New Kalispell Regional CEO promises transparency

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New chief Executive Officer Craig Lambrecht stands in front of the main entrance of Kalispell Regional Medical Center. (Kianna Gardner/Daily Inter Lake)

Former North Dakota health-care administrator Craig Lambrecht has officially assumed his role as Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s new chief executive officer, bringing with him more than 16 years of experience in health-care leadership and ambitious plans for the organization.

Lambrecht’s propensity for leadership began long before he launched into the business side of health care in 2002 as a senior chief medical officer with the North Dakota Department of Health. It began during his 30 years spent with the U.S. National Guard, where he served as a soldier and commander and was deployed three times.

Above all, he said his time in military service taught him selflessness and sacrifice — two traits he said continue to guide his work.

“What the military taught me most about leadership is the importance of battle buddies, people you can count on and people who will be with you no matter what, without asking and willing to pay that sacrifice,” Lambrecht said.

He continued, saying sacrifices for physicians, nurses and others in the health-care industry come in many forms, including personal time spent with family. And they are sacrifices Lambrecht can relate to as he spent nearly 14 years as an emergency physician in North Dakota prior to accepting that first health-care leadership role in 2002.

“In the military you really learn what selfless leadership is and that’s what providers do every day,” Lambrecht said.

He said he sees those same qualities reflected in the staff at Kalispell Regional.

Upon arriving to the Flathead Valley in March, Lambrecht said he spent a considerable amount of time interacting with many of Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s thousands of employees, gaining their input on what they would like to see in both a leader and an organization.

“I asked them to do a few things: give me advice and identify their perspective on what the opportunities are for the organization, and the challenges,” Lambrecht said. “They were very robust conversations.”

A prevalent concern was how to maintain the hospital’s independence.

According to Lambrecht, the hospital he transferred from, Sanford Health in Bismarck, North Dakota, was “virtually identical in size and scope” to Kalispell Regional. However, before it was part of Sanford Systems, the hospital was known as Medcenter One, until a booming oil industry brought with it a population that required a merger in 2012 in order to better-meet the community’s unprecedented health-care needs. Lambrecht, who was CEO and president of the organization, helped with the transition, which he described as a good decision for the North Dakota hospital. But, he added, “some independence is given up in order to be part of something bigger.”

Lambrecht said some hospital employees expressed concerns that a similar “sell-out” situation may be in store for Kalispell Regional as well.

“I asked them [employees of Kalispell Regional Healthcare] if they want to be independent or be part of a bigger organization and the resounding feedback was ‘no’ [to a merger]” Lambrecht said. “It’s not an easy lift in today’s regulatory world, but we’re going to get it done.”

While maintaining independence is a challenge for the new CEO moving forward, it isn’t the only one.

Lambrecht is assuming his position comes on the heels of what has been a difficult eight months for Kalispell Regional as the hospital faced two separate lawsuits in 2018, one of which was a whistleblower claim that resulted in a $24 million settlement with the federal government. Dust from the most recent litigation settled in early February. The Montana Nurses Association alleged in early December 2018 that Kalispell Regional had violated the National Labor Relations Act by engaging in “unfair labor practices,” by impeding on staffs’ ability to unionize. The charges were later withdrawn following an investigation by the labor board.

Other Kalispell Regional officials, and now Lambrecht, have said transparency with the community will be paramount moving forward as well as trying not to dwell on the past.

“You don’t become a 5-star organization like this with a haphazard commitment to health care. I felt like this group of people were good, hard-working people trying to do the right thing,” Lambrecht said. “We need to give people a voice, and be as transparent as we can.”

Lambrecht also plans to focus efforts on continuing to expand access for patients and establishing “stability,” or creating a “system that can serve the valley and find economies of scale.”

In the coming months, he looks forward to becoming better-acquainted with the needs of the community and the staff at Kalispell Regional — something he said is necessary as he has no plans to leave the Flathead.

“I very much prefer to finish my career here,” Lambrecht said. “I think this place will challenge me and I look forward to working with everyone here.”

Lambrecht’s predecessor, Pam Robertson, stepped down from the chief executive officer position on Nov. 30, 2018, after a little more than one year in the position. While Robertson’s time at the hospital was fleeting, Lambrecht hopes that “CEO of Kalispell Regional” will be the last job title he holds.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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