primarily to paddle long distances in open ocean and coastal areas, explains Fernandez. They have narrow cockpits and are usually equipped with a retractable skeg, or a rudder that is operated with foot pedals. They are different from sit-on-top kayaks, which are used recreationally; or from other recreational kayaks with very large cockpits; and small kayaks, which are used in rivers on very fast or white water. “After you paddle a real kayak, paddling a sit-on-top feels like paddling a bathtub,” he says.

Five years ago, Fernandez bought his own sea kayak, and he uses it regularly. For example, recently he and a group of fellow kayakers did a night paddle around Key Biscayne to celebrate a friend’s birthday. “We caught the sunset on the bay side and the rise of the full moon on the Atlantic side, paddling by the light of the moon for 12 miles,” he says. “It was sweet paddling, with the wind and currents at our backs and the moon casting its glow on the water and the sand.”

Paddling the Florida Keys is unique, he says. “You are floating on crystal clear water. You go through various habitats and experience all kinds of sea life – sharks, manatees, spotted rays, giant starfish. And paddling along the Seven Mile Bridge [which runs over a channel between the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Strait] is a unique experience.”

In short, Fernandez is in love with sea kayaking. He often paddles with a local group that calls itself the South Florida Bush Paddlers Association. “It is awesome. It is physically challenging. It gives you a sense of freedom and control. It is always challenging, and there is always something to learn.

“The view from the water is great! Kayaks can get into areas inaccessible to any other watercraft. I have kayaked the Turner River from Tamiami Trail to Chocoloskee Bay, right through the heart of the Florida Everglades, through beautiful mile-long mangrove tunnels where you can’t see sunlight, which would be impassable in any other craft. The river is so narrow in places that it is impossible to use your paddle normally. Instead, you pull yourself from the mangrove roots above your head, and you glide over the water. You paddle alongside alligators, turtles and all sorts of water critters, for the real South Florida experience. This is a whole different world, just about an hour and a half west from the hustle and bustle and glamour of South Beach.”

While Fernandez enjoys trekking with the Bush Paddlers Association, many of his trips – both on water and backpacking trips on land – are with the Scouts. He has been actively involved with the Scouts for years, and is program vice president for the South Florida Council. For the past eight years he has been a Crew Advisor for Venturing Crew 43, a branch of the Scouts that focuses on providing high-adventure outdoor opportunities for boys and girls ages 14 to 20. Their oath calls for young people to “seek truth, fairness and adventure in our world.”

Venturing is a youth-led, youth-run program, he says. The adult advisors, usually a male and female, function as resources for the youth leaders and members. “The focus is on leadership development while pursuing high adventure activities,” he says. His 19-year-old daughter, Valentina, is a member of the Crew.

For the Venturing Crew, Fernandez participates in an outdoor or high-adventure activity once a month, and a major high-adventure summer trip. He also helps conduct leadership training sessions. Recently, he helped lead 32 kids on a 10-day, 78-to-100-mile canoe trek in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota, crossing into Canada and back. In 2005, he and another adult took nine young men and women on a five-day sea kayak trek in the North Carolina Outer Banks. In 2009, he will lead the Crew on a sea kayak clinic and overnight expedition in the Keys.

In recognition of his work with the Scouts, Fernandez was recently awarded the Silver Beaver Award, the highest award given to a volunteer by a local Scout council. He was just one of 11 Silver Beaver honorees in 2008. “I never expected it, but I’m thankful for the recognition,” he says.

Keeping in shape
Physical fitness is a big part of Frank Fernandez’s life, and probably will be for years to come. He works out in the gym, provided free for employees, several times a week, working on weights and aerobics. “Especially as you get older, it’s important to improve your cardiovascular health and muscle tone,” he says. “It helps quite a bit that our employee gymnasium is one floor above my office.

“I love good food and good wine, and we have great diversity of cuisines here in Miami, reflecting all the cultures represented here. So it’s challenging to stay healthy. But if you exercise regularly, it regulates your appetite. You have more energy to do everything you want to do, you lower your stress and maintain a better outlook on life.”

For the past six years, he has taken Tai-Chi. Developed in China, it is classified as one of the “internal martial arts,” explains Fernandez. “It is practiced for its soft martial arts techniques, for its meditative qualities and for its positive effect on overall health and longevity.”

Tai-Chi forms have movements with such names as “part the wild horse’s mane,” “cloud hands,” “needle at the bottom of the sea” and “single whip,” he says. “They are really versions of kung-fu offensive moves and defensive blocks. An aggressive move is followed by a defensive move, in the sequence, to create balance. There is also a breathing technique that goes along with it, to create more balance as you go through the movements in the form. The whole combination results in a very flowing, slow sequence of continuous movements that is beneficial to your health, muscle tone, flexibility and peace of mind. It has been described as ‘stillness in motion.’”

He also plays a nylon-string Spanish guitar, and packs a Martin Backpacker, a light but fully functioning guitar, which he can strap to his backpack when he goes hiking.

“We hear that we have to maintain a healthy work-life balance,” he says, when reflecting on his activities. “Do we live to work, or do we work to live?

“I work hard enough at my job, and I put in long hours. Healthcare supply chain is hardly a breeze, especially in an organization as dynamic and complex as mine. I know most of my peers and colleagues feel the same way. So you need to do something to balance it out. My various activities keep me focused and healthy, and help me do a better job. I have more energy now than I’ve ever had before.

“You have to keep reinventing yourself and trying out new things and taking on new challenges in order to stay fresh and healthy – and alive.”