River's Edge Hospital & Clinics

(Herald file photo)

River’s Edge Hospital and Clinic is in a time of transition, and with its current chief executive officer preparing to depart for the Pacific Northwest, what leaders do next will be crucial to the future of the organization.

The Hospital Commission is currently in the process of reviewing 50-plus applications for the CEO position, as George Rohrich approaches his last day; he’ll depart for a new job and eventual retirement elsewhere Dec. 4. In the meantime, the board appointed Chief Financial Officer Lori Zook as the interim CEO, starting Dec. 4 and ending when the new CEO comes in.

Zook has not indicated interest in the CEO position long-term, and a search team is reviewing external candidates. Hospital Commission Chair Margie Nelsen is heading that search team, along with Rohrich, Hospital Chief Human Resources Officer Jackie Kimmett and St. Peter City Administrator Todd Prafke.

Whoever ultimately is selected as the new hospital leader will be in charge of a continuing effort to expand River’s Edge, both in its physical size and its services offered. This person will be asked to lead the way, as the organization aims for its latest strategic goals, hoping to “create a hospital model of the future.” This person will need to have the skills and competency to serve as the face of an independent hospital in an increasingly monopolized national health care system. This person will require the personality and work ethic to serve not only the hospital, but the entire St. Peter community.

This person will have their work cut out for them.

The search

Nelsen indicated a number of qualities the search team and the Commission will be looking for in a new CEO.

“I think that we’re looking for someone who has good CEO experience. We’re actually looking for someone who has as much as five years experience as a CEO,” she said. “We’re also looking for someone who has experience in a critical access hospital, because those function differently than other hospitals. Critical access is a hospital that’s rural, based under a certain population. We have a limitation of only being able to have 25 beds.”

She continued, “We’re also looking for someone who has years of experience with a budget greater than $20 million and someone who has managed relationships, partnerships and collaborations. Someone who has experience reporting to a board of trustees, someone with experience in physician recruitment and relationship development … And, of course, a big thing is just the fit. This person needs to have a personality and approach that fits with our current culture and our executive team, which is fabulous and has really developed into a well-run group of people. We want someone to complement that.”

River’s Edge Chief Marketing and Development Officer Stephanie Holden said the interview date for finalist candidates is set for Nov. 21. The Hospital Commission and St. Peter City Council candidates will interview the finalist candidates, and the executive team and staff will spend some time with them.

Holden noted that the standard practice for a position of this nature is to allow 30 to 90 days from the time of hire to the actual start date. This means that Zook will almost certainly be used in her planned interim CEO role, and if it’s more than 90 days without a permanent CEO, the commission will look elsewhere for a longer-term interim option.

“There is a plan in place to work with partners to search for an interim CEO,” Holden said.

Nelsen feels confident that River’s Edge drew in a strong candidate pool. There are of course a few throwaway positions among the pile of applications, but candidates came in from across the country, and there pool “looks good.”

“I think the current state of the hospital is attractive to someone looking for a new position, and St. Peter is a wonderful community,” Nelsen said.

The future

In the newest iteration of the hospital’s strategic plan, a mission statement was established; it’s short and sweet: “River’s Edge Hospital is committed to providing world class care.” The mission is clear, but the vision statement is perhaps more telling: “To create a hospital model of the future.”

River’s Edge leaders are satisfied with just surviving as a small community medical center. They want to be an example of how an organization like theirs can thrive in the modern world.

“I think it means that we’re open to excellence in anything that presents itself in the future, so that we can be open to all kinds of possibilities within reason,” Nelsen said.

Holden noted that the big change coming with the new strategic plan is putting more emphasis on the organization studying itself — honing in on what it is the hospital does and finding ways to measure success in all of the most important areas.

“I would say operationally, overall, you won’t see significant changes,” Holden said. “But it’s just taking a close look at what our processes and systems are and documenting them and taking a look at what can be done to create improvement.”

The plan is based off the goals and ideals laid out in the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. Baldrige is the culmination of a rigorous evaluation of an organization’s management and performance system. The evaluation criteria consider leadership, strategic planning, customer-related processes, measurement and knowledge management, workforce, and operations, and recognize organizations that are systematically improving results.

In 2018, River’s Edge won a Performance Excellence Award from Baldrige, representing that the organization is on its way to achieving the performance expectations laid out in the framework. There are higher honors in the program that River’s Edge can aim for, and hospital leaders plan to do so. The new CEO, then, will need to be capable of helping to achieve those goals.

“The new person would need to agree with those kinds of things,” Nelsen said. “Every CEO has their own ideas and attitudes, so they might bring in a whole new thought related to how to deal with things or recommend a program that could be added to the (strategic) plan. But we’ll definitely want someone who sees value in direction we’ve chosen to go.”

As the hospital moves in new directions and aims for growth, it will remain rooted in St. Peter, staying independent and connected to the city — at least until further notice.

“Remaining independent has worked for us,” Nelsen said, “and I think it’s important for the commission to be open to new possibilities, but up to this point and in the future, we expect to remain independent.”

Holden added, “River’s Edge is not like a lot of small, critical access hospitals. We like to say we’re a small hospital doing big things.”

Reach Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-931-8567 or follow him on Twitter @EditorPhilipWeyhe. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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