Sue Birch, chief executive officer of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, reminisced Monday surrounded by co-workers, friends and community members.
She told those attending a reception in her honor about a time before she assumed her current duties at the organization.
It was 1991 and she had just started as a public health nurse conducting well child clinics in Routt County.
“I had a little baby at the time so it was perfect because I only … worked from like 2 to 7 p.m. two evenings a week primarily because I was so nervous about living so far away from the big city,” she recalled. “So it was just great to get to know the doctors and the community.”
At the time, Birch said she couldn’t have imagined the path before her — first becoming the VNA’s CEO in 1994 and now preparing to step in as executive director of the state’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.
“It is amazing how your path just twists and turns,” she said.
Birch’s last day with the VNA will be Friday. Those attending the reception at the VNA’s Craig office spoke about Birch’s service to the organization, none with an ill memory of the outgoing CEO.
Those positive comments were reciprocated by Birch.
“It’s an honor to work with such great people and to live in a valley and a region that has people that just genuinely care about their friends and neighbors and are committed to quality of life,” she said. “It’s a culture in this northwest area that I have never seen anywhere in the country.
“That is why I am going to continue to call this my home.”
Among those in the audience was Hayden resident Frank Roitsch, who serves on the VNA board.
Roitsch used one word to describe Birch — visionary.
“She did a lot of very positive things in the medical field, she cares deeply for the people who can’t afford medical care and comes up with ideas that make that work — fabulous person,” he said.
Monday’s reception also doubled as the introduction of Lisa Brown as the VNA’s acting CEO. Brown has been the VNA’s director of development since 2009 and is a member of the Steamboat Springs School Board.
Brown said she would seek to continue the high level of care the VNA is providing — services she considers “ambitious.”
“(Birch) has worked really hard to set a clear direction for the VNA, our board is very, very committed to our mission and the direction our agency has been going for a number of years,” Brown said. “It really is about continuing to make sure that we are keeping our communities healthy as much as we can.”
Brown said the VNA board will seek to name Birch’s permanent replacement sometime in the next 90 days after conducting a regional search. Brown said she is interested in the permanent position.
Monday’s reception held special meaning for Gisela Garrison, who was recruited by Birch to work for the VNA when she worked at a community health center in the Chicago area.
“It is definitely a big change for me personally … she basically was the first contact work wise for me to pull me out to Colorado,” said Garrison, director of the VNA’s Northwest Colorado Community Health Center. “But, I am happy for her and I know that she will be a positive influence on the state level for this area and she clearly has the well-being of this community in her mind even if she is working out there.”
Garrison said her passion to help the medically underserved aligned with Birch’s from the start.
“She felt she could feel my heart and my heart was matching her passion, too,” she said. “She will be missed, but we will continue carrying the torch. I know that for sure.”
As the reception continued, however, Birch began to talk less about herself and more about the continuing operations of the VNA, including strategic planning and serving the needs of the community.
“That’s one of the things you have to learn when you are dealing with Sue is that we are very hardworking all the time,” Garrison said. “Some of the biggest challenges are the networking, the community connection, because without those, we wouldn’t be able to bring the VNA forward.”
“You can see why she has been tapped for going to the cabinet level,” she said with a laugh. “Sue is always working.”
Brian Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or email@example.com.
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