When John Bartos accepted the top job at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital 30 years ago, there were eight physicians working there.
Today there are 50.
Back then, there were 80 employees working the 1974-era, 50,000-square-foot building. Today the hospital employs 545 and the Hamilton facility has grown to 325,000 square feet.
The hospital’s gross budget has gone from $2 million three decades ago to more $145 million today. As the county’s largest employer, the hospital’s monthly payroll is about $2.6 million.
When the board hired Bartos, the hospital was struggling financially. Board members gave him a goal. They said by the time he finished his tenure in Hamilton, he needed to ensure the hospital was positioned to last at least another 20 years.
In June, Bartos will leave that job knowing that he met that expectation.
“I can say that financially this hospital is sound and it will be here for another 20 years,” he said during an interview last week.
Bartos can trace his long career as a hospital administrator back to a high school knee injury. Knowing his hopes for getting a football scholarship were gone, the Helena native was recovering in the hospital when he noticed an orderly hard at work.
He thought that looked like good, honest work.
At age 17, he landed his first job in health care as an orderly. Hospital administrators noticed his work ethic and he rapidly rose up the ladder. He used the money he made there to finance his education at Carroll College.
After graduating with a degree in hospital administration, he was hired in that capacity at a financially strapped hospital in White Sulphur Springs. He learned later the previous 10 administrators at the hospital never lasted more than six months.
He stayed five years.
Through that time, he learned how to right the ship and what it took to expand the services a rural hospital could offer.
“White Sulfur Springs was my true education and training ground,” he said. “That’s what molded and built me.”
From there, he was hired to fix the financial problems at a hospital in Columbus. While working at both facilities, he managed to earn his master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame during intense summer sessions.
By the time Bartos told his wife he was ready to move again, the couple had two small boys. She told him this would be his last move, so choose wisely.
They decided that if a job came open in Hamilton, Kalispell or Whitefish, he would apply. Hamilton was first and Bartos was selected from a field of 32.
He was 36 years old.
In the next 30 years, he would work alongside the hospital’s board, physicians, staff and community to build a hospital that’s been recognized several times as one of the best in the nation.
One of the first things he oversaw was a telephone interview of Bitterroot Valley residents that sought the community’s priorities for health care.
“First thing was emergency care,” he said. “They said they wanted well trained physicians, well trained nurses and support staff, a facility and if you can take care of us in the hospital, admit us, or send us to the appropriate facility. That ER we built is the cornerstone of this hospital.”
All the current physicians working there are residency trained and board certified in emergency medicine.
“You will not find that anywhere in Montana,” Bartos said.
The hospital also added a rehabilitation center, new ICU, a birthing center and expanded clinic space. It now has clinics in Darby, Victor and Corvallis. The hospital also offers home health and hospice care.
The Hamilton hospital is one of only two in the state that operates its own ambulance service, which includes emergency crews stationed in Hamilton, Darby and Stevensville.
A new operating room is being constructed this year.
“We’re a community hospital,” Bartos said. “We are no longer a small rural hospital.”
Through it all, the hospital has remained independent despite pressures to merge. It also doesn’t depend on taxpayer support.
“We stand on our own two feet,” he said. “We’re not a hospital district, nor a county hospital.”
While being at the helm of all that change, Bartos doesn’t claim credit.
“We’re there not because of me,” Bartos said. “We’re here because of the board, the medical staff, the employees. This is a team effort and not one person … The team here is what I’m going to miss. These are fantastic people who care about their community.”
A physician once called the medical team in Hamilton a “ministry in health care.”
“I believe him,” Bartos said. “We serve the people here. We take care of our family, take care of our friends, take care of the community. This hospital has a reputation of quality. This hospital now has a reputation for being a leader in what we do. That’s because of the culture that has developed and the people who work here.”
For the next three or four months, Bartos plans to spend lots of time in the garden, tending his small herd of steers and trying to catch a few walleye. And, of course, it will also mean more time for his five grandchildren.
“My wife has said that she’s not going to throw away my shirts and ties because she doesn’t think I’m done yet,” Bartos said.
There might be some consulting or working as a temporary CEO at a financially strapped hospital in his future, but for now he’s ready to slow down and enjoy some time away.
Bartos will leave content that he was able to meet the goals that first board set for him. And, maybe even more than that, he knows that he was part of a team that has made a difference in so many people’s lives.
On this day, he remembers a car accident near Woodside that put a Darby woman into the river and near death.
“It was questionable on whether she would survive,” Bartos said. “Seven to 10 days after she was admitted to the hospital, I looked out my window and saw her walking to her car with her family.
“That’s satisfaction for me,” he said. “That I was part of that to get a facility and the people here to help our fellow neighbors.”
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