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Taking steps on new path

Tribune file photo Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital is seeing progress in efforts to rework its relationships with the city and county and its employees. CEO Brian Lovdahl is shown speaking at a strategic planning session in 2018.

MONTEVIDEO — The Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital is making progress in efforts to rework its relationship with the county and city, as well as its nearly 300 employees.

"We're really focused on becoming the employer of choice in the region," Brian Lovdahl, the hospital's chief executive officer, told the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners this week.

Lovdahl and hospital board chairman Mark Rekow met with the commissioners to work out differences in bylaws being adopted as part of a new joint powers agreement under which the city of Montevideo and Chippewa County operate the hospital.

The agreement aims to increase direct involvement in governance by the city and county. It requires that two City Council members and two Chippewa County Board members serve on the hospital board, and that each entity also appoint a third representative. It means the city and county hold six of the seven board positions. The seventh member is appointed by the board itself.

David Lieser is the newly elected chairman of the Chippewa County Board and a hospital board member. He said positive change is happening.

"I think we're on the road,'' he said. He added later in the meeting Tuesday that he believes the hospital and clinic system are "in the makings of something great."

Rekow told the commissioners that improved communication with employees by the new CEO of seven months is helping foster an improved work environment. He also credited Lovdahl with putting together a strong leadership team.

"People doing good jobs without good leadership doesn't happen,'' Rekow said.

There have been challenges. Lovdahl said it required arbitration to reach a new contract agreement with employees represented by the Service Employees International Union Healthcare. Yet it only took three days to reach an agreement with employees represented by the Minnesota Nursing Association.

It's critical for the hospital to become an employer of choice, according to Lovdahl, as it competes for workers in a tight labor market. There is a local Veterans Affairs clinic as well as hospital and clinic systems in neighboring communities.

Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital is also competing statewide for health care providers, and seeing some success in efforts to provide more specialty services on-site. He pointed to three new specialists who will be joining the staff in the next couple of months.

Rekow said a physician now completing residency has rekindled an interest in joining the organization after having previously deciding against it. The chairman attributed the renewed interest to the new leadership direction.

Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital wants to add at least two more physicians to the staff, Lovdahl said.

The hospital has recently purchased and will be implementing a new electronic record system. The hospital's medical staff at an earlier strategy meeting had identified it as one of the most pressing needs.

Lovdahl said the hospital has a standing 20-member working group that includes providers working on strategic plan initiatives and brainstorming ideas on services that can be brought in.

The hospital is open to strategic partnerships, but also aims to remain independent.

"Right now I think it is the wish of everybody, the intent of everyone on the hospital board, to remain independent, but a changing health care environment may not allow for that in the future'' Lovdahl said.

"We look five, 10, 15 years down the road. We don't know how the payer system is going to look like, how the region looks like. So we just have to be able to adapt. You have to be able to be mobile and be able, to be ready for the impending changes that will be coming."

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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