'Mind Guy' Leads Way

June 4, 2007
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CUTLERVILLE — This is the story of an intern who ended up running the place.

Mark Eastburg, a psychologist who was named president and CEO of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in December, started out 16 years ago as a post-doctorate intern at the Cutlerville nonprofit. Then, in his first full-time job there, he was asked to run a department which pretty much everyone else had quit.

“They took a chance on this rookie and put him in charge of this department,” said Eastburg. “Actually, what happened was, the director was leaving. There were two and a half employees, and as soon as I was hired, one quit, so it was me and a half-time person. It was really having to build from scratch. What I was hired to do was to completely revamp the department, which I did.”

Today, the department is a clinic with a staff of six, and psychological assessment became one of Eastburg’s clinical specialties.

Eastburg served for 10 months as interim CEO after Dan Holwerda left to become executive vice president and COO at Metro Health. He said he didn’t seek out the CEO job, and was surprised when the interim post was offered to him.

“I was called in thinking I was going to hear about the successor when I was asked to step in as an interim,” Eastburg recalled. “So I did that for about 10 months or so. We went through a search process, and through that time I became comfortable in that role and, I think, inspired about where Pine Rest could go.”

Founded in 1910, the 150-bed Pine Rest includes a 220-acre campus at 300 68th St. SE and 23 outpatient centers in Michigan and Iowa, which see 220,000 visits annually. Long supported by Christian churches — the Christian Reformed community in particular — Pine Rest employs 1,200. According to an IRS form covering the fiscal year that ended in 2005, Pine Rest had net income of $7 million on $53.5 million in revenue. The separate Pine Rest Foundation claimed assets of $18.9 million for the same period.

Running an enterprise of that size may not be something routinely taught in psychology doctorate programs, but Eastburg said his years of management experience at Pine Rest have provided a comfort level with the business side of mental health care.

“From a revenue standpoint, most of our revenue comes from our inpatient program, but in terms of the number of people we serve, it’s much more an ambulatory business,” he said. “As in most of health care, the cost of living is increasing faster than the rate of reimbursement, so we’re constantly managing that gap or that tension. So we need to be efficient with what we do. There’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of reimbursement. We, like everyone else, live with this.”

Pine Rest is wrapping up an $11 million capital campaign that is financing several construction projects, including a new chapel/conference center. But more than joining the local health care community in its construction binge, Eastburg said Pine Rest is interested in applying the industry’s modern standards to the behavioral health setting.

“We know we can provide excellent care,” Eastburg said. “How can we document it and use the data to improve our services? Evidence-based care, best practices — certainly in the acute care settings those are important concepts. Where we’re going as an organization is adapting those concepts to behavioral health. That’s where health care is going, and we need to go along with it.”

A California native, Eastburg came east to attend and graduate from Wheaton College near Chicago. Burned out on school and searching for his life’s path, Eastburg took a job as a residence hall director at Calvin College and moved to Grand Rapids for three years.

“At that time, I met my wife and got a second wind to go back to graduate school. Then we went back to California, and I went out to the Fuller School of Psychology (at Fuller Theological Seminary) in Pasadena. I was out there for five years. The clinical Ph.D. program in psychology ends with a year-long internship. I knew a little bit about Pine Rest because of living in Grand Rapids for three years, and so applied to an internship here and was accepted and moved back here with my young family at that time.

“And I decided this would be a great place to settle as a family and, more important, that it was a great place to work. I decided Pine Rest was the kind of organization I wanted to be part of.”

Eastburg’s resume at Pine Rest includes a variety of clinical and executive experiences. In addition to his trial-by-fire in the psychological assessment arena, he has worked with the Attention Deficit Disorder Institute; as director of the Psychological Consultation Center; and clinical/corporate director of the Professional Practice Group of the outpatient clinical staff. He’s been director of mission effectiveness, of new program development, and of the Pine Rest Family Institute, as well as executive director of Healthy Marriages Grand Rapids.

For seven years, he served as director of psycho-oncology with the Richard Lacks Cancer Center at Saint Mary’s Health Care.

“The commission was to develop a cancer center that expressed the Saint Mary’s philosophy of mind, body and spirit. And I was called ‘the mind guy,’” he said.

He is also a member of the board of directors of Covenant Retirement Communities, a nonprofit ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which offers elder care at 14 campuses in eight states, including Covenant Village of the Great Lakes in Grand Rapids. Eastburg said he travels frequently for meetings at different sites around the country.

Much of his free time is devoted to his five children’s activities, such as sports. “It’s a busy time,” he noted.

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