John Bishop counts himself as a fortunate man.
In his first two months as Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital’s new CEO, Bishop has had a chance to get to know the people and the place that he is charged to lead.
So far, all that he’s seen has left him feeling impressed and confident in his decision to take on a position that had been held by one person for the last 30 years.
When former CEO John Bartos announced his plans to retire, the hospital board initially had 144 applicants for the position.
Following an intense interview process, the board’s chairman, Bill Bean, said Bishop came through the process “head and shoulders above the rest.”
“It was quite a process that we went through,” Bean said. “It took us about a year. We are extremely pleased to have him here. Our job now as board of directors is to make him as successful as he possibly can be…We know we chose the right guy. There’s no question about that.”
Bishop’s roots run deep in Montana.
He grew up in the Gallatin Valley and received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Montana State University. His first job out of college was working at Murdoch Ranch and Home Supply headquarters in Bozeman.
His life took a different path with the birth of his first child.
Brecken was born prematurely.
“He was 2 pounds, 15 ounces when he was born,” Bishop said. “We got to see the health care world from the inside out. We got to see the miracle of him being who he is today, but also we got to see the challenges and broken processes and systems that exist within the industry.”
“Feeling a little inspired, I looked for an opportunity to do something in the field of medicine,” Bishop said.
He found that opportunity at the newly constructed Madison Valley Medical Center in Ennis,where he accepted a position as chief financial officer in 2011. Six months later, after the hospital’s CEO resigned, he accepted that position.
For the next five years, Bishop learned all about the challenges facing critical access hospitals.
“I came in right after they had built the new hospital,” he said. “Simultaneously, the economy had taken a significant downturn. The financial state of that organization was very challenging. We had six days of cash on hand, which is a very low number.”
“It was challenging to say the least,” Bishop said.
By the time he left, the hospital had 140 days of cash on hand. The staff had grown from about 60 employees to about 80. More importantly, the hospital had also recruited some talented physicians who made a long-term commitment to the community.
Because the hospital was small, Bishop had the chance to step in and run different departments when staffing challenges occurred.
“It allowed me to shift my focus away from the finance side of health care more to the clinical side of really delivering health care, which is what brought me to the industry initially,” he said. “Small organizations are really unique because they allow you to be really close to the work that’s delivered…Because you’re so close to the work, you get exposed to a broad spectrum of how it works.
“If I had started out in a larger organization, where there are lots of layers between administration and the actual work that’s delivered to our patients, I would not have the leadership approach I have today,” he said. “Being an accountant, I was not clinical in any way. I had the opportunity to develop those relationships and that respectful interaction with those who were experts in delivering that care, and then could make sure we made the best decision for them.”
Bishop took what he learned from Ennis and moved on to work for a larger organization for two years in Oregon. While he and his family loved it there, they knew in their hearts that Montana was home.
But they also knew when they returned to the state, they wanted to find the perfect community to raise their family.
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The Bitterroot Valley was on the list from the very beginning.
“You have things here in Hamilton and Marcus Daly that many rural critical access hospitals don’t,” he said. “Some examples include our five-bed ICU. That is a tremendous asset. Some of the specialty services are very unique. The rehab services that are available here are tremendous.
“All of that was very attractive to me professionally.”
Bishop said that because he and his wife were raised in Montana, "we always knew we wanted to get back here.” But they were "pretty selective about where we would be willing to go.''
“When you look at the valley and what it provides for a place to raise a family, the outdoor activities, the type of community that it is, the school systems, all of those things were extremely attractive to us,” he said.
“All of my experience has been in the critical access hospital model. To find a community for our personal interests and an organization that met our needs for my professional experience and expertise, it was just a perfect fit for both of those,” he said.
Bishop said it was a little intimidating at first to take over a position that had been held by the same man for the last 30 years, but Bartos, the board and the hospital staff helped ease that transition.
“Those fears of acceptance of new ideas and new approaches, those went away fairly quickly as I met with some of the staff who were eager to try something a different way,” Bishop said. “I think, overall, it’s been a very warm welcome from the organization and the community and it’s helped me be able to start off on a good foot to be successful in the years to come.”
Right now, Bishop said he is doing a lot of listening to both people employed by the hospital and those who depend on its services.
“When you come in new to an organization, you want to take the time to understand why things are the way they are before you go and try to make changes,” he said. “I think it's important to understand how you got to where you are so you don’t make poor decisions when you go to change something.”
Bishop’s focus over the first few months has been to learn about the organization to determine if the right tools, systems and structures are in place. Once that’s completed, the information can be used to produce improvements to the experiences of the hospital’s patients.
As Bishop reaches out to the community, he hopes to hear people’s thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the hospital. He wants to know what people think the hospital could do better or differently and if there are any needs that aren’t being met locally.
“I think there is a lot of work to do in optimizing the services we already have,” Bishop said.
He and his wife, Halsey, have a “long-term lens” on this commitment to the community. Their plans are to stay put while their three children, 8-year-old Brecken, 6-year-old Addison and 3-year-old Hudson, are in school.
Bringing up children “in a rural environment is tremendous,” Bishop said. “The opportunity for them to learn a good work ethic and to get outside and enjoy their surroundings is absent for a lot of others living elsewhere.”
That really struck home a couple of weeks ago during a family work session at their new property north of Hamilton.
“I was watching my 3-year-old dragging a fence post and my other two dragging barbed wire back to the truck,” he said, with a smile. “My wife and I both kind of looked at them and said to each other that this is part of the reason we’re here. To get to that point where our family had that opportunity and then the professional side integrated well for me at Marcus Daly. It was really what we were looking for.
“It was a good confirmation of the decision we’d made,” Bishop said.
Bishop also will be able to live the dream that he’s had since he was a 12-year-old boy when he pulls on his camo and picks up his bow this fall to hunt in the Elkhorn Mountains after finally drawing one of the sought-after permits.
“It’s about a one in a hundred chance to draw,” he said. “It holds a uniquely mature population of bull elk and there’s a limited number of hunters in there. So you get a unique experience hunting elk on public lands.
“I will spend some quality time in the woods in September and see how it goes,” Bishop said.
A fortunate man, indeed.