While the Wood River Valley is a new environment for Cody Langbehn, the nature of rural health care—and the issues associated with it—are not.
Langbehn took over as CEO of St. Luke's Wood River on Jan. 23, replacing interim CEO John Kee.
Langbehn comes to the valley from Montana, bringing with him experience in rural health care and hospital administration.
After receiving a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in health care administration, he served as an intern in Spearfish, S.D., and later took a job in Lisbon, N.D.
"I cut my teeth on rural hospitals in North Dakota," he said during an interview in his office Thursday.
Before coming to St. Luke's, Langbehn was the executive director of regional operations at Billings Clinic, a nonprofit health care organization in Montana, and previously served eight years as CEO of Pioneer Medical Center in Big Timber, a hospital managed by Billings Clinic.
"There were a lot of things that kept me engaged professionally there," he said.
A chance discovery about the St. Luke's position, however, led him to consider his next move sooner than planned.
"The more I learned about it, the more it seemed to be a good fit for me," he said. "My wife and I both grew up in rural communities in Montana. We always wanted to get back to a rural area. We were looking for a great place to raise a family but also a place that would challenge me professionally."
It was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.
His wife, Lisa, and their two young children moved with him to the valley.
As the family settles in, Langbehn said, he'll spend the first few weeks getting to know the community and meeting with St. Luke's staff and board.
In that process, he hopes to gain an understanding of what the issues are and how St. Luke's can best address them.
One area he'll be reviewing is the facility's scope of services.
"What's the right mix, and how can the St. Luke's system be utilized to help provide those?" he asked.
Cardiology, pediatrics, obesity, substance abuse, in-home care for chronic disease sufferers and many other issues will be discussed.
"How do we develop programs and services ... to improve the health of the community?" he asked. "That's going to be a big initiative over the next several years, to try to figure out what that means."
Like in any organization, once goals are identified, some will have to take priority over others.
"We can't be everything to everybody," he said. "No rural health-care facility can. But we can make sure it's the highest quality it can be."
One new direction already under way is mental health care.
The hospital is recruiting a full-time psychiatrist with support staff to be added later. The practice will be housed in the Hailey clinic with possible office hours in the north valley.
"There's a lot of yet-to-be-determined details," he said.
But, he added, "we've got to figure out a way to meet that need."
Word already is getting out. Organizers of a benefit concert for suicide prevention and understanding mental illness contacted St. Luke's about the event.
St. Luke's Wood River and St. Luke's Health Foundation signed on to be co-sponsors of a piano concert March 10 supporting the Wood River Valley chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Crisis Hotline and The Speedy Foundation.
Other areas of need will be prioritized in the coming months as the medical center starts its community needs assessment, required every three years.
"We're just getting ready to embark on that," Langbehn said.
The assessment will include community stakeholder focus groups, consisting of board members and community leaders.
From small changes to big ideas, Langbehn said he wants to know residents' opinions.
"You can't do it in a vacuum," he said. "You need community input."
Langbehn said that as health care continues to evolve, he hopes to see St. Luke's at the forefront of change.
He said he sees benefit in an idea being discussed by leaders in myriad health-care industries—a new approach that focuses on keeping people healthy rather than just reimbursing people or hospitals for treatment when they're ill. Though it seems simple, Langbehn said, the new model is groundbreaking because it changes the traditional emphasis of health care and the way it's paid for.
He believes the idea could more easily be adopted in the Wood River Valley, where people take an active interest in their well-being.
"The population here is really invested in their own health," he said. "If we have programs in place that can improve health, if that switch is flipped [to a new model], we can be on the leading edge of that."
Whatever changes come from federal requirements or community wishes, Langbehn said St. Luke's will be able to adapt because it is supported by highly skilled medical staff, a high-quality foundation and state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.
"A lot of that was brought about by the generosity of this community," he said. "From an outsider's point of view, it's nothing short of remarkable."
Rebecca Meany: firstname.lastname@example.org