Mary Dale Peterson, MD, MSHCA, FACHE gets bored easily. She craves innovation and new experiences — on any given day, you might find her sharing a photo of her in a glittering ballgown from a dance competition, working with the Nueces County Opioid Task Force, traveling across the world to share her vast knowledge with others, learning to play a new song on the piano or helping to save lives right here in our community. Regardless of where she puts her energy, she never stops.
Dr. Peterson serves as the executive vice president and Chief Operating Officer of the Driscoll Health System. At her core, she is a problem solver. Asking questions and coming up with solutions is her superpower. “There’s never a shortage of problems to solve or ideas to solve those problems,” she said. “If anything, I’m just short on time.”
As the EVP and COO of the Driscoll Health System, Dr. Peterson is responsible for overseeing all operations and quality for the hospital, the health plan and the physician practice group. Her goal is to ensure an integrated system working in synergy to create frictionless barriers for the community to access the care they need.
Though she’s held various impressive leadership roles throughout her tenure at Driscoll, some of Dr. Peterson’s proudest moments took place around the same time in her career. When she became the president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) in October 2019, she had no idea the challenges awaiting come March 2020. As the ASA president, she formed a crisis COVID council of leaders from key committees to begin tackling issues related to the pandemic. She’d created a plan largely centered around people and patients.
“I’ve known and worked with Mary Dale over the last 45 years and her brilliance and energy never cease to amaze me. With her finger steadfastly on the pulse of this community, she addresses our area’s unique needs with fortitude. Her commitment to raising the bar, both for herself and her team, results in the betterment of public health in our region. She is, without a doubt, an inspiring thought leader in the healthcare community.”
Dr. Ernest Buck, pediatric colleague
To ensure patients had access to proper equipment, the anticipated shortage of ventilators needed to be addressed. Under Dr. Peterson’s guidance, the ASA worked with the FDA and found there were around 80,000 anesthesia gas machines in operating rooms across the nation that could be repurposed into ICU ventilators by making a few equipment adjustments — Vice President Pence and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Birx commended Dr. Peterson and the ASA for this effort.
Her ability to listen to people’s problems and then jump into action to solve them has been key throughout the pandemic. Taking phone calls with government officials and medical leaders in Washington, New York, other Texas cities and everywhere in between, Dr. Peterson knew getting a grasp on what was needed on a larger scale was crucial.
All the while, Dr. Peterson was on the ground here in the Coastal Bend helping to protect her staff, patients and the community at large. She was on emergency calls with the city every week, and once vaccines became available, she accepted the challenge to help with vaccine drives, working to efficiently help the most vulnerable populations first. She did what she does best: evaluated a problem and made a plan of action to solve it.
Leading the way in trying times is a responsibility Dr. Peterson does not take lightly. Her commitment to serving this community speaks to why she is in the medical field to begin with. “I care. I care about you, and I want to make sure you’re around to see tomorrow for yourself and your family,” she said. “I think, with the right systems in place, we can get all people the care they need and deserve.”
From breaking barriers as a female leader in her fields to resiliently propelling our local health systems forward, the Coastal Bend is lucky to have someone like Dr. Peterson solving our puzzles.