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Field narrowed to two for Rice CEO

WILLMAR -- A search committee charged with helping find Rice Memorial Hospital's new chief executive has recommended one internal candidate -- William Fenske, Rice Hospital's current chief financial officer -- and one external candidate, Michael Schramm, the chief executive of Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield.

The two finalists were approved Wednesday by the city-owned hospital's board of directors. The board made its decision unanimously, without discussion.

The choice of the finalists was narrowed last week from a list of four semifinalists who all underwent face-to-face interviews with members of the search committee.

What comes next: another round of interviews in March with the finalists, Fenske and Schramm, will each undergo an intensive two days' worth of meetings and interviews with the hospital board, the mayor and City Council, the hospital's medical staff, the hospital's executive team, hospital em-ployees, and possibly other stakeholders as well.

Wayne Larson, chairman of the hospital board and of the CEO search committee, said the interviews have been scheduled for March 5 and 6 and March 9 and 10.

The search committee is expected to recommend its choice to the board on March 18.

The search process has been formally under way since this past September, when the seven-member search committee was appointed and the Witt/Kieffer consulting firm was hired to help Rice find a new chief executive.

The new CEO will replace Lawrence Massa, who left in September to become the executive director of the Minnesota Hospital Association.

Witt/Kieffer pulled together a top-notch slate of candidates, Larson said. All of the candidates who were interviewed "had excellent qualifications," he said.

The committee sought people who had at least seven years of experience in hospital administration, reflecting the growing complexity and demands of running a hospital.

Other important qualities included a sound understanding of hospital operations and health care finance, strong negotiating skills and people skills, strategic thinking abilities, and a high level of skill and comfort with working in a public environment.

Fenske became Rice Hospital's chief financial officer in 2006. Before coming to Willmar, he was with Agnesian HealthCare in Fond du Lac, Wis. From 2001 to 2003 he was the senior vice president and chief financial officer, then was president and chief executive officer of Agnesian HealthCare Enterprises and chief operating officer from 2003 to 2006.

He also was vice president of finance and chief financial officer for Winona Health in Winona from 1998 to 2001.

Fenske holds a bachelor's degree from Southwest State University in Marshall and a master's in business administration from the University of Minnesota. He is also a certified public accountant.

Schramm has been chief executive officer at Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield since 2002. From 1998 to 2002 he was chief executive officer of Sibley Medical Center and Clinic in Arlington.

He has a bachelor's degree in health services administration from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and a master's in health administration from the University of Minnesota.