Rod Schlader has been in and around health care almost as long as he has been in Iowa.
Schlader, who started on Aug. 11 as the new, permanent president and CEO of MercyOne North Iowa Medical Center, after a year of serving as the interim head, had a mom who was a nurse and was intrigued by the field even then.
"I kind of got acquainted with health care way back when and after college I went in to a public accounting firm that audited hospitals so I’ve really been in health care for 37 years and never left."
Apart from a brief stint in Illinois, Schlader's consistently been around.
"I was originally born and raised in Charles City. My mom still lives there. I’ve been in North Iowa my whole life, pretty much."
He attended Loras College in Dubuque for his undergrad, got a master's degree at Drake University in Des Moines and took his first job with MercyOne North Iowa 29 years ago.
At that time he was the regional director of finance and gradually moved up through the ranks to become controller (doing financial reporting and budgeting as well as overseeing billings and collections), then the CFO for 13 years.
Schlader said that there's nothing specifically that he misses from those jobs now that he's president, in part because he still gets to use some of the skills he gleaned from past work.
"I still use those skills every day. I guess this job is a lot more diverse so I’m not just doing financial work. I’m doing patient clinical care, I’m doing physician relationships. Colleague relationships. So it’s a lot more diverse. It’s fun that way."
So you eventually get the offer to become the permanent president, when was that and what was the reaction? – I was pretty happy. I got the offer Aug. 1 or so. Then we had to coordinate all the announcements.
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Obviously the title is different than jobs you’ve held before, what else has changed for you? – Not a lot. I’ve been doing the job for a year so nothing has changed significantly after the announcement. Obviously being permanent gives you a bit more confidence that you’re doing the right work.
What are your particular ambitions for MercyOne going forward? – I’m really passionate about growth. In healthcare if you don’t grow, you usually go downhill. In order to grow, we have to be able to deliver personalized, compassionate, quality care. Also, in order to grow, we have to recruit physicians.
What challenges does MercyOne face? – The other big challenge we’re dealing with is trying to find enough nurses and clinicians to keep up with our growth. It’s been a struggle. So we’re working with NIACC more closely to try and increase class sizes for nursing. We’re also talking to Mercy College, we have a relationship with them in Des Moines to see if we can come up with creative to recruit nurses and other clinicians.
Do you think the billing positions being relocated are going to end up being disruptive for people here? – We’re working hard with them to try to find a job either within MercyOne North Iowa here, I know several have transitioned already, and we’re also trying to work with them about getting them some further education if they’re interested in one of these clinical roles we’d like to provide them the training and try to be creative with that training.
Like I said when I made that announcement, it’s my hope that we can retain all of them.
Any sense of how many folks will relocate? – Several of them have moved already. I don’t have a tally in front of me but I know we’ve already hired several that are working here.
We’ve still got some time. We have a year or so before they make the transition.
So how much input do you all get from officials in the Catholic church? – We work with them closely about making sure we’re meeting the ethical and religious directives so they have oversight over that in particular with abortions and sterilizations. We’re prohibited from doing that.
Are those the main ones that come up? – Yes. We’re actually working with them for the state because Waterloo and Dubuque are both within that archdiocese of Dubuque and then Des Moines has a separate diocese. So we work with the different archbishops across the state.
It’s early for this, but what do you want your tenure to be known for? – I want us to be able to hit our vision statement, which is to set the standard for a personalized and radically convenient system of health services. I hope when I retire that we’ve arrived in meeting that. Which is a big challenge.