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Rice CEO candidate sees future for a strong, successful hospital

Rice Hospital CEO candidate Michael Schramm, right,converses Friday with a group ofhospital boardmembers including, from left, MikeGardner and Richard Engan. Schramm shared his views on Rice Hospital's role and future direction during a two-hour question-and-answer session Friday with the hospital board of directors. Interviews continue next week with CEO candidate William Fenske. Tribune photoby Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Strategic planning is one of the first things Michael Schramm would focus on if he's selected as Rice Memorial Hospital's next chief executive officer.

Schramm said his vision for the future of the city-owned hospital is that of a strong, successful regional health care provider.

"That's something, if anything, we would want to improve upon and strengthen and move forward," he said.

Schramm shared his views on Rice Hospital's role and future direction during a two-hour question-and-answer session Friday with the hospital board of directors.

It was the second of two intensive days of interviews and meetings for Schramm, 38, who's one of the finalists for the top leadership position at Rice Hospital.

The other finalist, William Fenske, will be interviewed Monday and Tuesday. A search committee is expected to recommend its choice to the hospital board on March 18.

Schramm reiterated many of the same points to the board on Friday that he's been making throughout interviews with hospital managers, the medical staff and city officials.

He said he believes in being visible and approachable.

"People want to see the leader of the organization," he said.

He spoke of the importance of open communication and of developing good relationships among all the players in local health care. He talked about providing high-quality care and fostering community connections with the hospital.

Schramm brings a background that includes experience with hospital building projects, hospital finance and health care fundraising. Since 2002, he has been the chief executive at Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield. Before that, he was chief executive of the Sibley Medical Center and Clinic in Arlington. Both are publicly owned hospitals, as is Rice.

Board members had many questions for Schramm. What does he see as the hospital's biggest challenge? What is the future of local health care? What are his professional goals? Is he willing to commit to staying in Willmar for more than a few years?

Strategic planning needs to be a priority, said board member Richard Engan.

"That's something we need to come to grips with. ... In my mind that's No. 1," he said.

A good working relationship and partnerships with the medical staff and local clinics will be critical to Rice's long-term future, Schramm said.

"That's probably one of the biggest and most significant," he said.

He told the board he would spend time learning about the challenges local doctors face and what Rice Hospital might do to support them.

"My first step would be to reach out to the clinics. That's the first key, is making sure there's an open line of communication," he said.

He said he'd be open to creative and flexible ways of solving problems and addressing local needs. "There's no standard way in which to do it," he said. "What's important is keeping the patient at the forefront."

Schramm said he favors a comprehensive approach to long-term planning. When Meeker Memorial Hospital embarked on a three-phase $33 million building project, the process involved talking to numerous stakeholders and even meeting with community focus groups, he said.

With health care reform and payment reform on the horizon, it will be critical for communities to be able to respond, he said.

"I think what it speaks to is we need to be working closer together," he said.

Schramm also said he's committed to helping the hospital board, hospital managers and employees have the resources they need to work effectively.

"I think it starts with communication. It starts with engaging employees," he said.

In meetings with hospital staff Thursday and Friday, there has been a sense of excitement and change, he said. "There's been some really good dialogue and good discussion."