Two candidates up for hospital leadership position

Posted 9/23/10

The candidates, Richard Polheber of Tucson, Ariz., and Paul Cardwell of Monticello, Ind., were forwarded to the board by a selection committee that considered a total of five candidates.

Those candidates, in turn, had been forwarded by Brim …

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Two candidates up for hospital leadership position


The Powell Valley Healthcare Board hopes to have a new chief executive officer onboard in a few weeks. The board interviewed two candidates for the position last week, and board members hope to announce their choice during their monthly meeting Monday.

The candidates, Richard Polheber of Tucson, Ariz., and Paul Cardwell of Monticello, Ind., were forwarded to the board by a selection committee that considered a total of five candidates.

Those candidates, in turn, had been forwarded by Brim Healthcare, which provides management services for Powell Valley Healthcare.

Resumes indicate both candidates have extensive education and experience in hospital and health care administration, including large and small hospitals.

Polheber has been the chief executive officer for Carondelet Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales, Ariz., for the past 10 years.

That hospital is similar in size to Powell Valley Hospital. His resume states he improved the financial performance from an average 10-year loss of $350,000 to a positive profit for the last six years, with a high of $1.6 million. He completed a strategic operations plan for replacement of the hospital through a creative financing plan, and he implemented score cards to track and improve performance.

Cardwell served as chief executive officer for the White County Memorial Hospital in Monticello from April 2001 until May this year, when he took an early retirement.

White County Memorial Hospital also is similar in size to Powell Valley Hospital, but it is in an area also served by other hospitals.

Cardwell's resume states he took the hospital's cash position form $600,000 in 2001 to $10.5 million in 2009 and increased the hospital's market share from 30 percent to 60 percent. A new replacement hospital was completed in October 2008 at the cost of $33.5 million, and a new medical office building was completed in Nov. 2007.

Cardwell said he found retirement didn't provide enough challenge for him, and he decided to return to work.

“My parents warned me I wasn't ready for retirement,” he said. “I realized I still had a love for health care, and with two girls in college, a boy in high school and two infant girls (18 months and 2 weeks, both adopted), I could go anywhere I wanted to go.”

When he came to White County Memorial, the hospital had a $600,000 line of credit that had been maxed out and the 1956 building was outdated and landlocked, he said.

“Things were pretty tough,” he said.

“When I took over, we made the conversion to critical access hospital,” he said, which means it could have no more than 25 inpatients at any given time. “That midnight census was always an issue,” he said.

Because Medicare and Medicaid payment rates are higher for critical access hospitals, “that helped us to survive without a partnership at the time,” Cardwell said.

To attract a larger share of the area health care market, Cardwell said the hospital purchased a new MRI and CT scanner and hired two obstetricians soon after his arrival.

White County Hospital now is served by about 100 physicians, about 60 of whom are employed by other health care providers, Cardwell said.

Eventually, through affiliations, the hospital brought in a dialysis center and offered chemotherapy and radiation services as well, reducing patients' need to travel for services.

“We just flat could not do those things without those affiliations,” he said.

Cardwell said he likes to move around the hospital and visit with people.

“When you sit down in an office at the end of a hallway, you can lose the pulse of the organization pretty quick if you're not making rounds,” he said.

The hospital also partnered with Best Western to built a fitness center, and it sponsored a reading club. His close-cropped haircut last week was the result of a successful reading challenge, the reward for which was allowing elementary students to shave his head, he said.

Polheber said he enjoys overseeing a small hospital.

“When you have 5,000 employees, it's hard to turn the ship,” he said. “With a smaller team, you get to know each other.”

Polheber described his leadership style as collaborative, and said he tries to walk through the hospital one or two times daily when circumstances permit.

“At first, employees get nervous,” he said. “They think I'm doing an inspection. Really, I'm listening.

“The same with physicians,” he added. “You go to their office, and they're shocked you're there.”

While supportive of employees, Polheber said he is able to make the tough personnel decisions as well.

He said he once had to fire 32 people who were in violation of a hospital's drug policy.

“Some of those people later thanked me for saving their lives, but at the time, it wasn't very pleasant,” he said. “Managers fail when they like to be liked. I like to be liked, but I like to be liked because I'm fair.”

Polheber praised the board for its work.

“You all have been very aggressive in responding to the needs,” he said, citing the addition of the Urgent Care Clinic and home health and hospice care services.

“I don't think there's a lot of gaps,” he said. “ Generally, you all get great marks.”

Polheber said collaboration often is needed to strengthen and expand existing health care services. For instance, he said, the board may want to check into the possibility of collaborating with another provider to make more care available locally for cancer patients.

A hospital is a community resource, he said.

“It's important for people to understand we're more than just a hospital. We're part of the community,” he said.

Both chief executive candidates said they handle stress well, in part by being physically active.

When he is stressed, Polheber said, “I go into my office, sit straight and focus on breathing. I try never to engage in the heat of the moment,” though that's not always possible, he added.

“People tell me I hide it very well. But stress is a tough thing to deal with.”

He said he rides a bike and walks in the mornings, and his therapy often includes going to a good fishing hole with a fly rod.

Polheber said he could have been described 15 years ago as a workaholic. But losing a few friends with similar habits to suicide and realizing how his work patterns affected others led him to change his work schedule and habits.

Cardwell said he competes in marathons and is a triathlete. He lifts weights and runs track.

“I have outlets for that kind of stress,” he said. “There's not times when I lose my cool. I just don't. I don't carry it on my sleeve.”