Transition underway: Change began months ago in preparation for retirement of ACMC administrator
WILLMAR -- As administrator of Affiliated Community Medical Centers, there were days when Terry Tone literally had to roll up his sleeves -- like the time floodwaters threatened to cause a sewer backup at ACMC in Granite Falls and he pitched in, ...
WILLMAR - As administrator of Affiliated Community Medical Centers, there were days when Terry Tone literally had to roll up his sleeves - like the time floodwaters threatened to cause a sewer backup at ACMC in Granite Falls and he pitched in, tie and all, to help stack sandbags.
Tone, 59, retires at the end of this year from ACMC’s top administrative position after 20 years with the organization.
He’s leaving a regional multi-specialty health network that is one of the largest independently owned clinic systems in Minnesota, with 10 sites, 125 physicians and 1,200 employees. ACMC owns or co-owns two same-day surgery centers, operates a regional cancer center as a joint venture with Willmar’s Rice Memorial Hospital and collaborates extensively with hospitals, public health agencies and others in the region to deliver care and maintain the fabric of rural health.
“It’s amazing to me when I look back at how much this place has changed,” Tone reflected recently.
“It’s grown a lot. We’ve added a lot more services and expanded specialties,” he said. “I’ve had at least one if not two building projects every year.”
To most patients, the role of clinic administrator is usually invisible. Look closer, however, and what you see is part of the glue that holds together the day-to-day operations.
A typical day for Tone can involve meetings, trouble-shooting, answering questions and spending lots of time on the phone. He works closely with ACMC’s 36 department managers, many of whom have years of experience with the organization.
“I don’t believe in micromanaging,” Tone said. “I think if you hire good people and you give them good management and give them leeway, then you get out of the way. It’s not just me. This organization is too large for one person to be directing all of it.”
His position also demands good skills in working with people and dealing with change.
“Understanding group dynamics is probably the biggest piece of this,” he said. “The same people I’m responsible for, I’m also responsible to. I’ve got all the doctors and they all have strong opinions on a lot of things.”
Originally trained as a laboratory technician, Tone stepped into health care administration early in his career and held management positions at a handful of clinics before arriving in Willmar in 1994 as director of operations for ACMC.
At a time when health care in the U.S. has become increasingly consolidated and reimbursement-driven, ACMC remains physician-driven, with doctors on the board of directors and in key leadership positions setting the direction for the organization’s priorities and strategies.
This approach is what has kept him at ACMC for the past two decades, Tone said. “The central focus has always been on the care of the patient… What I like about being here is the team approach. We get the business and the medicine together. Having physicians in charge is key, in my opinion. Otherwise you have someone with a suit and tie making decisions.”
His successor, Steven Gerberding, came on board this past January to begin the leadership transition. Gerberding, who previously held health administrative positions in Sartell and St. Cloud, worked alongside Tone for the first six months, familiarizing himself with ACMC. In July, he took over the reins for most of the daily operations.
The transition has been going well, Tone said.
One of the biggest challenges he sees for the new administrator is having enough doctors to meet the regional need and ensuring they’re adequately supported.
“We have more paperwork, more call. For doctors that have been in practice for a long time, call is what kills them,” he said. “Every clinic in the state is looking for doctors.”
As health care payments shift from volume to value-based, patient satisfaction and good outcomes also are increasingly critical, he said. “We have to put our best foot forward. It’s no longer good enough to just solve a problem.”
Multiple awards - most recently, recognition from UCare for disability access and several Bridges to Excellence honors for the care of diabetes, vascular health and depression - indicate that ACMC provides quality care, and a commitment to quality is something that will continue, Tone said.
“We have a lot of good people who’ve picked up the charge,” he said. “I leave, it’s not going to change.”