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April 17, 2012 8:33 am

New hospital CEO ready to take on challenges

Written by Ilene Olson

When Bill Patten took up his new position as chief executive officer for Powell Valley Healthcare on Feb. 27, he missed the proverbial frying pan and landed straight in the fire.

But Patten said he’s OK with that.

“While the learning curve is a lot more steep than I would have guessed it to be, it reaffirms my belief that I can make a difference here,” he said recently.

Patten’s first day on the job came four days after his new employer, HealthTech Management Services, filed a lawsuit against his predecessor, Paul Cardwell, alleging Cardwell had embezzled nearly $850,000 from Powell Valley Healthcare.

During his first day on the job, the Powell Valley Healthcare board voted to join in that lawsuit.

“I clearly have a better understanding of the challenges the organization has and the changes that are needed now than I did during the interview,” Patten said. “I knew the table of contents. I hadn’t seen the whole book.”

But HealthTech and Powell Valley Healthcare leaders shared what they could appropriately in advance of him coming on board, he said.

“I wouldn’t say I feel misled or duped or anything like that. I came into this situation with my eyes open,” he said. “If I were a rookie, this would be a scary situation. But I’m pleased that, in many ways, the experience I’ve had prepared me for this job.”

For instance:

“This organization needs some serious master planning. I’ve done that. I’ve improved employee and physician satisfaction scores, and we definitely need to work in those areas. I’ve improved perception (about healthcare) in the community. I think we have some work to do there.

“While I don’t have all the answers, I still feel comfortable that I’m prepared to lead the organization.”

In the aftermath of Cardwell’s brief stint at Powell Valley Healthcare, one of the challenges Patten said he faces is helping Powell Valley Healthcare employees and the community in general feel comfortable with his leadership as well.

“We’ve still got baggage to work through,” he said. “Right now, there are still people who aren’t sure how they should relate to me. I wouldn’t say they’re afraid of me, but they’re certainly not comfortable with me.

“...I’m trying to get to know people, employees, physicians and the board, to let them get to know me so they can develop the level of trust that needs to be there.”

Patten said he and his wife Cindy were attracted to the Powell community in part because the rural area, with its irrigated agricultural fields and mountains in the distance, reminded them of Greeley, Colo., where Cindy grew up.

“I just really enjoy living in small towns,” he said. “I like waving at people as you drive by them on the road, greeting people at restaurants and knowing their names.”

Although he lived in the Denver-Broomfield area from 1980-96, he has no desire to return to a large city to live, he said.

Cindy, a teacher, is finishing up the school year in Libby, Mont., after which she will retire and join Patten in Powell.

Patten said Powell Valley Healthcare was a good fit for him professionally for several reasons.

“This is the fourth hospital I have been privileged to lead, and all were critical access” hospitals serving rural communities, he said.

A town that has a functioning hospital generally is a vibrant community, and the hospital usually is one of the three largest employers there. But towns that allow their hospitals to close often face the same fate themselves, he said.

“While I wasn’t necessarily aspiring to a bigger hospital, Powell Valley Healthcare is a bigger organization than the hospital in Libby (Mont.) with more responsibility,” Patten said.

The hospital in Libby has 200 employees; Powell Valley Healthcare has 400 employees and an annual budget of $20 million to $25 million, he said.

“Libby has two private clinics that weren’t necessarily part of the hospital. They worked closely with the hospital, but they were separate organizations with separate visions.

“I really liked the idea of an organization where everything was under one roof.”

Patten outlined his three overarching goals for leading Powell Valley Healthcare:

• Achieve high clinical quality scores and excellent quality care.

• Measure and achieve high satisfaction scores from patients, physicians, employees and other customers.

• Make the organization profitable, with a strong bottom line and cash reserves, “so we can afford the infrastructure we need to provide the structures, so we can afford the equipment we need and we can afford the staff we need.

“As we try to do those three goals, we have to figure out how to do that in the environment of federal reimbursement going down and state reimbursement is going down,” he added. “So I think we’re going to have to look outside the box and figure out how to do things differently than we’ve done in the past.”

For now, though, “my goal is to learn ... Each organization has its own culture. Each organization has its own reasons why it does things certain ways. I want to understand the history, the context. In other words, I want to learn what’s in all that baggage.

“At the same time, I’m trying to assemble my team and hire a new CFO and nursing vice president. On one side, that’s a real pain. On the other side, it’s a tremendous opportunity. I’ve never been in a situation where two of my key team members I get to pick.”

Patten likened his employment at Powell Valley Healthcare, and the months to come, to the start of the baseball season.

“I’m not going to be satisfied if we just make the playoffs,” he said. “I want us to win the whole thing. I want Powell Valley Healthcare to make the World Series.”

Patten said he and Cindy were visiting one night last week, and she asked whether he regretted taking the job, now that he understands the scope of the challenges.

“I said I have no buyers remorse whatsoever,” he recalled. “I’m very much a man of faith, and I believe I was led here. I feel welcomed here. I feel embraced here. Both personally and professionally, I still feel this was the right move for us ...

“At the end of the day, I see my job as bringing the team together, identifying and acquiring the appropriate resources and helping the board establish a clear vision of where it needs to go. And I’m excited to be given a chance to do that.”

2 comments

  • Comment Link April 17, 2012 10:04 am posted by teal

    Best wishes to you, Mr. Patten. Powell, Wyoming holds a very special place in my heart and to hear your excitement about the community makes me very excited! Good luck! :)

  • Comment Link April 18, 2012 7:16 pm posted by Steve Moseley

    Ditto from a former resident who feels exactly the same affection for your town. Powell deserves a break when it comes to the hospital. I hope this is the guy.

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