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A new electronic sign is the most visible outward change at Sanford Regional Hospital Worthington.

CEO Olson settling in

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news Worthington, 56187
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Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- Sanford Regional Hospital Chief Executive Officer Lynn Olson was pleasantly surprised and encouraged when almost 30 people showed up for a recent presentation about the hospital at the Round Lake Senior Center.

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"They came prepared with questions," he shared. "It showed that they were very engaged in health care. It showed they were concerned and know what's going on. What I heard from them, loud and clear, is they want services locally, they expect that. It's part of our mission to do that, and they question it when it doesn't happen."

It's been almost four months since the sale of Worthington Regional Hospital to Sanford Health Network was completed and Olson came aboard as CEO, replacing retiring administrator Mel Platt. It's been a time of many changes and transition for the hospital and the community it serves, and Olson is beginning to feel like he has gathered enough knowledge to reflect on the current status of the hospital and its future. He's tried to connect with all the hospital employees and medical staff to provide information and ease their concerns and has been asked to address several groups, such as the Round Lake seniors, about what the sale of the hospital means for them and the future of health care in southwest Minnesota.

"This hospital had to make an alignment for the future," reflected Olson, who came to Worthington from Monticello, where the hospital was smaller in size but larger in terms of finances. "The biggest challenge for the future is physician recruitment, and unless you're aligned with a bigger health-care system, can show that stability to candidates, you're at a disadvantage in the marketplace."

Considering the controversy that surrounded the sale of the hospital, the transition since the sale was completed has been relatively quiet, although Olson doesn't insist that it's been a walk in the park, either. But overall, he's pleased with the cooperative spirit among all the staff.

"There will be some tension going forward, because of the uncertainty," he said, "but I don't sense that it's a day-to-day problem. The docs go about their business, do what's best for their patients, put the patients' best interests first. That's No. 1. What comes after that is secondary. ... I've met with all the docs as individuals, getting to know them as people and to share that we value each of them. We don't have enough doctors in this community, and they have served here for many years, and we're thankful for that."

In addition to new ownership and a new CEO, the SRHW staff has been gathering information for an upgrade to its surgical floor for which Sanford has committed $3 million; and training and preparing for the ongoing phases of implementation for the paperless record system known as DocZ. Olson predicts it will be a three-year process before SRHW is fully electronic.

A new program, called Apple a Day, has been instituted to provide community education and showcase the local health-care providers. This week, the first session in a new Leadership Development Institute will offer managers a chance to meet and plan as a group.

The Sanford Regional Hospital Worthington Advisory Board meets regularly to offer community input regarding the hospital's operations, Olson reported. The board is made up of former WRH Board of Trustees members: David Jueneman, Steve Robinson, Steve Dudley, Gary Kellen, Tom Lavelle, Greg Raymo and John Widboom.

"It's more about information sharing and reaction to that and providing input from the community as far as what we hear as it relates to health-care needs," explained Jueneman, who serves as chairman and now also sits on the Sanford Health Network Board, which meets quarterly.

Although Sanford controls the future direction at SRHW, Jueneman feels that the advisory board's input is actively sought and considered by Sanford officials.

"It seems like Sanford has certainly lived up to its commitments and has, in fact, done more than we expected with the $3 million surgical project," Jueneman reflected. "Their biggest emphasis is still on physician recruitment, actively working on that, but it's a long-term objective."

More changes and innovations will undoubtedly come to light during a strategic planning session slated for Nov. 20. Medical staff, advisory board members and Sanford executives will help to assess the hospital's current status and look at how it can grow in the future.

"The diagnosis has been made. Now we need to look at what's the prescription for the future. How do we go about it?" said Olson.

Change doesn't come easily, but it is necessary, especially for a facility dealing with the uncertainties of health care and an ever-changing financial picture.

"The challenge for me is to manage the pace of that change -- not too fast, not too slow -- to nudge us forward in a way that people don't get too overwhelmed," Olson said.

Although economic uncertainty looms large in the wake of the current credit and stock market crisis, Olsen is optimistic about the signs of "economic vitality" he sees in the local area and how it relates to SRHW.

"I'm so excited about the new YMCA, not just as a place to work out, but because of what it says about the community," he said. "And with Wal-Mart remodeling and Fareway coming in and the wonderful facilities they've built out at Prairie Holdings and the referendum for the community center and improvements at Memorial Auditorium. ... It gives me such optimism for the future, to bring more docs in, to have that vitality for the future. This hospital is connected to the community's ups and downs, to its economic vibrancy. That's the hope, that this town is going to be even more successful, then this hospital will be more successful. We are linked."

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
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