Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire has hired a new chief administrative officer to lead the hospital.
Bill Priest, former hospital operations administrator at Mayo Clinic Health System sites in Cannon Falls, Red Wing and Lake City, took over leadership of the Eau Claire hospital on April 13.
Priest is a native of Eau Claire and former Memorial High School student. The chance to return to his and his wife’s hometown drew him, he said, but he was also attracted to Marshfield Clinic’s rural health care resources: “(Rural health care) resonates with what I want to continue to focus my career and efforts on.”
Taking the reins of a hospital as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up in Wisconsin revealed some hard decisions, Priest said. He praised the hospital’s managers for their work during the transition.
“It really was full blown by mid-April that we’re in the mode of, ‘How do we make sure we’re treating patients safely, how do we ensure we’re offering services that still need to be offered?’” Priest said.
During the virus’ impact on Wisconsin, hospitals have been functioning in an “incident command” structure — a method of responding to disasters or medical emergencies — for months, Priest said.
“Typically when you use incident command, it’s been when we have a power outage at a facility for an extended period of time, or severe weather coming through,” he said. “Incident command has been set up here at Marshfield Clinic Health System, really everywhere, for four months.”
Blending crisis response with daily operations has been challenging, he added.
“I don’t know any other situation where you have to balance day-to-day operational needs in the midst of a prolonged incident command,” Priest said.
In that balancing act, hospitals across the Chippewa Valley furloughed workers, including Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire, “to match our volume of patients with our staffing levels,” Priest said. Most of those furloughed workers at MMC-EC have returned to normal capacity as of July.
Priest expects the coronavirus pandemic to accelerate more technology tools in health care, like telehealth or video conferencing services — but also make people more informed about infectious disease, he said.
“There’s much more awareness now around good hygiene, washing your hands and maintaining appropriate distancing,” he said.
Before leading Mayo Clinic hospitals in Minnesota, Priest worked as director of operations and finance at Allina Health in Buffalo, Minn., and directed the cardiology departments at Fairview hospitals in Minnesota.
Priest is replacing Scott Polenz, Marshfield Medical Center-Eau Claire’s first CAO, who became Marshfield Clinic Health System’s vice president of physician recruitment in 2018, said Matt Schneider, MCHS regional communications manager.
Patrick Board, MCHS vice president of operations, was interim leader of the Eau Claire hospital during a nationwide search for a new CAO, until Priest began in April.