New hospital CEO looks to improve communication, shared resources

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Kevin Abel, the new CEO of North Valley Hospital, on May 2 at the hospital in Whitefish. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Kevin Abel wasn’t looking to move when a recruiter contacted him about an open CEO position at North Valley Hospital in Whitefish. He had spent time in the Flathead on vacation, hiking and fishing, and knew of North Valley’s reputation for quality care. But it wasn’t until he visited the hospital for the interview process — and met people from throughout North Valley’s organization, from caregivers to food-service employees — that he decided to make the jump from Chelan, Washington to the Flathead Valley.

Now just over a month into his tenure as CEO at North Valley, Abel is ramping up to speed by taking a comprehensive view of the hospital system.

“A lot of the first month really has been getting a good understanding of the operation and just getting out and visiting all the areas that the system is covering,” he said. Part of this work is checking on North Valley clinics in Columbia Falls and Eureka, and making sure communication remains strong between clinics in rural areas and the main hospital in Whitefish.

He’s suited for the task after serving as CEO for Lake Chelan Community Hospital and Clinics since 2009. The health care system in Chelan, Washington, consists of five locations near North Cascades National Park. Like the Flathead Valley, Chelan attracts many tourists, so “I’m very used to working with populations that flux quite a bit, in terms of patient population,” Abel said. “I’m also used to setting up and developing health programs in rural areas.”

In addition to his time as CEO of Lake Chelan, Abel brings 18 years of experience in the field of health care that spans finance, quality, facilities, human resources, marketing, contract negotiations, board relations and strategic planning. A native of Eugene, Oregon, Abel oversaw financial operations for 10 years at St. Charles Health System in Bend, Oregon prior to his tenure at Lake Chelan.

Part of North Valley’s appeal, he said, is its Planetree affiliation, which emphasizes compassionate, patient-centered care. He’s most excited by “the quality of (patient care at North Valley) right now. I think we’re headed in the right direction with our quality indicators. And I think that there’s a great focus on the clinical operation here that we’re planning on continuing.”

Looking forward, Abel said that one of his more immediate goals at North Valley is to continue building on the affiliation with Kalispell Regional Healthcare, and working to better coordinate care between the health system’s many entities. As a member of the Kalispell Regional family, he said he’s looking to facilitate “better coordination, better communication, better sharing of provider resources and really integrating the medical staffs with the area.”

In a field beset by numerous regulatory changes, Abel said he sees his role as CEO as combatting uncertainty through good communication. “I think my style is relatively analytical,” he said, “so I’ll analyze the new regulation or the new change, and then really try to show that information and be a good communicator within the organization as to what the changes are, how they impact us and how we can best take care of our community and our patients under that new environment.”

“I think the prior administration should be proud of what they’ve done,” he added, noting that after a month in, the task ahead remains “just continuing to work through those changes in the industry and just being a real positive person for both the community and the caregivers that are working here.”

Abel is also looking forward to being joined in Whitefish by his wife, Chris, and their three children following the end of the school year in Chelan. In the meantime, he’s already taken a hike or two, getting a head start on the many recreational opportunities of the Flathead. “I love this area and I hope everyone here remembers how lucky they are to live here,” he said. “It really is a beautiful, special community.”

Members of the community are invited to meet and welcome Abel to North Valley at an open house on Thursday, May 10 from 4-6 p.m. at the Cafe at North Valley Hospital. There will be hospital tours, information about services, and light refreshments available.

Reporter Adrian Horton can be reached at or at 758-4439.

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