The warm glow from an arched stone fireplace greets you as you stamp the snow from your boots and shrug off your coat. Bay windows and a vaulted ceiling of polished Douglas fir give the entryway a spacious yet cozy feel.
Sun-soaked rooms trimmed in turquoise, terra cotta and periwinkle look out onto acres of snow-blanketed meadow and the majestic peak of Mount Werner in the distance.
For a moment, you almost forget you're in a hospital.
Indeed, the new $50 million Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colo., is a far cry from the dilapidated, 50-year-old facility it replaced less than three months ago.
Gone is the sterile, institutional feel of former Routt Memorial Hospital, with its low ceilings and cramped cinder-block corridors.
With improved form has come increased function. The 29-bed facility features additional operating and recovery rooms, an expanded radiology department, a revamped physical therapy unit and new, state-of-the-art medical equipment. Yampa Valley also rolled out the region's first managed-care plan.
"The two hospitals, they're like night and day," says Fred Wolf, former board chairman of the Steamboat Springs Health Care Association, the hospital's governing board. It's hard to believe we survived in the old place as long as we did."
But before any transition could take place, the hospital association had to win the moral and financial support of a small ski town long wary of big-city changes. Wolf's definitive role in securing that backing helped earn him MODERN HEALTHCARE's Trustee of the Year award for hospitals and healthcare systems with fewer than 200 beds or revenues of less than $25 million.
Consensus builder. Wolf, a retired consultant, became a trustee in 1995, after learning of the association during a stint on Steamboat's long-term planning committee, Vision 20/20. Two years later, the 11-member board unanimously voted him the successor to former Chairman John Kerst, who resigned to focus on his banking career.
Doctors, fellow trustees and management say the 59-year-old father of four has a rare combination of vision and pragmatism, and the determination to get others to see things his way. And that goes for within the hospital as much as outside it.
When Chief Executive Officer Margaret Sabin decided to pursue an ambitious two-year completion schedule for the new hospital and health plan, she turned to Wolf for help in winning community and board support.
"This organization took on an awful lot in the past three years, and members of the board often worried we were pursuing way too many initiatives at once," recalls Sabin, who joined the association the same year as Wolf. "But Fred remained champion of our vision, persuading the others that if the project was going to be successful, it had to be executed as a whole package."
Wolf's conviction paid off. In December 1999, less than a month after opening its doors, the new medical center was visited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. The hospital received a preliminary grid score of 96, with no serious Type 1 citations-a remarkable achievement, particularly for such a new facility.
According to the accreditation commission, only 25% of hospitals surveyed in 1999 received a score of 96 or better. "They couldn't believe we'd moved in just three weeks before," Sabin says.
When its extended-care wing and child-care center are completed this fall, the not-for-profit hospital will top 123,000 square feet-three times the size of its predecessor. It serves more than 45,000 residents in five northwest counties, an area roughly the size of Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
Wolf's persuasion skills were also called upon last year with the launch of the Yampa Valley Health Plan. The medical staff, many of whom had come to Steamboat to escape managed care, objected to the hospital's introduction of a new reimbursement system. Some even threatened to defect.
When tempers continued to flare, Wolf took the matter into his own hands. "We weren't getting anywhere, so I finally said, `Let's get the doctors into a room so we can figure out what their concerns are and see how we can address them,' " he recalls. "The only way to solve a problem is to sit down and deal with it directly."
In the end, the hospital found a new partner in the Alliance, a Denver-based provider network, for the self-insured portion of its plan, one that the physicians believed would better serve their needs. Since then, not only have almost all of the hospital's then-89 doctors opted to sign long-term contracts, but 12 more physicians have joined the staff.
"Finding consensus among doctors is like herding a bunch of cats," says Fred Jones, M.D., a radiologist and a member of the hospital's health plan board. "(Wolf) did a good job in a difficult situation. He was instrumental in getting the issues out onto the table . . . and reaching a compromise."
Spreading the word. But by then, Wolf had already helped the hospital overcome perhaps its greatest hurdle-winning the community's endorsement of the new facility.
Nestled in the wide-open spaces of the Yampa Valley on the western slope of the Rockies, Steamboat Springs has long spurned the urban sprawl of Denver, 160 miles to the southeast. In fact, it took nearly six years of petitions, protests and appeals before the community of 7,000 approved the construction of a Wal-Mart store in 1992.
So when word began to spread in 1996 that the local hospital association planned to build a regional medical center on a 46-acre plot a half-mile from the base of the town's most popular ski slope, the resounding cry was, "What?" Some didn't see a need. Others worried that a large, modern building would detract from Steamboat's quaintness or eclipse the view of skiers schussing and the pristine forests of aspen, spruce and fir.
The hospital had to spread its message, and fast. Much of that task fell to Wolf, who had gained community recognition through his participation in Vision 20/20 and had a knack for getting to the heart of matters.
"Fred cuts through the medicalese and speaks in plain English so even someone who knows next to nothing about healthcare can understand him," Sabin says. "That straightforward style is a real asset."
Sabin and Wolf began to visit neighboring towns, speaking at community events and building ties with local employers. They also held civic luncheons, meeting with hundreds of community leaders to discuss the financial and operational challenges facing the medical center.
Their message was simple: The hospital had to upgrade and expand to meet the growing needs of the region. And old Routt Memorial, perched on a mere six acres in downtown Steamboat, wasn't going to cut it. They simply needed more space for bigger patient rooms, operating rooms, radiology and physical therapy, among other things.
Wolf's candid style struck an immediate chord, says Jane Weston, a fellow trustee and resident of Toponas, a small town 45 miles outside Steamboat.
"Fred came to a community meeting in Toponas, to which all South Routt County residents were invited," Weston says. "He addressed the concerns and questions of the people there, and I got a lot of feedback on how much they appreciated that. They were just glad to be informed. It gave them a real sense of pride and ownership in the new hospital."
As proof positive, the hospital raised a whopping $6 million in donations the following year, with one in six Steamboat households contributing. And at Wolf's urging, the board added $500,000 to the capital campaign.
"In terms of fund raising, Fred is as dedicated to the hospital as I am," laughs Mignon Huizenga, the hospital's special events and fund-raising coordinator.
Town and country. A Chicago native, Wolf earned his bachelor's degree in business from the University of Michigan. He spent the next 25 years at auditing and consulting giant Arthur Andersen, working from offices in Chicago; Houston; Hamburg, Germany; and The Hague, Netherlands.
Then, after a stint in Washington with the General Accounting Office, he became a partner at Price Waterhouse, now PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Washington.
In 1985, eager for a change of scenery, Wolf left Price Waterhouse. He and his wife, Flora, moved to the Yampa Valley. They now manage cattle and sell hay commercially from their 650-acre ranch about 20 miles outside Steamboat.
"We wanted a place away from the big city," Wolf explains. "Everything I had done up until then had been in an urban setting. We finally said, `That's enough of that.' "
Almost from the get-go, the couple became involved in the community. Wolf joined Vision 20/20, which drafted a report charting the future direction of the town. Flora volunteered at Routt Memorial's extended-care center.
So when the opportunity to become a trustee arose, Wolf accepted the challenge.
Despite having virtually no healthcare experience, Wolf's inquisitive nature and take-charge attitude allowed him to hit the ground running. "You'd give him something to read, and he'd come back and quote it to you verse for verse, so that you'd end up thinking that you yourself hadn't read it that well," Sabin says.
The CEO adds she was particularly impressed by Wolf's quick grasp of managed care and reimbursement complexities. He not only became a founding member of the hospital's health plan board but also played a key role in explaining the ins and outs of the system to physicians and locals.
"You have to jump right in and learn it. If you wait around for someone to teach you, you're going to end up waiting a long time," Wolf says of mastering new subjects. "You need to get yourself motivated and then listen to a lot of people. It's less studying than it is absorbing."
However, an air of fiscal conservatism always tempered Wolf's enthusiasm, points out Vice Chairman Steve Dawes. That business acumen has helped keep the hospital financially sound, even amid its dramatic growth spurt.
Yampa Valley Medical posted revenues of $29.8 million in fiscal 1999 ended Sept. 30, 1999, up 31% from $22.7 million in fiscal 1997, the year Wolf became chairman. Net income from operations rose 11% to $2.2 million during the same period. Total assets jumped 246% to $76.4 million.
"If you look at the national trends in healthcare today-downsizing, increasing losses, patient (dissatisfaction)-you'll find that during Fred's tenure as chairman, we were going in a completely different direction," Dawes says.
Moving on. Although his two-year chairmanship ended in December 1999, Wolf remains an active member of the board. His ongoing plans include ushering in the hospital's new Doak Walker Extended-Care Center and seeing the health plan through to profitability.
Wolf has long supported the extended-care center, the county's only skilled-nursing home.
Although the center is subsidized, Wolf and the board believe the facility is central to the hospital's mission of offering a "full continuum of care." Residents of Steamboat shouldn't have to travel 40 to 50 miles to provide relatives with long-term care, they say.
"We see it as a community need that we can fill probably better than anyone in the area," Wolf says. "Doak Walker completes our spectrum of care, which includes the GrandKids Child Care Center and the hospital."
Wolf also remains dedicated to investing in employees.
Since becoming a trustee, he has helped spearhead enhanced benefits packages, pension-plan improvements and better child-care support. Largely as a result, the hospital's medical staff has more than doubled during the past five years.
"I take the most pride in our people," Wolf says. "If you have a good staff, you're going to have a good organization. Sure, we have a nice new building, but it's the people who work here that make it what it is."