New Avera Heart leader: ‘We will fight any tendency to rest’

By Jodi Schwan

Michael — he goes by Mick — Gibbs is far from a stranger to health care in South Dakota.

Before becoming the second president in Avera Heart Hospital’s history, he was the president of Rapid City Regional Hospital. Before that, he was in leadership at Sanford Health in Fargo.

We talked recently about his new role and what’s next for Avera Heart.

You’ve been on the job for more than two months now. How’s it going?

It’s been a wonderful ride so far. My early time has been spent assessing and understanding what makes this place special and what makes this place tick.

It’s interesting, because you bring experience from two other major medical centers in the region: Rapid City Regional Hospital and Sanford Health in Fargo. Do you feel like that gives you a unique perspective on health care in the area?

It helps me understand each community is special and different in their own ways. Each community has challenges they face and what unites the community around a cause. The lens I look at Avera at large and the Heart Hospital (through) is “What does this place unite around?” We as business leaders and those we hope would follow us have to find what unites our people.

You’re taking over for Jon Soderholm, who for many was Avera Heart Hospital. How are you communicating your own vision for the hospital?

I’m looking at the strengths of this organization and the opportunities for improvements. For the strengths, I give a great deal of credit to my predecessor and the team for how well this is run. But there are always opportunities for improvement. The sign of a healthy organization is one that doesn’t rest on its laurels. I’m looking for people with a sense of curiosity who are willing to speak openly with me without fear of repercussions and that innovation angle that makes the best even better.

How would describe yourself as a leader?

I’m an open-door policy, frank, clear, I tend to be visionary. I intend to create behavioral expectations that align specific acts with our core sense of values. I’m mentally tough and jealously guard against anyone who threatens a strong culture like we have at Avera Heart. Its people act as owners. They don’t act as passive participants. That’s a legacy trait I give a great deal of credit to Jon on and one I intend to foster and cultivate.

Do you have a couple of first key priorities that you’re addressing?

The first is succession planning for our physicians — what are we doing to make certain the next generations of doctors carry the torch the previous doctors have created. The second priority is to make sure we don’t chase fads, but we do adopt new evidence-based innovations in both technology and process. We want to continue to maintain innovations. We know in 2017 companies within an industry can leapfrog quickly if you rest. The Harvard Business Review is littered with examples of companies that one generation ago were on top of the world and one generation later are yesterday’s news. We will fight any tendency that might exist to rest.

Another great opportunity we have is our partnership with Avera and their strength in electronic health services. It’s an internationally renowned strength to bring care closer to home and remove barriers and burdens to patients who might have to travel. That technology is leapfrogging. Every six months, there’s new opportunity for us to monitor patients from a distance.

What’s next for the hospital? Do you have any expansions or additions planned?

We believe the future of health care is as much about technological and virtual expansion as it is brick and mortar. We have a beautiful brick-and-mortar facility, but to rely on that without programmatic growth and change is short-sighted. We don’t have any brick-and-mortar plans, but we absolutely have technological innovations on our horizon.

New Avera Heart leader: ‘We will fight any tendency to rest’

Michael — he goes by Mick — Gibbs is far from a stranger to health care in South Dakota.

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