Most people expected the announcement, McLaren Northern Michigan's CEO, Reezie DeVet, said of her plans to retire at the end of 2013. Most people expected it because DeVet, who has been with the hospital (formerly Northern Michigan Regional Hospital) since 2003, has watched her "target dates" for retirement come and go several times.
"I kept waiting for the right time. I'm very passionate about this hospital and our community, and I wanted to make sure that I would be leaving our organization in the best possible shape I could," she said in a recent interview.
The biggest hurdle to clear was finding a partnership with a larger medical group to secure the hospital's future, as changes in health care and continually increasing charity care left the organization financially vulnerable.
That goal-- started by DeVet's good friend and predecessor, Tom Mroczkowski (who died suddenly in 2009)-- was reached when Northern Michigan Regional Hospital merged with McLaren Health Care, a hospital group based in Flint, Michigan, in 2012.
"Tom had the vision and the foresight to know identifying and partnering with not only a larger health care system, but the right system for this organization. I wanted to make sure his work was carried through, and when I came on, this was something the hospital had been working toward for quite some time," DeVet said.
Once the partnership with McLaren was cemented, the health system's executives requested DeVet stay on at least a year into the transition. She agreed, noting she wanted Northern Michigan Regional Hospital's move to McLaren Northern Michigan be as smooth as possible. Keeping the good faith of the community was equally important, she noted.
"It was important to complete the strategic initiatives, but it was equally important to ensure the people we serve, and our staff, that this partnership is a positive move for our area."
On top of the merger, the Cheboygan hospital situation (the hospital closed in early April 2012, as a result of a sale to McLaren being blocked due to federal licensing snags and lacking funds to remain open on its own) was an unexpected situation that required immediate action.
"When the Cheboygan piece happened, I knew it was important to stay on and see a resolution through," DeVet said. The Cheboygan hospital later reopened as a slimmed down satellite campus with a functioning Emergency Room.
As questions in health care continue to loom-- with few, if any, concrete answers-- DeVet said she realized there would never be a perfect time to retire.
"I knew I had to let go of the idea that there would be a 'right time' and had to acknowledge that this is the right move for me and my family."
Though her decision has been made, the idea of being any sort of "lame duck" CEO is abhorrent to DeVet. Instead, she said the hospital will continue moving forward, focusing on its strategic plan. The plan molds into McLaren's overall three-year strategic plan cycle, which includes working on ways to reduce costs without undermining care.
"We had a plan to fly over to Beaver Island earlier this year to meet with their rural health center team, because we have a partnership with them. The weather was so bad we had to reschedule, and when I called to let them know of my retirement, their first question was 'does this mean we won't be rescheduling our meeting?' I told them that of course we'd be rescheduling. We won't be sitting here waiting for the new person to come take the reigns. We have a strong plan in place, and we'll be working on it, business as usual."
The new CEO will be chosen by a search committee made up of McLaren Northern Michigan board members, which does include Philip A. Incarnati, president and CEO of McLaren Health Care. The committee is using a national search team, DeVet added, that has been used by McLaren Northern Michigan for years whenever an executive position needed to be filled.
"They are very familiar with our organization, and have an excellent history with us in terms of finding the right people for our community health care needs. I think that's important for people to know."
DeVet added the search will be open to both those currently inside the McLaren system as well as to health care administrators nationwide, and that she has no doubt the pool of candidates will include fantastic leaders who are up to the challenges of not only the nationwide health care situations, but those specific to northern Michigan.
"I don't know if people realize it, but we cover communities spanning over 7,000 square miles."
The rural nature of McLaren Northern Michigan makes it all the more important to offer a wide breadth of services and care. However, skyrocketing costs, reduced insurance payments, and a continued rise in charity care that shows no sign of slowing down, make this the number one challenge the hospital will face in coming years, DeVet said.
"It is a difficult task, to balance federal debt with health care needs. Something will have to change, and for us, with an increasingly elderly and frail population, there isn't a lot of relief in sight. We have to continue to look at how we are delivering care. How we can augment with telemedicine, what people can do in their own homes, how technology can be used. We also have a significant outreach program."
She added the positive side of the hospital's rural nature is that McLaren Northern Michigan is located in an area where community matters, and people are passionate and willing to support a basic need like strong healthcare.
"We have incredibly generous people in our community. Every bit of help adds up to make a difference," DeVet said.
The hospital has a long-standing foundation that has helped meet health care needs ranging from major equipment and capital campaigns to community health classes. While the hospital is now part of a larger group, funds donated to the McLaren Northern Michigan Foundation are only used locally, DeVet stressed.
In coming years, she added, the role the foundation plays in maintaining cutting edge care and number of services offered will be critical.
"Without our donors and supporters, this organization would not be what it is today. That is more true than ever as we look toward the future."
In the end, DeVet said she has no doubt the community will continue to rise to the occasion, and that the hospital staff will continue to provide top notch care for years to come.
"It says a lot of our strength of our organization, to have so many transitions happen without comprising care, and with the community's support. Our staff really stepped up to do what was necessary, and our community has done the same."