Strong medicine

Interim administrator works to keep hospital healthy

Susan McGough arrived in Craig on Aug. 8 with two tasks -- to ensure that patients at The Memorial Hospital get the best possible care and to turn plans of a new hospital into a reality.

To get there, McGough has had to make some tough and unpopular decisions.

Putting the hospital in a financial position to afford a new building, which, after financing will cost about $26 million, has meant cutting staff, rearranging offices and turning over operations of an indigent care clinic to another organization.

"You always focus on the hospital -- what's best for it, the patients and their families," she said. "That's really what we're supposed to be about -- taking care of people."

The Memorial Hospital hired McGough after its previous administrator resigned. She'll oversee the hospital until its board of trustees selects a permanent replacement. The board won't rush the process because it wants to hire the most qualified person for the position, she said.

Cutting staff positions is the most difficult thing McGough has had to do in Craig, she said.

In November, the hospital announced it would layoff 10 employees.

"There's a part of you that takes that pretty hard," she said. "There's no way to make that easy. It's not like these people were faceless to me. It was very difficult."

But her experience, hospital management company support and input from consultants all led her to decide that it was the best strategy for the hospital, she said.

Difficult decisions are easier when the goal is the focus, McGough said.

McGough arrived in Craig with nearly eight years of experience as a hospital administrator. Her husband of 32 years took a job as the regional director of cardiac services in Southern Oregon. There wasn't a need for an administrator at any other hospitals in that area. So McGough said she decided to hit the road as an interim CEO.

Craig is her first post.

"It's amazingly fun," she said.

McGough's start in health care was in the laboratory where she put her degree in microbiology to use.

"It's weird going from that to working with people and being a people person," she said.

She said she loved lab work but wanted to contribute in a different way. Three years later, working during the day and going to school at night, McGough earned her master's degree in administration.

She worked as an assistant administrator for three years in a small hospital and has stayed in similar-size facilities since.

"It's kind of my niche," she said. "I like being able to talk to patients, their families and employees. I just love (small hospitals), and I think they are so important to their communities."

She said she enjoys the challenges that come with an interim position.

"The need and expectation is that you'll dive in, catch on pretty quickly and get things done," she said.

The job requires a lot of listening and quick reactions, she said.

McGough said she learned immediately that the hospital board had worked for several years to construct a new hospital, but she was having trouble getting those plans off the ground.

"We needed to change how we were operating the hospital to align our financial performance with what we needed," McGough said.

It was critical that officials balanced the hospital's space needs with other key components, such as patient care, quality equipment and qualified staff, she said.

"This hospital is very lucky," she said. "There are a lot of good people working here."

Unique to Craig, McGough said, is a staff that genuinely cares about one another.

"There's a real warmth here you don't see anywhere else," she said.

She said she enjoys the experience. Still, the native Texan said she was a little worried a few weeks ago when temperatures dipped to 19 degrees below zero.

"I remember when we moved to Idaho. It took me two years to get warm," she said.

McGough said she doesn't know where she'll go from Craig. She plans to work as an interim administrator for a few years but won't make a career of constant transitioning.

"I can see doing it for a while, but it's hard not to be home in the evenings," she said.

She and her husband see each other three weekends a month.

"It's an extra expense, but we like to see each other," she said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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