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The new CEO

Apr 23, 2017 By Steven R. Peck

Our hospitals have a new man in charge,

and he has a chance to be a local hero

Sage West Healthcare has a new chief executive officer in Fremont County. Alan Daugherty is taking over as the boss of the two SageWest hospitals, one in Lander, one in Riverton. He is not a doctor. He is a business executive. It's been a long time since doctors actually ran hospitals. News flash.

Readers in recent days have seen the new administrator's encouraging letter to the editor -- and community -- which coincided with a couple of get-acquainted meetings in both cities. This is an important, conspicuous job in our county, and he deserves a warm welcome as arrives to assume the challenge.

By all accounts, Mr. Daugherty is making a good first impression. His resume speaks of years of training and commitment. His letter was good-natured and encouraging in its tone. But it also had an air of frankness about it that could serve Mr. Daugherty well as he begins the new job. Good intentions, blended with realism and clear-eyed vision, will be required.

Each hospital has had its share of troubles during the past year or two. Lander's facility was hampered for months due to damage from flooding that interfered with service. Then, revelations about unclean surgical instruments prompted stern scrutiny from state health authorities, accompanied by a good bit of unfavorable publicity.

In Riverton, medical staff at the hospital shrank, and services were cut back. Increasing numbers of patients were unable to be treated due to the narrowing scope of services -- which for many years had been considered basic hospital care. Ambulances, helicopters and airplanes stayed busy hauling patients to Lander, or Casper, or other, more-distant cities where hospitals could provide the needed care that patients used to receive locally.

Developments at the hospitals have been jagged pills to swallow. Fremont County's health care community generally has enjoyed a good and well-earned reputation for highly competent hospital care that was both comprehensive and readily available. Now, some erosion of that reputation has occurred, due to acts of nature, corporate decision-making, the local economy and individual choice.

No one ought to be surprised anymore at the realization that hospital management is, and must be, concerned with matters of basic business. National debate continues to roil about health care, and our two hospitals are included.

The same company, LifePoint, owns both, and it is a major player in the hospital business nationally. The imperatives of big business don't spare Fremont County when the hospitals are scrutinized at corporate headquarters.

That needn't be a bad thing. Good business management is touted by many in our country as the key to better, more affordable health care. Hospitals need good management, and LifePoint has the job here.

Some might long for the days when the two hospitals were publicly owned facilities in a county with a booming minerals economy and a health-care climate of lower costs and almost unimaginably simpler dynamics. Those days are gone. They won't return.

The truth is, we are fortunate to have the two hospitals in Fremont County. Many disinterested industry observers have wondered why both facilities continue to exist in a county with just 40,000 residents. Around the nation, many communities larger than ours don't have their own hospitals. In Wyoming, some towns of comparable size don't. It is no longer a given that every town of a certain size will have its own hospital in the way that it has a post office or a school.

But both Lander and Riverton still do. Our hospitals are centers of health and well-being, vital employers, drivers of the economy, symbols of good quality of life, and fiercely cherished institutions that residents see as theirs, not corporate's.

As an experienced administrator, Alan Daugherty already knows the best response to criticism: Do better. He has made that his pledge.

In his initial meetings and communications with Fremont County residents, he is saying and writing all the right things. The next, imperative step, of course, is to start doing the right things as well -- and never stop.

Near the end of his letter to the community, Mr. Daugherty stated a primary objective: "to re-establish SageWest as a local health care system that delivers excellent care, a superior patient experience, and is the first choice for health care professionals in our region."

Amen, Mr. CEO. Our two local hospitals have taken some fire recently. People are noticing. People are talking. People are watching. You have a chance to be a hero here. Seize it.

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