New Hospitals New Leaders

February 27, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — It turns out that building a hospital is a full-time job. Metro Health and Saint Mary’s Health Care last week announced independent decisions to add new chief operating officers to their management teams, allowing other executives a break from daily operations in order to focus on building their respective new facilities.

The new second-in-command at Metro is a familiar face in West Michigan health care circles. Dan Holwerda, CEO of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, is leaving his employer of 23 years to take on the challenge.

“There’s this nice balance of excitement and anxiety,” Holwerda said in a phone interview. Although he has 13 years of experience leading Pine Rest, and already knows many of Metro’s management and board personnel, Holwerda admits that the new position will be a major change.

“I’m going into the acute care field. I’ve never worked in acute care. There are a lot of transferable skills, from a management or leadership perspective. But there is a learning curve for me — getting to know the new organization, and getting to know the whole acute care side.”

Metro CEO Michael Faas is certain that Holwerda will be up to the task.

“We know we got lucky in him being interested to take on a challenge like this,” Faas said. “There is no doubt that Dan has the qualities that anyone would want in a leader.”

The addition of Holwerda to the management team will be a boost for Faas, according to Jason Manshum, Metro’s public relations supervisor. With the health system’s new Metro Health Village due to open in 18 months, that helping hand will be all the more important.

“With the village and the new hospital going up in Wyoming, Mike can’t do everything,” said Manshum. “I think that’s a testament to our growth, and that’s a very good thing. So Mike can focus on a lot of our external matters, and Dan can focus on a lot more of our internal, operational matters at the hospital.”

In that sense, Metro will become more like a typical corporation in terms of its management structure, Faas said. He looks forward to the opportunity to invest more of his time into matters that he previously has been pulled away from because of the demands of running a health system while trying to build an entirely new hospital and develop the 170 acres surrounding it.

“When the MetroHealthVillage is fully built out, we’re talking somewhere around 40 buildings, somewhere between $750 million and $1 billion. There’s lots of interaction and relationships with all of the organizations that will ultimately relocate to that site with the hospital,” he said. “And that has taken a large part of my time and it deserved more. There are those kinds of things that you do, but instead of giving it the 10 or 15 hours they really deserve, you’re giving it five or six, because that’s all you’ve got.”

That rationale also led Saint Mary’s Health Care to reassign COO Jim Miller the task of getting the new HauensteinCenter built and operational.

“Because of the huge scope of that project — $60 million, something we’ve never attempted before, this big — (Saint Mary’s President and CEO) Phil McCorkle asked Jim if he would simply be focused on getting that job done,” said Micki Benz, the system’s vice president of development.

Stepping in to take Miller’s place as COO is Keith Poisson, a hospital veteran brought to Saint Mary’s to serve in an interim capacity. Unlike Metro’s situation, the Saint Mary’s management shuffle foreshadows long-term change.

“While Keith is here, he will take over those duties — the operations management of the hospital — while Phil can focus more on the planning, fundraising, that sort of thing. But at the same time, there will be an organized search for a permanent COO with an eye toward Phil McCorkle’s successor,” Benz said.

Poisson was most recently president of St. JohnWestShoreHospital in Westlake, Ohio. Benz said that he might be considered as a candidate to permanently fill the position.

Unlike Saint Mary’s situation, the hiring of Holwerda has nothing to do with succession planning, according to Faas.

“This is building a tremendously strong, talented and diverse senior leadership team,” he said. “Every organization needs to take into consideration succession planning, but it’s really about making sure you have the right talent at the right time. That’s what this is really about.”

Meanwhile, the search for a replacement at Pine Rest has already begun, according to Tom Rosenbach, chairman of the board of directors.

“Dan did a great job for us and we’re sorry to see him go,” said Rosenbach. “I think Metro is very lucky to get him. His contributions — I can’t really measure those or put those into words.”

While the search is underway, Rosenbach is confident in the management team Holwerda is leaving behind. He said that one of them might end up as Holwerda’s replacement.

“Of course the first preference is that you always like to find someone from within, but I think we’ll do both,” he said, referring to internal and external candidate searches. “You want to find the best candidate.”

Holwerda is also confident in the Pine Rest staff’s ability to continue in his absence.

“They’re a strong team. They’re not going to miss a beat,” he said. “But that was one of the most difficult parts of this decision. I’ve been here for 23 years. It’s an outstanding management team we’ve put together. We have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. I’m going to miss them. I’m going to miss the whole staff.”    

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