The transitional part of Mary Ellen Wells’ initial title quickly disappeared as she navigated through her first month as New River Medical Center’s administrator.
Wells has more than 35 years of experience including CEO, president and numerous administrative positions at health care organizations in the Twin Cities and in greater Minnesota.
Most recently, she was vice president for client development with Experienced Resources, a Bloomington-based organization that matches seasoned executives to companies’ projects and interim management needs.
Wells served as president and CEO of Hutchinson Area Health Care, president of the Buffalo Hospital and interim president at the hospitals in Long Prairie, Owatonna and River Falls.
Wells has a master’s degree in health care administration from the University of Minnesota, a master’s in education and counseling from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree in education and social studies from Oakland University. She’s a Detroit native, and taught high school social studies.
Her career association with health care began when she started working for Michigan Bell, selling phone systems to doctors’ offices and hospitals. “That’s where I first learned about health care administration,” Wells said. “It seemed like a good combination of the social human services career path along with business. I resonated with that career choice, and learned I needed to start working in a hospital to get experience or go back to school and get the piece of paper that says you are qualified. I got the piece of paper, and then I came here, to the University of Minnesota, which has a top program in health care administration.”
Wells worked for Allina for 17 years before making another career change. “I wanted to try something different related to health care and my previous experience, but in a very different role. That’s when I moved back to sales and consulting with Experienced Resources. Their perspective is taking someone who is very seasoned and very experienced but not quite ready for retirement. They look for people who are not quite ready to slow down. I did that for almost three years, but I still had the itch to get back to health care.”
Dr. Terence Pladson is CentraCare Health System’s president and chief executive officer. He contacted Wells about her interest in New River Medical Center.
“We live on Cedar Lake in Corinna Township,” she said. “I watched what was going on with New River Medical Center, and I said to myself, ‘I really want to get in there and make a difference.’ “ At the time she was hired by CentraCare, Wells had transitional leader as her title. She’s now New River Medical Center’s administrator. “That initial title was more descriptive of the actual work that needed to happen than the actual title,” she said.
“Dr. Pladson thought it would be healthy to say I’m a transitional leader. I’m here for the long-haul. I don’t want to be a short-timer who just comes and goes. I want to see this thing through,” she said.
St. Cloud-based CentraCare Health System named Wells as the transitional leader for New River Medical Center in Monticello, effective Feb. 1.
Her first day at the health care campus wasn’t typical. She arrived on Saturday, Feb. 2, to start meeting people. “We’re not a Monday through Friday type of establishment,” she said. It’s important and symbolic in nature for me for me to show up at all different times, and make a subtile but strong statement about leadership.”
During her first month, Wells quickly became familiar with the New River Board of Directors, the employees, the leadership team, medical staff and physicians.
Monticello and its surrounding communities deserve a hospital and nursing home, Wells said. There’s enough population and need to support local heath care.
“The key will be having an organizational structure that allows it to be very vibrant and thrive,” she said. “I’m a big believer in form following function. We have to figure out what are the services that we need to provide and community needs. We need to design the organization around that.”
According to Wells, it’s difficult in this day and age to remain a small, independent health care provider. Economies of scale are needed to survive. That’s where CentraCare comes in, she said.
“CentraCare has resources and a philosophy that matches up nicely with New River. It’s playing out as we work on this transition,” Wells added.
New River Medical Center will officially join the CentraCare Health System family on April 1, and become CentraCare Health – Monticello. Since January,
CentraCare has operated New River Medical Center under a management agreement signed by both organizations.
On April 1, lease and affiliation agreements will go into effect formally affiliating New River Medical Center with CentraCare.
“We are prioritizing the work that needs to be done in the immediate future,” she said. “We need to get the birthing center back and our surgical services program taken care of right away. We have Dr. Ivey here, but he’s the only full-time surgeon here. We need to strengthen that program. Obstetrics is front and center with what we are going to be paying attention to from a clinical perspective over the next six months.”
Converting licenses, contracts, and health care accounting and bookkeeping systems are key parts of the 100-day transition plan, she said.
“Luckily, New River and CentraCare are on the same platform for our medical records system,” Wells said. “We will be directly on the CentraCare system rather than having a New River offshoot.” Transitioning staff is another huge undertaking, Wells said. “Our employees will become CentraCare employees. They will stop being hospital district employees, and that involved taking care of benefits and pay structures. We have two big unions here, the Minnesota Nurses Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Those contracts will continue through during the transition.”
Wells said the community will play a huge role in helping to promote healing within the New River Medical Center organization and resolving any lingering conflict with Monticello Medical Clinic physicans.
“There’s a lot of hurt,” she said. “I’m a strong believer in organizational and people healing. We have to get our house in order and heal first. We have a long way to go. We need to bring down the volume and have good conversation. Then we have to heal the community and regain that trust. This organization is still providing great care. But there’s a lot more great care that can be provided. People are looking at other health care options. We have to make sure our options remain the best. We have to win them back. It’s not going to be easy, but we will.”
Contact Managing Editor Tim Hennagir at [email protected]