Update: New The Memorial Hospital CEO Chris Smolik takes charge

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Chris Smolik

— Settled in his office Monday afternoon, relaxed and animated at the same time, The Memorial Hospital’s new CEO Chris Smolik gave the impression of a man completely in his element rather than a man harried by the frustrations of his first day on the job.

“This is really pretty typical for taking on a position like this. It’s a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose when you first start,” Smolik said with a grin, taking in stride the avalanche of information he needs to absorb by the end of the week to smoothly assume control of Moffat County’s only hospital and guide it in step with ever-evolving medical technology.

“I think clearly there’s opportunities to expand and improve on some of the programs we have and even add a few more,” Smolik said. “There’s a perpetual litany of new information coming out and new technology. The goal is to have a place where people want to come for their medical care and are confident about the quality of care they will get here; the way to do that is adding resources.”

Smolik said he is devoted to his managing philosophy of putting patients first in the decision-making process, an approach that emanates from his appraisal of the larger medical establishment’s disposition toward the people it serves.

“If you think about it, think of what we do to patients, it’s really a horrible thing to put someone through,” Smolik said. “They come in to the hospital and we shuttle them off to a registration desk where they get a mountain of paperwork and sign, sign, sign. They’re scared, worried about having a procedure that will hurt or find out some really bad news, and we just fit them into this robotic system.

“Then we dehumanize them by taking their clothes and replacing them with a hospital gown that leaves them exposed. There is no dignified way to wear a hospital gown. Then we hurt them. We poke and prod and stick and scan and then put them through it several more times. It’s not a fun or gracious process.”

Smolik has numerous adjustments and alternatives in mind to help TMH attain a patient-first program. He just isn’t spilling the beans yet.

“What’s really important is that we have a goal in mind and something to work toward,” Smolik said. “We can be not a hospital but a place of healing.”

Smolik’s transition is being helped along by interim CEO Joyce Hein. Smolik’s hiring as the result of a months-long process that included a candidate pool of 37 applicants.

Smolik was the only finalist chosen by TMH’s board of trustees. After considerable deliberation, the trustees voted unanimously to accept Smolik as the new top dog at Moffat County’s only hospital.

“This was a very collaborative process between (TMH), the community and the board,” TMH Chief of Organizational Excellence Jennifer Riley said. “He was a clear standout among the four candidates that were chosen to visit the hospital.”

Smolik distinguished himself among the top four candidates by stressing a patient-first philosophy, elaborating on the ideology that a well-run hospital makes its critical decisions with patient care and well-being at the fore.

The board of trustees "liked his outlook on how to manage the hospital effectively,” Riley said. “They really liked the experience he had, and they liked his desire to work with the physicians and the staff.”

Smolik brings with him more than 15 years of managerial experience. He served his first turn as a hospital CEO at Edinburg Regional Medical Center in Edinburg, Texas.

Smolik comes to TMH from Riverton Memorial Hospital in Riverton, Wyo., where he served as CEO for six years. During his tenure there, Riverton Memorial Hospital earned the LifePoint Hospitals High Five Award in 2008. The award is given to hospitals that perform most impressively in five critical areas: delivering compassionate, high-quality patient care; supporting resident physicians; creating an excellent work environment; strengthening the hospital’s role in the community; and ensuring fiscal responsibility.

“TMH must be a place employees want to work, doctors want to practice and patients want to receive care,” Smolik said in a statement at the time of his acceptance by the board of trustees.

During the next three days, Smolik will work closely with Hein, who has created an extensive transition document for Smolik to refer to as he settles into his position at TMH.

“He’s not on his own,” Riley said. “All of these projects are being collaborated with staff and the board, and we’re really here to support him however we can.”

Riley thinks a permanent CEO will allow TMH to move forward with confidence as it expands and improves the care it provides to the citizens of Moffat County.

“We’ve just been in a transitional state for the last five months,” she said. “I think that now that we have that sense of stability back it’ll be a great next couple of years.”

For more information contact Andie Tessler at 970-875-1793 or atessler@CraigDailyPress.com.

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