College basketball taught Kelby Krabbenhoft something about running a healthcare system.
Lesson No. 1: "These times demand a team attitude; if you don't have that, you've got to find it," said Mr. Krabbenhoft, 36, who was captain of his basketball team at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and now is chief executive officer of 167-bed Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Mo., and 67-bed Freeman Neosho (Mo.) Hospital.
Lesson No. 2: "It's real important to have been an underdog. You start taking punches and not falling down."
Mr. Krabbenhoft is spearheading the development of an integrated delivery system with rival 91-bed Oak Hill Hospital in Joplin. The system, Health SouthWest Alliance of Missouri, will serve southwest Missouri and areas of Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
The road toward integration, however, has been rough.
Mr. Krabbenhoft's dream of a community network originally included the city's third hospital, 329-bed St. John's Regional Medical Center. Talks with St. John's collapsed over a disagreement about obstetrics services, but Freeman and Oak Hill agreed to merge (March 28, p. 15).
Last month, the Federal Trade Commission asked for more information about the merger, a move that often signals a high-level antitrust probe. After meeting with hospital executives, regulators narrowed the request to information about Health SouthWest's structure. Mr. Krabbenhoft said he now expects the merger to be completed by Nov. 1.
Much progress has been made since Mr. Krabbenhoft arrived at Freeman in 1990. For example, Freeman added several services, bought Freeman Neosho and began employing physicians.
Last month, Freeman and 32-bed Barton County Memorial Hospital in Lamar, Mo., agreed to explore a closer relationship. Freeman also signed an agreement to jointly run an HMO with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Missouri.
Meanwhile, Freeman and BJC Health System of St. Louis agreed to work together under managed-care contracts.
In 1990, Freeman earned $590,000 on revenues of $32 million. This year, Freeman and Freeman Neosho project profits of $4.5 million on revenues of $71 million.
"If Kelby were in the military, he'd be a four-star general," said Charles Bentlage, M.D., a staff physician at Freeman. "If we had a war, he'd be a five-star general.
"There's a feeling of trust that Kelby gives you," Dr. Bentlage added. "And he pays more attention to physicians than other administrators I've seen."
No wonder. Mr. Krabbenhoft planned to become a physician himself before he was drawn to hospital administration.
He spent several months of his youth listening closely to physicians. His younger brother, Paul, suffered a crippling back injury at 12, and Mr. Krabbenhoft helped care for him.
In college, Mr. Krabbenhoft worked as a hospital orderly between administrative residencies. He became CEO of 40-bed Guttenberg (Iowa) Municipal Hospital after he earned his master's degree in business administration in 1982. There, he sometimes helped the hospital's only surgeon prepare for procedures.
"I still am an OR junkie," Mr. Krabbenhoft said. "That's where you learn what's going on and how people feel. There are no barriers."
Mr. Krabbenhoft and his wife, Heidi, a nurse, were married in 1983. They have three children: Sarah, 9; Joe, 7; and Louie, 5.
From 1984 to 1987 he was CEO of 188-bed St. Margaret's Hospital in Spring Valley, Ill. From 1987 to 1990 he oversaw the operations of five hospitals belonging to Fargo, N.D.-based SMP Health Corp.
Today, his goal is to put together, as quickly as possible, a system combining insurers, hospitals and physicians. "It's been the challenge that I've waited for my whole career: the alignment of these very powerful resources," he said.