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January 10, 2012 8:59 am

New leader hired for Powell Valley Healthcare

Written by Ilene Olson

A new chief executive officer will take the helm at Powell Valley Healthcare on Feb. 27.

William Patten Jr. accepted the position late last week.

Patten is employed by HealthTech Management Services Inc., which provides management services for Powell Valley Healthcare.

“After a nationwide search, we believe William will provide the expertise and leadership needed to continue our mission of improving the quality of life for those in Powell and the surrounding communities through excellent health care,” said Dr. Mark Wurzel, president of the PVHC board of directors. “We are very excited to have him as our new CEO and part of our community.”

Patten has 25 years of healthcare experience, including the past 15 years as chief executive officer at small, rural hospitals in the Western United States.

Currently, Patten serves as chief executive officer of St. John’s Lutheran Hospital, a 25-bed medical facility in Libby, Mont.

Prior to that, he was CEO of Sitka Community Hospital, a 27-bed (12 acute care and 14 long-term care) critical access hospital located in Sitka, Alaska. He also served as chief executive officer of Sedgwick County Health Center in Julesburg, Colo.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to join such a great organization,” Patten said during a telephone interview Monday. “I think my experience and my skill set are a wonderful match, and I really look forward to becoming part of the team and part of the community.

“The first step we’ve already started, and that’s trying to find me a place to live. Cindy (his wife) will be teaching in Libby, and won’t be moving down until June. We found a house we like when we were down there, and I sent a letter to the realtor today.

“For the next several weeks, if not months, the biggest thing I’m going to do is listen. I will make myself available and learn from each of those groups what the issues are from their perspectives. I look forward to doing a lot of listening.

“I have put together a list of different groups I want to meet with, folks like the county commission and school people. I want to see which civic organizations I should join and become part of. I want to reach outside of the hospital and see: How can I be part of the community? Where do I fit in?”

Patten interviewed with the PVHC board for the position on Dec. 14.

Powell Valley Hospital is positioned for success, Patten told board members.

“What the organization needs is consistent leadership. I think I’m pretty good at what I do. I know how to make a connection with a community to meet the needs of that community. I’m excited about the chance.”

Patten said one area he would focus on would be the surgery department, including space and equipment issues.

“It will need a lot of study first,” he said. “Let’s first define what we want our surgical program to be, then let’s talk about solutions.”

Without advance study and preparation, he said, “I call that, ‘Ready, fire, aim.”

A global master plan also would be a priority, he said.

That also is a priority for the Powell Valley Healthcare Board which already is in the process of scheduling a retreat for the purpose of planning.

When planning for the future, Patten said, rather than looking solely at the profit margin, “focus on the mission first. I get the sense that employees are down in the dumps. They’re not necessarily as proud of working here as I would like them to be. I would like to change that, as well.”

Patten said he wants to make sure that Powell Valley Healthcare is providing as many services as is appropriate for the hospital and the community.

For instance, he said, while it may not be possible now for Powell Valley Healthcare to have an oncologist on board, “there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a patient infusion center here” to administer chemotherapy treatments.

“If we don’t have the right menu, then a lot of the downstream questions won’t have the right answers, because we’re not asking the right questions,” he said. “When people leave the community for health care, it hurts the businesses of the community, too.”

Wurzel asked Patten how he would feel about the board overseeing his work closely for a while.

“For 13 years, we had a CEO who had our trust,”  Wurzel said. “What he did was what he said he would do. Our experience last time was the opposite.”

Patten replied, “I think I need to prove myself, regardless of what happened before. For a year or so, I would expect you would be looking over my shoulder pretty close.

“You’ll find that I ask a lot of questions. ... To begin with, I’ll probably provide more information than you expect.”

Patten said he learned that he enjoyed management when he worked as a lab director in Boulder, Colo., prompting him to get his master’s degree in business. Later, he was responsible for two labs in Porter and Littleton, Colo.

A desire to live in a smaller community prompted him and Cindy to move to Julesburg; from there, a sense of adventure led them to Sitka.

“It wasn’t planned. I had never imagined living in Alaska. I had just started to think it may be time to look for the next opportunity, and I took home an ad for hospital manager in Sitka, Alaska, as a joke for my wife. She said, ‘Wow, that could be fun.’”

He started that job in 2005.

“I have stood on the most northern part of the United States. I was exposed to a culture that is much more diverse, and it broadened my view of the world. It helped me see diversity is not color; it’s a difference in economic circumstances, a difference in opportunities.”

When he assumed that position, Patten said, the hospital’s budget was in the red.

“I pulled one-half million dollars out of the expense of the organization. I did it in a very targeted way, not across the board. But I realized you couldn’t cut your way into financial security. I began to grow the organization” by recruiting needed physicians.

To address facility needs, Patten decided it made sense to build new, and he oversaw the building project.

“We added an MRI, and did a lot of things to grow,” he said. “When I got there, the hospital had annual revenue of $24 million. When I left, it was $30 million.”

Eventually, Patten and his wife decided it was time to leave Sitka and return to the lower 48 to be closer to their sons, who are in Walla Walla, Wash.

He enjoyed his work at St. John’s in Libby until a CEO change caused an environment he was not willing to work under.

“Powell interests me,” he said. “It’s a little bit bigger, and I can have more influence.”

But, he added, “I don’t want to live in a big city. I like small communities ... I like to live in a small town that’s small enough that when I wave to someone, we know them.”

When Patten traveled to Powell to interview for the job, Cindy joined him for the chance to meet the staff and the community. She came away with a positive impression as well, he said.

“We’re impressed as we drive around the community,” he said. “It’s well maintained.”

Patten has a bachelor of science degree in medical technology from Walla Walla College in College Place, Wash., and a master of arts in business with an emphasis on Healthcare Management from Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.  Patten is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives and has served on many healthcare and community boards, including the Western Montana Area Health Education Center Advisory Board and the Health Information Exchange of Montana Board of Directors.

Interim Chief Executive Officer Mike Lieb will continue to guide the organization until Patten comes on board.

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