Harold Krueger is a soft-spoken, modest man. When he was honored last month at a gathering of more than 600 hospital leaders, he reluctantly took to the podium and offered just a few sincere words of thanks and then exited the stage as quickly as he could.
Later that day, after we wrapped up a video interview for H&HN Daily, he shyly said, “Sorry for being nervous, but I don’t do this often.”
For all of his humility, Krueger casts a giant shadow over the northwest corner of Nebraska. The CEO of Chadron Community Hospital & Health Services, Krueger has boosted programs that not only extend health care, but also vital social services to the seven-county region the hospital serves. He’s forged unique partnerships with community groups to address everything from hunger to babysitting to cancer care. He is firmly committed to the notion that hospitals can do more than stitch and bandage wounds.
“It took me five years to convince my board that I wasn’t in the illness business; I was in the people business,” Krueger told me during our interview.
We hear so much these days about the need for CEOs to reach beyond the four walls of the hospital and make a more lasting imprint on their communities. Spurred by the Affordable Care Act and changing market dynamics, hospitals are being forced to engage in activities that aren’t at the core of their business models.
As Marty Stempniak reports in InBox (Page 16), the American Hospital Association recently published a guide aimed at helping hospital executives and trustees to better understand the shifting landscape and, importantly, how to interact with other organizations to address broader issues impacting community health.
For the better part of 20 years, Krueger has been reinventing his critical access hospital along those lines. Here’s a sampling of what CCHHS has done:
• Spearheaded the creation of Western Community Health Resources. Among other things, WCHR runs immunization clinics, offers a host of nutrition programs, provides HIV resources to patients and has dozens of family services.
• Formed a collaborative to reopen the Closer to Home Soup Kitchen.
• Operates a health clinic that sees nearly 800 patients a year at Chadron State College.
• Created a public health dental clinic.
The list goes on … and on … and I didn’t even get to the network Krueger helped to create that won a $19.3 million Federal Communications Commission grant to add 800 miles of high-speed fiber optics cutting across 12 counties and connecting multiple providers. Or, strides the hospital itself made to reduce patient harm as part of the Hospital Engagement Network initiative.
For his efforts, the AHA presented Krueger with the Shirley Ann Munroe Leadership Award at last month's Rural Health Care Leadership Conference. It’s an honor bestowed upon an outstanding rural hospital executive each year, but I’d argue that Krueger’s leadership innovations can be replicated in large and small organizations — rural, urban and suburban.
“If you can feed your community and clothe your community, you can keep them out of the emergency room,” Krueger said during our interview.
— You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.