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Officials at Rice choose Schramm as top executive

WILLMAR -- The Rice Memorial Hospital Board on Wednesday selected Michael Schramm as its choice for the new chief executive of the city-owned hospital.

Schramm, 38, is currently the chief executive at Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield. He'll take over his new position at Rice at the beginning of June.

Rice Hospital board members authorized their human relations committee to start negotiating a contract.

Schramm was the unanimous pick of both the board and the seven-member committee in charge of the search.

"He's shown that he can be a successful CEO ... We felt he was really a good fit for the future of Rice Hospital," said search committee member Dr. Ronald Holmgren.

Both the search committee and the board said it was a close choice between Schramm and the other candidate, William Fenske, who is Rice Hospital's current chief financial officer.

"Many times we were on the fence. Both candidates were excellent," said Jessica Vagle, a hospital nurse manager and member of the search committee.

For the search committee, the key issue came down to what Rice Hospital needs in order to move forward over the next five to 10 years, she said.

"When we kept coming back to that, Mike Schramm came out on top," she said.

Schramm's experience as a hospital chief executive was one of his strengths, Holmgren said.

The search committee also was impressed with his skills at creating partnerships and working with a wide variety of groups, Holmgren said. "Mike can collaborate with physicians ... He has an ability to communicate with the general public."

Although the two finalists were local, the search was far-flung. Jim King of Witt/Kieffer, the executive search firm hired by Rice Hospital to guide the process, said 397 potential candidates were initially identified. Most came from the Upper Midwest but the slate also included prospects from states such as Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Montana, King said.

"We contacted every single one of them and we had phone conversations with over 127 of them to get it down to the group we recommended," he said.

Four semifinalists -- three men and one woman -- were interviewed last month by the search committee, which then chose the two finalists.

King said the search attracted several very strong candidates.

"This search had a lot of interest in the market," he said. "You have a very good reputation. The story of Rice Memorial played very well in the marketplace."

Schramm and Fenske each underwent two intensive days of interviews and meetings earlier this month with the hospital board, Willmar City Council, hospital medical staff, hospital managers, the Rice Health Foundation, clinic representatives and other stakeholders.

Wayne Larson, chairman of the hospital board and the search committee, said it was important to have the involvement of people "who have a real stake in this."

"The process was an excellent process. It was very transparent," he said.

"It was taken very seriously," agreed board member David Anfinson. "We spent a great number of hours soul-searching."

Schramm is taking over the leadership of the city's largest public entity. The hospital, the Rice Care Center and Rice Home Medical have combined annual revenue of more than $90 million and employ some 900 people.

Schramm, a native of South Dakota, has been chief executive at Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield since 2002. During his tenure the Litchfield hospital launched a three-phase, $30 million-plus expansion project which will be about 75 percent complete this summer.

Before coming to Litchfield, Schramm headed the Sibley Medical Center and Clinic in Arlington, where he helped bring about the integration of the hospital and physician group and oversaw a major building project.

He started his career in Deadwood, S.D., as executive director of the Northern Hills General Hospital Foundation and then as director of finance at Northern Hills General Hospital.