With Stacey gone, UCH works to fill loss in ‘social capital’

When Rulon Stacey moved into his new corporate job at University of Colorado Health in Denver, the shift left Northern Colorado without one of its better-known business leaders.

It’s been nearly six months since the move and the consensus now seems to be that the loss of Stacey — not to mention the headquarters of one of the region’s two health systems — has not meant a notable economic hit, in large part because many of the jobs that had been here remain here.

On the other hand, according to CSU economist Martin Shields, the loss has been in “social capital.”

As CEO of Poudre Valley Health System, Stacey had a reputation in the community and within PVHS for creating an energetic environment. He emphasized a team-based culture that was “hard-wired” into the organization, in the words of Poudre Valley Hospital CEO Kevin Unger.

Stacey joined PVHS in 1996 as the fifth CEO in four years. During his tenure with the organization, he gained a great deal of respect from employees and community members alike.

Shields said the impact of the relocation is noticeable in a variety of subtle changes.

What is at greatest risk is the relocation of talent, potential for reduced commitment to community and a reduced ability to assist other, related businesses, Shields said.

“Rulon was a unique personality in Northern Colorado,” Shields said. “He was heavily involved in many aspects of the community.”

To an extent, Shields said, “other people within the organization will fill that role.”

In fact, Unger and his counterpart at Medical Center of the Rockies, George Hayes, have had to step up in some ways to fill Stacey’s shoes since he became president of UCH in the spring.

Stacey still makes routine trips to Northern Colorado, Unger said, but his focus is now on the UCH system as a whole rather than just what was formerly PVHS, now referred to as UCH’s Northern Region.

UCH stretches along the Front Range from Colorado Springs to southern Wyoming, creating a much larger footprint for Stacey to oversee.

In an effort to fill the void in Northern Colorado, Unger and Hayes have picked up a few responsibilities, particularly in the realm of strategic planning, in addition to their duties running day-to-day operations at their respective hospitals.

For example, one or the other will fill in if Stacey is unable to meet with a medical practice considering joining UCH’s Colorado Health Medical Group, formerly called Poudre Valley Medical Group.

Unger and Hayes also do what you’d expect from a hospital CEO.

They regularly meet with physicians, ensure their respective hospitals stay on target operationally and work to keep both facilities on pace with the top 10 percent of hospitals nationwide, the benchmark that the system uses.

The goal of all of this is to continue improving their businesses while assuming some of the community relations duties that Stacey filled.

Prior to the creation of the joint operating agreement that formed UCH last January, PVHS was a locally-based health system with two hospitals and numerous clinics.

It still employs more than 5,000 people but the company HQ is now in Denver.

Despite the shift, Unger doesn’t think there has been an impact on the local feel of the organization.

“Health care is still a locally provided business,” Unger said. “We still have local facilities here serving patients.”

Stephen Weiler, an economics professor and research associate dean, agreed, saying that because the system maintained its physical footprint and has retained most employees, the impact on the local economy isn’t equivalent to having a company pull up stakes.

Health care is a regional business, Weiler explained, so relocating a health care company’s headquarters has less of an impact than moving the leadership of an “exporter” like New Belgium Brewing or Advanced Energy.

What’s more, he said, is the significance of the Northern Region’s connections to the research and development that occur at what was formerly called University of Colorado Hospital.

As its name suggests, UCH is integrated with the medical school at the University of Colorado, which means that PVH and MCR are now both directly linked to high-level medical research.

That linkage is significant enough that it “more than outweighs” any losses the community suffered when the system’s headquarters moved to Denver, Weiler said.

The relationship with the CU medical school helps with many facets of the health system, Unger said, from new research and access to specialists to improvements in day-to-day operations like electronic medical records.

Shields agreed, forecasting that the association would lead to improved quality of care and would “change the dynamics of the hospitals.”

But what of Stacey’s other roles, especially the community engagement piece?

Unger, for one, sits on six boards in the community, including the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce and Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp.

Maintaining that visibility allows for communication and feedback, he said.

“That input helps chart our direction forward,” he said.

It also keeps the new UCH front and center in Northern Colorado minds.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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