by Richard Uhlhorn
After eight long months of seeking to replace Kevin Abel at the Lake Chelan Community Hospital & Clinic, the Hospital Commission offered Interim CEO Steve Patonai the job, and he accepted.
The Lake Chelan Community Hospital Board took an unusual step and hired its Interim CEO as the new permanent CEO.
“My wife asked me if I was going to be satisfied being retired,” said Patonai during a recent one-on-one interview. “I think she was concerned that I was going to be at home and driving her crazy,” he added.
Patonai left his job at a hospital in Houston the same day that Abel tendered his resignation on December 31, 2016. “My plan was to be the interim,” said Patonai. He figured he would be in place for six months and help with a new CEO selection. “We had four very strong candidates. I finally came to the realization I wasn’t ready to retire yet.”
“The board has a strong vision of where they want to be in 10 years and I agree with where they want to go for the future of the hospital and clinic,” explained Patonai.
He said he can’t respond to the board process of hiring him, but added that he hadn’t gone through a formal interview process like the four other candidate. “I had already been here eight months and the board made their decision based on that.”
While Patonai couldn’t talk about recent personnel changes, he understands that the staff is probably concerned with their positions. “I guess it is hard when a new CEO comes in. A new CEO has their own personality and experience, and approach things differently.”
His difficulty has been being the Interim for the last nine months. “It’s hard. You can’t do certain things… you can only take things so far.” He added that there is a ton of opportunity at the hospital and it needed a stable CEO. “I have to approach it differently now because I’m the permanent now. Things I couldn’t do, I can do now.”
Asked about the new hospital, Patonai stated that they are going through the process of a design change now to include the Clinic at the hospital. When initially voted on, the public didn’t include the Clinic as a part of the $44.5 million project. “We are looking, based on the Board Retreat that the vision is primary care,” said Patonai. “The focus for the future of any hospital is primary care. The Clinic and ER, are recipients of patients, and is the centerpiece for outpatient services with the hospital around it.”
According to Patonai, the Clinic will be located at the new hospital, but they are required to stay within the $44.5 million that was voted on. “We are still trying to stay focused on where health care is going to be.”
The plan is to break ground for the new hospital in the fall of 2019 with completion in 18 months. Patonai commented on the built in inflation factor and how tariffs are affecting commodities. “There are a lot of question marks out there.”
The 2019 goals it to implement a comprehensive Community Communications Plan which includes Community wellness and education offerings. Patonai mentioned the well attended Diabetes program that started last year.
The Community committee includes Patonai, board members Mary Murphy and Jordana LaPorte, Clinic Administrator Brad Hankins, Augustine and Marketing Specialist Celeste Thomas. “We meet once a month and are just getting ourselves organized. They want to communicate quarterly.”
Patonai will now be focusing on getting everyone moving in the same direction… administration, leadership and staff. “We have a strong staff of great people with a lot of enthusiasm,” he said.
“The Board has set a high bar with their vision elements,’’ said Patonai. “They’ve owned this which is helpful for me. I know where they want to be and my job is to help get there.”
Steve and his wife, Sharon, love the lake and fishing, but Steve also likes to golf, workout and run. “We like to do outdoor things,” he said. “When we bought our property we planted a couple of acres of grapes and fruit trees. We like to do those kinds of things.”
They are involved in their church and Steve said, “We’ve been blessed on our life so we want to give back to the community.”