David Olson, president and chief executive officer of Bay Area Medical Center in Marinette, Wis., is a devotee of two rules of management: be honest and communicate with people.
"If you're honest, and you let people know what's going on, you're going to be OK," says Olson, who was named the 2001 Young Executive of the Year by the American College of Healthcare Executives.
Olson will receive the Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award March 26 during the ACHE's annual congress in Chicago. The annual award honors healthcare executives under the age of 40 who work as the CEO or chief operating officer of a health services organization.
Olson turns 39 on March 29.
"It's kind of like getting an early birthday present," says Olson, who has master's degrees in business administration and hospital administration from the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Olson has held the top job at Bay Area since November 1999, after a six-month stint as interim CEO and a short tenure as the COO. The medical center includes a flagship 99-bed hospital in Marinette, a 16-bed psychiatric hospital in Menominee, Mich., and 17-bed Oconto (Wis.) Memorial Hospital.
Olson was nominated for the prestigious ACHE award by colleagues and local government officials who appreciate his open, straightforward style.
"He simply tells it like it is," says Bernie VanCourt, the COO at Bay Area.
Courage and sensitivity in tackling tough challenges are also hallmarks of Olson's style.
"He's an energetic, can-do kind of guy," says Terri Richards, executive vice president of 524-bed Saint Joseph's Hospital, Marshfield, Wis., where Olson served as vice president of administrative services and as president of the hospital's foundation before joining Bay Area in November 1998.
Olson's style, his admirers say, has helped the medical center overcome some strained community relations that resulted after a failed deal with a for-profit hospital chain and an ensuing legal battle with local government officials.
The medical center and its former CEO, Rick Ament, angered local government officials in late 1997 when they proposed selling out to Brentwood, Tenn.-based Quorum Health Group. County officials in Marinette, Wis., and Menominee, Mich., said the medical center should have consulted with them before negotiating any deal. The two counties own the hospitals' land and facilities, which not-for-profit Bay Area leases.
Although the proposed deal to sell to Quorum died in March 1998 when the Marinette County Board of Supervisors voted not to allow the sale, the issue over control of Bay Area's future still festered.
In May 1998, Bay Area sued both Marinette and Menominee counties and asked a judge to decide who had control over the medical center, the counties or the not-for-profit corporation that ran the hospitals. The lawsuit in Marinette County Circuit Court ended in January 1999 when a judge declined to rule in the case. The judge said that any opinion would only be advisory because the Quorum deal already was dead.
Consequently, Olson was left with a raft of bruised feelings to deal with when he took over as CEO.
"David Olson came to (Bay Area) at a very unsettling time, took the bull by the horns and corrected many of the problems that (the medical center) faced," says Mark Anderson, Marinette County board chairman, in a letter endorsing Olson's nomination for the award.
Olson replaced Ament, who left in May 1999 to work for Quorum Health Resources, the management arm of Quorum. That division at one time had managed Bay Area and even had hired Ament to run it.
During the time of the proposed Quorum sale, Anderson says that Marinette County hired a consultant to study whether Bay Area even needed to be sold. The report, which came out as Olson was taking over as CEO, concluded that the medical center had poorly aligned strategic initiatives.
Anderson credits Olson with helping the medical center get back on track by including county officials in the strategic planning process and renegotiating a new lease with Marinette County that better outlines the roles of both parties.
"He understands that the hospital is part of the community and the community should be somewhat involved in the long-range planning of the hospital," Anderson says.
To keep the lines of communication open, Olson also oversees a regular newsletter called Insights that is sent to hospital board members, the community, government leaders and the news media to keep them informed about what's going on at the hospital.
Olson's effort to mend fences is working. Last year, Marinette County issued almost $18 million in bonds for Bay Area to build a new 76,000-square-foot outpatient center. The facility is expected to open in July.
Needless to say, the medical center is no longer for sale.