White River Health Systems introduces incoming CEO Gary Paxon during Media Day

Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Incoming CEO for White River Health Systems Gary Paxon (left) with outgoing CEO Gary Bebow (right).
Lauren Siebert

White River Health Systems (WRHS) held a media appreciation luncheon day Nov. 28 during which CEO Gary Bebow and incoming CEO Gary Paxon spoke to the media about upcoming plans.

The meeting opened with Michelle Wood providing a calendar of events and list of upcoming seminars which are open to the public.

Bebow then took the floor, welcoming the media groups who were represented at the event.

“I started in January of 1991 and so 28 years later, it is time for a transfer of leadership. This past year, a good part of my year has been working to make sure there is a smooth transition. A lot of progress has happened over the last 27 years and we want that to continue,” Bebow said. “Earlier in the year, we formed a committee and I’ve been talking about retiring for a long time. The board formed the committee and we’ve gone through an orderly process of that transition and we decided there was no reason to go outside our organization for excellent leadership because we have it right here. We’re very pleased that the board chose Gary Paxon and he will be assuming my role going forward. He’s an outstanding young leader and will take this organization to the next level.”

Bebow then extended this thanks to those in attendance for their support, honesty and coverage of WRHS and their many branches over the years.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you have done to help us progress ourselves over the years to this area. We couldn’t have done it without you,” Bebow said. “I will stay on for another year or so in a consulting capacity, but clearly, Gary is the right guy at the right time moving forward.”

He then yielded the floor to Paxon who welcomed those in attendance.

Paxon then introduced himself and provided some background about his career in the medical field. Paxon said when he was a young child, he had an incident during which he’d broken his arm requiring surgery.

“Something just clicked for me. It was a place to serve and care for people in situations they have not chosen to be in. I went in as a young child knowing I wanted to be in the healthcare vertical if you will. I pursued nursing and still have my license. I worked in the ER and ICU and enjoyed it. When I crossed into the realm of a ‘desk job’, it was a fantastic opportunity and I found in the transition I could affect our patients at a whole different level,” Paxon said. “I could serve the patients but I could also serve my colleagues to do their job better and it ultimately allows them to fulfill their mission to serve those who entrust their care to us.”

Paxon began his time at WRHS in 2012 as the chief information officer. He explained his passion was in the realm of community healthcare.

In 2014, Paxon was asked by Bebow his opinion in regard to improving quality metrics. Paxon offered his answer which led to a series of conversations and ultimately the creation of a new position at the company.

In 2015, Paxon was moved into the roll of chief quality officer. In 2018, he was named administrator of the hospital and now has been moved into the position of CEO.

“This is a calling for me and those who we seek to recruit, I want to instill the same vision in them. We’re not overly interested in hiring those who just simply want to collect a check. What we do on a day to day basis is touch the lives of the people in need. What we do and the things we see can rock your world emotionally. You can’t do that if you’re just seeking to collect a pay check. We want to instill the passion, a career opportunity that is extraordinarily fulfilling for you,” Paxon said, referring to future conversations with potential employees.

He then began to lead the group through the informational packet which was provided.

“As an organization we have subscribed to the philosophy of a man named Quint Studer. Several years ago was named CEO of a hospital in Florida and developed five pillars of not just becoming an average hospital or health system but an outstanding one. Each pillar is important in its own right, but the order is more important: People, service, quality, finance and growth,” Paxon said. “A lot of times, as organizations, our tendency is to focus on finance and growth and those are important, without those we can’t keep our doors open. If you don’t focus on your people first and have those people that are passionate who provide great service. When you provide great service your quality outcomes are not just average, they become exceptional. When your community sees that, your finances are in order. Which finally allows you to grow as an organization. I’m a firm believer in this philosophy.”

Paxon said he and his team had been working to identify issues in service and other areas in the health system over the years and a major overhaul took place in 2017. A change of leadership and health providers occurred and the recruiting of other providers took place.

“Our ‘left without being seen rate’ which is a metric we use to gauge how well the people who walk through our door are being taken care of, was in the four, five or six percent range which is absolutely unacceptable. The national average is about two percent. So with the changes, today we are under one percent,” Paxon said.

Paxon briefly spoke about the health system’s recruiting program and then began to speak of the development of new community engagement programs which will be launched in the future.

“One of the things we’ve done very recently is looking at the alignment of our leadership team; we want to go into a deeper level of community engagement. We are here to serve. That is part of our mission and as you look at the transition of healthcare from reactive to proactive. We want you to live your best life. We want you to be healthy, we want to promote those activities, we can’t do that by sitting here and waiting for you to come to us. We are going to be out there encouraging you, talking to you about screenings, talking to you about things that may be awkward and uncomfortable but are necessary,” Paxon said. “We’re investing a lot more effort into that community engagement space.”

Paxon continued to discuss upcoming programs and improvements which would be strategically implemented in the coming months and years.

Following his presentation to the group, the floor was then opened up for comments and questions.

Some of the questions asked included provision for veteran services and mental health increase opportunities.

In regards to becoming a healthcare provider for veterans, Paxon said the health system has been in the process of navigating through the framework and has had some difficulty as partnering to offer services to veterans involves the federal government.

“We have reached out and tried to make the right contacts and sometimes finding the right person to talk to is a challenge but we want to be able to do that and to give back to those who have made the ultimate sacrifices for our country. That is definitely something we want to be able to explore and find out how we can provide those services. We’ve reached out to some politicians to help us work to make this happen,” Paxon said.

In regards to mental health, Paxon said he was in agreement for the need of increased mental health services.

“It’s a national, state and community need. We’re investing a lot within the behavioral health space and one of the initiatives that Gary [Bebow] started, we’ll be able to carry forward is in the realm of telemedicine. The great thing in the infrastructure that Gary [Bebow] has left is that we have a wide service area. It is fantastic and gets very challenging to populate a certain specialty in every service area but telemedicine breaks those barriers,” Paxon said. “If you have someone that lives in Sharp County and can’t drive here but we have a mental health provider who can do that by telemedicine in our facility it’s a game changer. So we’ve invested heavily in the technology and are trying to recruit more social workers, counselors and even psychiatrists because that need will continue and so that is something we definitely will in Sharp County and our western service areas as well.”

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