On the eve of the implementation of the nation’s Affordable Care Act — what critics and opponents alike commonly call “Obamacare” — the two finalists for CEO of Aspen Valley Hospital touted their financial-management skills and ability to adapt to the rapidly changing world of health care.
During separate interview sessions Monday evening that were open to the public, four of five hospital board members queried candidates Peter Hofstetter and Daniel Bonk on a variety of issues ranging from personal leadership styles to their prowess in dealing with fundraising and other fiscal issues. Hofstetter is CEO of Holy Cross Hospital in Taos, N.M. Bonk is president of Aurora Medical Center in Summit, Wis.
There was an apparent contrast in styles between the two men. Bonk, a former college track star, was markedly jovial and made a few references to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Hofstetter seemed to display a more serious tone, especially when describing how he had to make some tough personnel decisions in the face of drastic cuts by government health care sources.
Bonk said he is an administrator who doesn’t get so caught up in processes that he forgets about results. He said it is important to him to have the trust of hospital staff, including physicians, and that those who know him might say he is transparent “to a fault.”
“There’s times when I think I probably share too much,” he said. “I think (among hospital administrators) it’s real easy to give what we call the ‘slow no’ answer where instead of making a decision, you say, ‘We’ll look into that; we’ll talk about it.’ Doctors really hate that, by the way.”
Bonk said he has a passion for promoting health as a remedy for rising health care costs, as he noted that the industry is moving away from “sick care” and into “well care.”
Hofstetter spoke of the tough realities in the industry and the uphill battles he’s had to face with funding sources in New Mexico, which has a large percentage of indigent residents relying on public health care services. However, he said every hospital he’s managed has made a profit and that he is comfortable working with his management teams to deal with problems as they arise.
He noted that he has been successful in getting various grants and working with the community on early-childhood health programs and modestly sized capital campaigns. He also mentioned that he’s active within business and public school circles and is a frequent donor to local and national charitable causes.
“I’ve always been very active,” Hofstetter said. “I wasn’t very good about saying ‘no’ to most things.”
As for the Affordable Care Act and the widespread expectations of reduced revenue to cover costs, Hofstetter said he doesn’t have a perfect answer.
“I think the key will be to be efficient and make sure our pricing and all of those things are where they need to be,” he said. “I think the answer will be watching it and thinking on our feet as we move. The thing that’s a little bit scary to me ... is I’m not sure the final rules have been written.”
As for his personal style, he said he relies on “old-fashioned brainstorming” with his hospital management team.
Bonk said when it comes to dealing with fiscal crises, he looks at layoffs as a last resort. He also spoke of relying on a great leadership team and building a positive environment at the hospitals where he’s worked.
To him, Aspen is an “up community” and the hospital is financially sound, which makes the job attractive to him. He said he treats doctors as individuals, unlike other hospital administrators who tend to look at them collectively.
But Bonk pointed out that he’s had to deal with difficulties in the past. Ten years ago, when he joined the 15-hospital Aurora Health Care system in Wisconsin, he was asked to close a hospital. It was a very tense and political situation in the community where the hospital was located.
“I called my peers during that process, ... and I asked, ‘What do you do?’ And they said, ‘There’s just no good way to do this,’” he said.
Bonk added that problems arising from the Affordable Care Act can be handled by pushing “outpatient care” and creating stronger community partnerships.
The hospital board met in executive session following the interviews, each of which lasted about an hour. A decision is expected Oct. 14.
The salary range for the CEO position is $313,000 to $467,000, a hospital spokeswoman said Sunday. The position opened up when former CEO Dave Ressler resigned in April to take a job with a hospital in Tucson, Ariz. Developer John Sarpa is the hospital’s interim CEO.