New CEO arrives


CUTLINE: Retiring Palmer Lutheran Health Center CEO Deb Chensvold and incoming CEO Steve Stark visit with local resident Mary Lou Meyer outside the local health facility in West Union. Chensvold continues to help Stark adjust to his new surroundings after he officially assumed his duties on Monday, Aug. 19. (Mike Van Sickle photo)





‘It’s all about making a difference’
New CEO arrives 

By Mike Van Sickle
Union editor

Growing up in a Missouri town of 200 residents, Steve Stark has always maintained a passion for small-town living. Even after pursuing a medical career, the newly appointed Palmer Lutheran Health Center CEO continues to prefer rural America.  

“I just love the small-town atmosphere. I’m kind of a nut for festivals and similar events that you find in smaller communities,” said Stark from his new office in West Union. “I guess you could say that I enjoy the older style and way of life.”

A native of Raymondville, Mo., Stark most recently served as Cass County (Iowa) Health System’s COO before being named Palmer’s new CEO last month. The 39-year-old officially began his duties on Monday, Aug. 19.

Retiring PLHC CEO Deb Chensvold, who continues to help Stark adjust to his new surroundings, noted on Thursday that 25 applications were submitted for her position, with four of the candidates being selected for interviews.

“I was privileged enough to provide each of the four finalists a tour of the hospital and witness them interact with the staff,” said Chensvold. “Steve’s ability to engage the staff, ask them pertinent questions, and listen to them was amazing.

“When rating each candidate category, including their commitment to the hospital and community, the experience they would bring to the job, and how they would embrace the culture here, Steve rose way above the rest,” she stressed. 

“And now, after seeing his continuing interaction with staff over the previous three days, my beliefs have certainly been solidified,” she added. “I have put my entire professional life into this hospital, and I always felt that when I left, I wanted to be assured that the next individual would share a similar passion and care for it. I firmly believe Steve will take our hospital in the direction it needs to go well into the future.”

“What is important to me in regard to Deb’s legacy,” Stark interjected, “is that she has obviously done a wonderful job here over the past 40-plus years, and I wish to carry on her strong beliefs and principles in placing the patients, staff, and entire community first.”

While complimenting the PLHC board of directors on how they conducted the interviewing process, the Drury University and Bellevue University graduate added with a smile, “They let it be known that they didn’t just want someone to fill a seat. I believe (board member) Tobin Britt summed it up best, ‘At the end of the day, we are all proud of what we have here, and we don’t want anyone to mess it up.’”

Since starting his new duties last week, the recently appointed CEO has hosted “get-together” meetings with the health facility’s staff. He explained the PLHC personnel have been encouraged to share their thoughts on what is working well, what they see as current and future challenges, ideas to improve the organization, what they expect of the new chief executive officer, and ways he can further support them and their duties. 

“Although I’m only in the early stages, it is apparent everyone should feel blessed that there is an entire staff of business professionals here that is adapting to the constant changes in healthcare and knows how to get things done correctly,” he added. “It is obvious why patients and other people are impressed with the team here.” 

A community partnership

“Things like the old-time courthouse square and the Thursday night concerts on the plaza here in West Union are among the things that drew my attention to this position and the community,” explained Stark. “The concerts actually remind of the type of events that much larger communities host. I think it’s an innovative way to get the entire community involved. Many residents of a community of this size don’t have such opportunities.

“I also found the community’s green (Pilot Streetscape) project to be fascinating, and I have already shared information that I have gathered on it with lots of friends and former colleagues,” he continued. “I’m grateful I have been able to bring my family into a community that supports green initiatives. We should want to be healthful and environmental stewards, and I would hope this would serve as an example to other communities of this size.”  

In addition, Stark emphasized that his family, including wife, Jennifer, and children Zoie, 2; Jenna, 5; Emily, 11; and Landon, 17, were enthused about the (North Fayette Valley) school system. Likewise, the library, aquatic center and recreational facilities were huge factors in the family’s decision to move to northeast Iowa. 

“For a small community, there are many amenities here that are comparable to what you see in larger towns and cities. I don’t believe you could drive 200 or 300 miles and find such a great facility in communities of similar size as what is found at the (West Union) Recreation Complex,” he added. “Hats off to whoever led that project. I don’t believe anyone should question whether recreational facilities or similar opportunities bring people to communities.”

While noting that his family has enjoyed a number of successful and enjoyable trips to West Union area businesses as they settle into their new West Union home, Stark expressed his appreciation to Patrick Croal of Back in Time Barbershop for offering to provide additional tours of the community.

“We are thrilled to join the West Union-area family. Rest assured that we will be visible in the community. My entire family looks forward to welcoming the residents here as much as they have already welcomed us,” said Stark. 

“Meeting and getting involved with community, business, and organizational leaders is among my chief goals,” Stark stressed. “I would like to work with the business people to see what we can do to help provide better healthcare to their employees.

“The entire community’s input plays such an important part in healthcare. Without them, we can’t survive,” he added.  

At the same time, Stark acknowledged that he plans to build stronger relations with health providers and discover what can be done to draw more highly qualified providers to PLHC. In addition, he looks forward to continuing discussions with Gundersen Health System and exploring ways to better benefit the patients and community.

“This was not a short-term decision for us. We intend to make this our home. I don’t view my position here at Palmer Lutheran Health Center as a steppingstone in my career. I want to have a retirement party here just like Deb is going to soon receive.”

Reiterating his longtime appreciation of the rural lifestyle and the healthcare services its residents are provided, Stark closed, “For me, it’s all about making a difference in the smaller communities. Every decision I make will be with the area community and our patients at Palmer Lutheran Health Center coming first.”

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