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Hustedt named interim CEO at Rice Hospital

WILLMAR -- Dale Hustedt was named interim chief executive Wednesday of Rice Memorial Hospital.

Hustedt, who is currently the hospital's associate administrator for facility and human resources, will take temporary leadership of the city-owned hospital until a new, permanent chief executive can be found.

His appointment, approved Wednesday by the hospital board of directors, takes effect immediately.

"I'm excited about the challenge," Hustedt said afterwards. "I've thought a lot about this. It's a great organization. It has great people who do great care. It's a special place."

He said his main goal will be to provide continuity at a time when the hospital is addressing a downturn in patient volume, seeking a more solid financial footing and tackling new initiatives such as the development of an integrated cancer center.

"I think we've had a tough time for the last couple of years," Hustedt said. "If I could do anything, my thought is to remind people what we're here for and to bring some stability to the organization. We'll get through this."

The top position at Rice opened up last month when Lorry Massa, the hospital's chief executive since 1994, resigned to become the new executive director of the Minnesota Hospital Association. Massa's last day in Willmar is Friday.

Members of the hospital board figure it could take six to 18 months to find a replacement.

Board members said they were looking for continuity when they decided to appoint an interim chief executive from among the ranks of the hospital's current executive team, rather than hire someone from outside.

Of the five people on the executive team, two applied for the interim position -- Hustedt and Bill Fenske, the hospital's chief financial officer.

"It was not an easy choice," said Wayne Larson, president of the hospital board.

Hustedt will immediately get a pay increase to $190,000, an amount that will be annualized for as long as he serves as the interim CEO.

"He is the interim CEO but he is the CEO," Larson said. "He is the guy in charge. I think it's important that the salary be commensurate with the responsibility."

Hustedt's employment agreement, which was approved Wednesday by the hospital board, also includes a severance allowance in case a new CEO decides to bring in a new executive team.

The salary is similar to what Rice Hospital would have to pay if an interim chief executive was hired from outside, Larson said.

Hustedt will continue to handle some of his associate administrator duties, such as negotiating for new contracts this fall with the hospital's employee unions. Many of his responsibilities, however, will be handed off to the other hospital executives or to department heads.

"It's clear to me I could not do all of the things I'm currently doing as well as being CEO," he said.

Hustedt came to Rice Memorial Hospital in 1995 as its education director. He later became human resources director and was named to the executive level in 2003.