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Extended term limits take effect for Rice board members

WILLMAR -- Two members of the Rice Memorial Hospital Board are the first to have their terms extended under a newly revised provision of the Willmar city charter allowing longer tenure on the board.

The provision, along with extended term limits for the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission, was ratified in October by the Willmar City Council on the recommendation of the city Charter Commission.

Wayne Larson and Dr. Robert Kruger have already served six years each on the board of the city-owned hospital. Larson is the current chairman; Kruger is the physician representative on the board.

Both will begin additional three-year terms on Jan. 1. Richard Engan also has been on the board for six years and would have been eligible for another three-year term but opted not to be reappointed, citing professional commitments.

In his stead, Willmar Mayor Les Heitke has appointed Jennifer Fischer, an attorney with a private practice in Willmar. Fischer's appointment was ratified earlier this week by the Willmar City Council.

Under former city charter rules, terms on the hospital board were limited to two three-year terms, for a total of up to six years.

But for the past several years, hospital officials and the board have sought to have this lengthened. Their reasoning: the increasing complexity of governing a hospital and the level of board education and knowledge it now takes to be an effective board member.

 Often it can take at least two years for board members to start becoming familiar with Rice Hospital, the hospital industry and critical issues such as the budget process, finances, new technology, care delivery, the regional health care market and even basic health care terminology.

 Rice Hospital Board members are responsible for making key decisions for one of the city's most significant business entities. Rice Hospital has gross annual billings of nearly $175 million and employs some 900 people at the hospital, at the Rice Care Center skilled nursing facility and at Rice Home Medical.

The hospital co-owns the Lakeland Health Center medical office building and is a partner with Affiliated Community Medical Centers in Willmar Medical Services, which provides cancer care and medical imaging services and owns and operates the outpatient Willmar Surgery Center.

When Rice officials conducted an informal survey a few years ago, they found that many hospital boards around Minnesota allow members to serve up to 10 or 12 years.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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