George Lewis spends his retired years planting and caring for the tiny seedlings in his greenhouse and carefully manicuring his lovely lawn. Keeping the plants safe, well fed and supplied with vital nutrients is his "day job" these days. It's with that same loving and gentle gesture that he's given his time to the health care industry of Moffat County over the last 15 years. And, that is why this kind man has been named a visionary in the medical community.
Lewis is a true volunteer and a true believer in the positive attractions of Northwest Colorado at 76 years of age, he hasn't stopped in his commitment to improving life and health care in rural Colorado.
His peers at The Memorial Hospital and the Visiting Nurse Association believe he's a natural leader that has been confirmed many times over in his work on the board of directors for those organizations.
"George has dedicated himself to learning about the many complexities of health care delivery in rural settings. He's applied what he's learned to those agencies he served," Hospital Administrator, Randy Phelps, said. "He's given an enormous commitment of time over the last 15 years to being involved in improving the health care of the community and that certainly is visionary."
Sue Birch, executive director for the Visiting Nurse Association, said that Lewis was a clear choice for the medical visionary award.
"With rising health care costs, limited resources in rural areas and a tightening labor market, we need visionary and insightful leaders setting policy and staying educated about the health care industry," Birch said. "George has done just that. His hospital and community health expertise have been instrumental to meeting our communities needs."
A resident of Craig for almost 60 years, Lewis relocated from the front range shortly after World War II and has called this area home ever since.
"I still feel like a newcomer," Lewis said with an amused look on his face. "I was born in Greeley and spent a short stint in Craig when I was 17 years old. After the war I came back here to be with my wife, this was home to her and to me and I've never had any desire to go anywhere else."
Many locals know Lewis from his 33 years as the local State Farm Insurance agent. But, because his wife was a nurse and he was close to the medical community, he started attending regular hospital board meetings in 1981 and he said he was concerned with what he was seeing. After being elected to the board in 1985, Lewis said he wanted to help bring positive change to health care in Moffat County.
"We had some problems in the early 80's. Some physician disagreements. I was pretty controversial back then but the board wasn't getting anywhere," he said. "Boards are policy makers and we administer ultimate responsibility legally and financially. There were things I wanted to see through and that's why I spent so many years on the board for the hospital. Once the board and the doctors came to a level of understanding, we started making gains. The whole medical industry has always been so interesting to me."
In 1986, the hospital board hired an outside management company, Quorum Health Resources, Limited Liability Company. Quorum manages 260 hospitals across the country the largest health care manager in the world. The idea of outside management in the hospital was a new one. This step though has proven successful for the progression of the hospital.
"Where George may have once been a lightening rod for conflict he's now a mediator of conflict," Phelps said. "That's part of the growing and learning process when you're involved with an active board. We have and have had outstanding boards who have acted patient and courageous with every step forward. Part of being a visionary is you have to see the positive through these tough decisions and stay the course."
Lewis said that his work with the VNA has been a fulfilling experience and that the organization is a positive light in the community. He's been on that board since 1996 and has served as chairman.
"This organization is incredible," he said. "They absolutely do so many things a mixture of public health and home health. You don't find that in many places."
Where Lewis has an admiration for those who are employed by the VNA, Marilyn Bouldin, director of community care for the VNA, has a mutual admiration for Lewis.
"Maybe because he has been married to a nurse for many years but George has a keen understanding of health care issues from many perspectives," she said. "He has always valued a community based approach to solving health care problems."
Lewis has been a visionary while serving on the VNA board as well as the hospital board.
"George is a great believer in primary prevention," Bouldin said. "He is currently serving on the advisory committee for the VNA's new Nurse-Family Partnership Program which will provide intense support and education to first time parents.
Lewis has received many honors for his work in health care and volunteerism over the years. A 10-year trustee for the Colorado Hospital Association, a delegate to the American Hospital Association, recognized for excellent service in the insurance business, a recipient of the Craig Chamber of Commerce Sunshine Award for community service and an active member and former Captain of the Sheriff's Posse, just to name a few.
"This is a typical small town but more typical than most," he said. "One person can make a difference, they really can. I've seen that first hand."
Most recently, Lewis has turned his ambitions towards the possible construction of a new community hospital for Moffat County. He said that although some in the community may not want to foot the bill for a new facility, it's a necessary need.
"We're up against it and ultimately the Joint Commissions will close this hospital if it doesn't happen," he said. "The original facility and add-ons to that facility have become elderly. The community has got to want this enough to support it though. A community can't stand still and we're at a crossroads."
Lewis will be working with the current hospital board to help educate the community on the need for a new health care facility. Phelps said his help will be welcomed.
"This is going to take a lot of education. We're going to have to go to every local organization and talk to them about the health care needs of the community. It's a perception of a lack of need that we're up against," Lewis said. "But I don't think anyone will argue about one fact, we need this hospital. This community needs this hospital. Communities die without a strong hospital and strong health care. I've seen it happen and I'm very hopeful we can continue on here this really is a wonderful place to be."