Barton resigns from PVHC post

Posted 7/1/10

Barton said he is making the move to be closer to his children and their families. Because the Burley hospital is larger than Powell Valley Hospital, the new post will be a good career move as well, he said.

“We are disappointed that he's …

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Barton resigns from PVHC post


News that Chief Executive Officer Rod Barton will be leaving Powell Valley Healthcare was greeted by long faces around the hospital board table on Monday. Barton, who has held that post since 1997, announced on Monday he will leave in late August to take a position as the executive director of the hospital in Burley, Idaho.

Barton said he is making the move to be closer to his children and their families. Because the Burley hospital is larger than Powell Valley Hospital, the new post will be a good career move as well, he said.

“We are disappointed that he's leaving,” Powell Hospital Board President Brent Foulger said Wednesday. “Rod has done a fantastic job the 13 years he's been with us. He's been a great leader, he's brought morale of the organization up, employed great people and got the finances in line.

“When he came here, we weren't a profitable organization. He recruited new doctors, and under his direction, it's been fantastic.

“He will be missed, but we do wish him success in whatever he does.”

Former Board Member Rick Kwiecinski, who served as treasurer for the hospital district board when Barton was hired in 1997, recalled on Wednesday the problems Powell Valley Healthcare faced back then.

“It was not a happy situation,” Kwiecinski said. “There was dissension among the staff, and the hospital was in the red pretty seriously ... We were very close to $1 million in debt. We just needed some competent guidance.”

Kwiecinski said the board decided to look for a new director, and board members set up a meeting with the previous director to tell him so.

“Just prior to our meeting, he announced he had another job as a hospital director in Wisconsin.”

Kwiecinski said Barton was the 13th candidate to interview for the position.

“When we finally interviewed Rod, it became very apparent that this was the best fit we could possibly hope for. It worked out for us, and it worked out for him, too ... It became obvious within about a year that we were moving in the right direction.”

Barton said Tuesday, “I remember thinking that the way to make this place successful is to grow it.”

Barton said he believed cutting services to rein in expenses would lead to a downward spiral.

Kwiecinski agreed.

“We were at a point where our services that we were providing as a hospital were really essentially pretty basic, and we needed to expand those horizons,” he said. “We were obviously sending a lot of business elsewhere, and it was stuff we could easily do in house, and we had people qualified to do it, or we had people who wanted to come to work for us.”

So Barton and the board set on a course to expand Powell Valley Healthcare's operations to meet financial obligations as well as the community's medical needs.

They started by recruiting physicians, including Dr. Mike Tracy, Dr. Betsy Spomer and Dr. Frank Haydon, Powell's first orthopedic surgeon, who later retired and was replaced by Dr. Jeff Hansen.

Since then, the number of practitioners at the hospital has continued to grow, with the latest addition being Dr. Paul LaVeau, a cardiologist.

“We keep track of expenses,” Barton said. “It's not like we just go hog wild. But I was convinced that cutting staff was not a good long-term solution. I felt fortunate in having the support of the board in being willing to look long term.”

In addition, Powell Valley Healthcare became a training site for students from the medical school at the University of Washington.

“We have had medical students coming to Powell for the last 10 years,” Barton said. That initially didn't result directly in physician recruitments, but it did establish connections that led to other recruitments, such as Dr. Valerie Lengfelder.

This year marks the first time a student who trained here will come back to practice here. Dr. Nathaniel Rieb will join the medical staff as a general surgeon in August or September when he completes his residency and his licensing requirements.

“We've had a contract with him for three years,” Barton said. “We recruited him long before he was available — again, that long-term approach.”

But the changes didn't end there.

“We added an assisted living facility, a walk-in clinic ... added an MRI and got a new CT scanner,” Kwiecinski said. All together, “that got us past the break-even level.

“Our mission was to generate enough income so we could keep improving the hospital, and reinvest into the hospital.”

Within about two years, Powell Valley Healthcare was operating in the black, he said.

Last year, the new Powell Valley Clinic was built on the medical campus to provide more office space for the

growing number of physicians employed by Powell Valley Healthcare.

While making plans to leave, Barton also is positioning Powell Valley Healthcare for continued success.

Prior to his resignation announcement, the board approved, at his suggestion, plans to invest $500,000 during the coming fiscal year toward meeting facility improvement goals. That money, if sufficient, likely will go toward finishing the basement of the new clinic building.

Also at Barton's suggestion, the board voted to spend $20,000 to update the master facility plan.

According to the budget for fiscal year 2011, that still will leave enough reserves to cover expenses at Powell Valley Healthcare for 57.5 days.

“We have cash reserves and a good balance — we've spent some and we've saved some, and the place is in much better financial shape than it was,” Barton said.

“It's hard, and it's sad to leave,” he continued. “But it sounds like a great opportunity, so I am excited to go there, and I'm hopeful that I'm leaving PVHC in better shape than I found it, and I see a bright future.

“I think health care has got some major challenges. I think this reform is just the tip of the iceberg, and there's more to come, but I think PVHC is well positioned to weather those challenges.

“I've had the great fortune to work with great board members ... who understand their roles as board members and are willing to take some risks. I've really had good people to work with.”

Kwiecinski said that is because Barton works well with everyone.

“I think that's Rod's secret to success. He works well with everybody, and everyone understands what needs to be done. He will be missed.

“I hate to see him go, but he's got a lot of talent that could be used elsewhere, and he should expand his horizons.”