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Decades Interview with Richard Kowalski '71, FACHE

B.S., Business Administration, Eastern Michigan University, 1966
M.S., Health Care Administration, Trinity University, 1971
President/CEO OSF St, Mary Medical Center, President/CEO Western Region, Retired

Michigan native Richard Kowlaski '71 began his 40+-year career in health care as a junior in undergraduate school working as a part-time Assistant to the Director of Domestic Services at Ypsilanti State Hospital, a state-run mental institution. After graduation, he completed a 12-month management-training program for the State mental department and became Administrative Director of a new division called The Center for Forensic Psychiatry.

As his interest in health care grew, he decided, with the advice of his mentors, that a master’s in health care administration would broaden both his knowledge base and his career options. Choosing Trinity for its national reputation for excellence, Richard completed his residency at the University of Washington (UW) Hospital in Seattle. Subsequently, he became Assistant Director of Planning for UW and UW-managed Harborview Medical Center.

Moving back to the Midwest, Richard consulted for the Iowa State Department of Health. Following that role he became Vice President for Professional Services and Planning at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a position he held for seven years. In 1979, he became President and CEO of St. Mary Medical Center in Galesburg, Illinois, a Catholic, not-for-profit institution sponsored by the OSF (The Sisters of the Order of St. Francis) Health System.

The position was not without its challenges. Aside from the well known financial issues that make staying current with programs, services, and technology a constant challenge, Richard encountered a hospital that had been without a permanent CEO for several months—which had created a great amount of anxiety among the staff and the community—and faced stiff competition from another hospital.

He began his 34-year tenure and the turn around for St. Mary by communicating with the staff on a quarterly basis, keeping them apprised of the various issues affecting them and the status of the institution. He also devoted considerable time to building relationships with the medical staff. “These were not the only things that needed attention,” he recalls, “but they were important in order to get the entire institution back on track financially and reaffirm our commitment to quality and patient satisfaction.”

Among the other things that needed Richard’s attention were numerous construction projects, including the emergency department and helipad, the facility housing the Diagnostic Imaging Center and OSF Medical Group offices, and the Rehabilitation Complex that has allowed the providers at OSF St. Mary Medical Center to effectively carry out their mission. He is proud of the fact that his level of commitment and oversight paid off, establishing St. Mary as “the hospital of choice.” In 2009, his responsibilities were expanded to include CEO of the Western Region and he retired four years later.

Despite the challenges associated with a career in health care administration, when asked if he would pursue the same path today, Richard answers with a resounding “YES, because it is a dynamic field that is important to society and offers great opportunities from both a personal and a career perspective.” He does encourage today’s students and young careerists to stay up to date with all the changes in the field and embrace them. He also stresses the importance of establishing relationships “at every level internal to your organization, your field, and your community.”

 "I have discovered that relationships I established over 30 or more years ago are still as valuable as the new ones with residents and interns in that they all can add to your success in both your business and your personal life even after retirement.”

Although retired from health care, Richard has not retired from his long time involvement in his community. He tutors students in reading and does fund raising at Costa Catholic Academy. He also works with Knox College as a member of the parent’s advisory council and sits on the National Railroad Hall of Fame board, which is creating Engines of Freedom, a railroad-themed, interactive attraction designed to inspire appreciation of the importance of railroads in our daily lives. Intellectually and culturally curious, he takes occasional classes such as Religion and World Politics at Knox College and devotes “blocks of time” to travel. In short, Richard is enjoying a stimulating and rewarding retirement following a stimulating and rewarding career. 

 

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