Finding Balance

New AdventHealth Ocala leader Erika Skula brings strong and aligned values to her job and community.

When a leader is able to align personal core values with work values, it can be powerful. AdventHealth Ocala President/CEO Erika Skula is an example of that dynamic, with a good dose of unique life experiences thrown in. 

Skula is still relatively new to Ocala, having moved to the area about a year ago. As a graduate of Andrews University in Michigan, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration. Her career background includes leadership positions in education and healthcare, and she served as chairman of the business and communications department at Kingsway College in Oshawa, located in Ontario, Canada. Skula then held several positions at AdventHealth Manchester in Frankfort, Kentucky., including COO, CFO and controller before being named president and CEO. She found her way to Florida when she was promoted to take the same position at AdventHealth Carrollwood in Tampa. In May of 2023, Skula was selected to relocate again, this time to take the helm of AdventHealth Ocala. 

“I wasn’t clinical, I was never interested in the clinical,” she explains of her roles in healthcare, “but there was always the edge for relationships and the people you could always touch, no matter what you did in healthcare.” 

Erika Skula is in the arms of her mother, Veronika Igracski, with her sisters Ibojka and Veronika, in Novi Sadi along the Danube River at Petrovaradin, formerly Yugoslavia; photo courtesy of Erika Skula

And building relationships is a big part of what Skula attributes to success. She finds that in Ocala, she’s been able to get to know others quickly, and not just at a surface level. 

“It’s refreshing,” she says, “and this community is such a friendly place.”

Most of Skula’s career has been as part of the AdventHealth team, so she well understands the organization’s service standards of “love me, own it, keep me safe and make it easy.” And while they all resonate with her, she notes that “love me” is the one that sums up the others.

“Our service standards are so simple,” she says, “and when you really think about it, they are so inclusive, and all four concepts just really embody everything we should do. I think the one that jumps out at me the most is ‘love me,’ because if you really show love and compassion to those you take care of, then you’re going to make it easy for them, you’re going to own it for them, and you want to make sure they’re safe. If you really truly love a person like you care for family, and certainly you love family, you will want to make sure all of these things are taken care of.” 

Skula also explains that all team members’ badges come with the printed message, “I Care for You Like” followed by a blank, leaving space to fill in with the name of someone who is loved by that team member. She notes that most of the time the names team members add are of family members, and that in turn shows the level of care being provided to the patient. 

Erika in a jet fighter plane; courtesy of Erika Skula

As Skula discusses the pivotal role AdventHealth Ocala plays in the community, she particularly focuses on the relationships in helping people who are potentially in a health crisis. This is part of what drew her to healthcare.

“I think that when people are at their lowest point, often in life,” she explains, “having health issues, scared, they don’t understand … that’s when we have the greatest opportunity, really, to offer that compassion and care that people need in such stressful times.” 

Skula and her immediate team of five meet each day to check in with each other and she regularly touches base with another 10 team members. But she also sees the entire 2,000 local members of AdventHealth Ocala as her team. 

“No one can do anything on their own, you have to have the shared values and vision,” she says, “and when you do that, you can impact a team and work together to extend the mission of healing.”

As the world of healthcare in general is ever changing and new rules and regulations come into play every day, Skula says she and her team are used to rapid changes and staying on top of them while decisions are made and before moving forward. Although that can be a little challenging, her team stays prepared, and they work closely together. For Skula, that closeness and the relationships that are built from it are where she finds great fulfillment in her work. 

“No doubt, I love really getting to know the team, and the leaders,” she offers, “and not just what they do at work but getting to know them personally, their family, what they like to do. That just brings me a lot of joy, in having a connected, strong team that works together for good.” 

As one example of building relationships, Skula likes to make her own hospital rounds to visit nurses’ stations, spending some time to find out how team members are doing. 

“I just love to stop by to ask if they have everything they need,” she notes, “and to really listen to them. It’s a good way to show love.” 

Diverse Experiences

Perhaps the first example Skula experienced with seeing the power of love and setting the standard in values was through her parents, who, when Erika was 5, fled their tumultuous homeland of Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) with their family. In that journey, siblings were separated, and months were spent in Germany before there was a final relocation to Canada where Skula grew up. 

“They were a team for sure,” she recounts of her parents, “as they sacrificed and had courage, were brave and stood up for values.” 

Skula also had several teachers who were inspirational in her formative years, as well as her first boss at AdventHealth, who she describes as, “warm, kind and clear.” Skula has mentored several people in her career and, depending on her mentee’s challenges, has been able to help support them with specific things they faced. She has mentored women and men, and believes the same caring, core values and principles come through, although she notes some women may have also related to her on an additional level as a female in a leadership role. 

Erika and husband, Joe; courtesy of Erika Skula

Those values of AdventHealth include quality and service excellence, community well-being, high ethical standards, stewardship and inclusiveness. 

“When I think about my personal values, I always feel like I truly align with AdventHealth values,” Skula thoughtfully says. “And they’re beautiful. When your values align with where you work, you truly have joy, you can truly say you have joy in what you do every day.” 

As an avid Brené Brown fan, Skula listens to the well-known researcher and storyteller’s podcasts and reads her books. She loves many of Brown’s quotes, but one does stand out for her as she thinks of her own philosophy in life. 

“My favorite quote is from Brené Brown, and it’s about integrity,” she shares, quoting: “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun or fast or easy, and it’s practicing your values and not just professing them.” 

Skula adds that practicing values is far more important than just talking about them, and role modeling for people is showing how to serve. 

Skula’s background seems to be a perfect foundation for her courage and adaptability in taking on new challenges and opportunities. From moving across continents in stressful circumstances as a child to learning several new languages (she speaks Hungarian, Serbian and French) to working in an ever-changing industry with healthcare, her life has been woven in diverse experiences. 

Erika during An Evening of Mission and Music; courtesy of Erika Skula

She is an accomplished musician, playing several instruments, including the piano and the accordion, which her mother wanted her to learn. But her heart is in the percussions. She even played in An Evening of Mission and Music, presented last September by the AdventHealth Ocala Foundation, and performed at the Reilly Arts Center. The event featured musical performances by the members of the AdventHealth Ocala Orchestra. AdventHealth West Florida Senior Manager of Communications Lauren Rozyla-Wong confirmed that not only can Skula play, she excels on the drums. 

“She won’t say it, but she’s really, really good,” Rozyla-Wong adds.

Forward Vision

Munroe Memorial Hospital, named for banker T.T. Munroe, later became Munroe Regional Medical Center. In 2014 Community Health Services assumed operations under a 40-year lease with the Marion County Hospital District, which still owns the hospital and the land. AdventHealth came in when CHS sold the organization the lease for operations in 2018. Last year, AdventHealth Ocala received an “A” Hospital Safety Grade from the Leapfrog Group, which is a national organization upholding the standards of patient safety in hospitals and surgery centers.

Skula’s vision for the next five years includes continuing the strong trajectory and path she believes AdventHealth Ocala is already on, including physician recruitment, which grew by six in 2023 alone. 

“The community relies on us as a community hospital,” she emphasizes, “to provide excellent, comprehensive care.” 

Skula adds that the footprint will continue to grow with an offsite emergency room and a medical building for specialties, with ease of care and access, in one building. She wants community members to know they can find specialists in Marion County and not have to leave the area for care. 

“We are the community hospital,” she says, “and we don’t want people to feel they have to leave to find the care they need. We can provide it here.” 

Additionally, Skula projects local economic development will be positively impacted. 

“As we grow,” she notes, “we grow jobs. Not just for us at AdventHealth, but also in things like local vendors, such as those we will need for our medical building.” 

While AdventHealth Ocala is still relatively young in the area, many employees have worked in the hospital through its changes. As a leader, Skula is strong on local partnerships, including the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership, or CEP, the Florida Department of Health in Marion County and other nonprofits in the community. She praises these groups and looks forward to working more closely with them. 

“The CEP is really impressive,” she offers. “It’s amazing to collaborate with them and the other nonprofits. We want to sit together and see how we can support better, because we don’t want to be a standalone. There are many issues such as non-smoking, diabetes and access to care, that can be a focus for all of us.” 

At Home in Ocala

While Skula is up for new opportunities through AdventHealth Ocala, she’s also up for other fun challenges, as evident of the time she and her best friend flew jet fighter planes about 10 years ago. Her friend won the opportunity as a prize, to be experienced by two people, and asked Skula to join her. 

Photo by MAVEN Photo + Film

“So, I said, ‘Okay,’” she says, laughing. They trained in Las Vegas with a Navy pilot and an Air Force pilot for an hour. “And then we went up and did a ‘dog fight,’ and it was a simulation,” she says, adding, “but we were at almost 4G.”

More recently and closer to the ground, Skula and Joe, her husband of nearly 40 years, have spent the last year becoming more acquainted with Ocala and Marion County. They have enjoyed the local natural amenities, especially water sports. 

“It’s been busy,” she says, “and family has visited.” 

Several nieces and nephews have made it to Florida to spend time with the Skulas and to enjoy the local scene.  

“We love the outdoors, like hiking and walking, and we’ve taken them out in the area,” Skula says of her guests. “And I love the water, that’s my thing.” 

The couple, and sometimes their family, have been paddleboarding, kayaking and waterskiing, as well as visiting local equestrian venues such as Live Oak Stud, Grandview Clydesdales and the World Equestrian Center. They’ve also enjoyed spending time at Silver Springs and diving in Crystal River with the manatees. 

Having lived in rural as well as urban areas, Skula finds Ocala a wonderful balance. 

“We are really enjoying it,” she says. 

Skula visits her mom in Canada when she can, and she and her husband vacationed in North Ontario last summer with some of the family. They also spent Christmas in Western Canada in Victoria. But the leader who once left a homeland behind, flew a fighter jet and successfully leads teams to seek excellence and love in their work, is happy to be at AdventHeath Ocala. 

“When we say home, we mean Ocala is home,” she says, “and we truly feel blessed to be in this community.” OS

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