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Published in Health Care
From left: Holland Hospital’s Mark Pawlak, Patti VanDort and Dale Sowders. From left: Holland Hospital’s Mark Pawlak, Patti VanDort and Dale Sowders. COURTESY PHOTO

Holland Hospital leaders take on new roles as health care partnerships deepen

BY Sunday, March 27, 2022 06:10pm

HOLLAND — Holland Hospital has put in motion an executive leadership succession plan while looking to extend its position in the lakeshore health care market and to build clinical services through partnerships with University of Michigan Health-West.

In its latest move, Holland Hospital plans to open a primary care physician office by mid-May in leased space at Spectrum Health’s Grand Haven Center. The office initially will have three or four care providers in family and internal medicine and rheumatology.

Holland Hospital co-developed and opened the Grand Haven Center — originally known as Health Pointe — with Spectrum Health in May 2018. Holland sold its stake in Health Pointe to Spectrum Health two years ago.

Holland Hospital followed the Health Pointe project with the opening of an OB/GYN practice in Grand Haven in late 2019.

The hospital’s lakeshore reach now extends from Grand Haven to South Haven, where OB/GYN Associates of Holland opened an office in 2018.

“We’re the only one and we’re the biggest organization on the lakeshore that is solely focused on the lakeshore, and we intend to leverage that going forward,” said Mark Pawlak, Holland Hospital’s senior vice president of operations. Pawlak will become executive vice president under a leadership succession plan that takes effect April 1.

As well, Holland Hospital has been working with Grand Rapids-based University of Michigan Health-West to expand clinical specialties in the lakeshore market, said Holland Hospital President and CEO Dale Sowders.

University of Michigan Health-West for years has partnered with Holland Hospital on heart care, and “we intend to look at this region broadly with University of Michigan Health-West as quite a critical partner,” Sowders said.

University of Michigan Health-West CEO Peter Hahn reached out to Holland a few years back to ask about working together in areas such as stroke and neurosciences, Sowders said. That connection “turned into a dialogue, and turned into fruition” to where University of Michigan Health-West specialists now staff Holland’s emergency department and cardiac catheterization lab, alleviating the need to transfer some patients to Grand Rapids, he said.

“University of Michigan Health-West is helping us and collaborating with us on the lakeshore,” said Sowders, who has presided over Holland Hospital for two decades, extending its market presence north and south, and eastward into Zeeland with outpatient facilities.

“That footprint has evolved a lot. It was not that broad in 2002,” he said.

Leadership moves

Holland Hospital’s growing clinical ties to University of Michigan Health-West, formerly known as Metro Health, was evident in this month’s announcement of the executive leadership moves. Marshall Runge, CEO of University of Michigan Health-West’s Michigan Medicine academic medical center in Ann Arbor and dean of the University of Michigan Medical School, complimented the succession plan as an “example of forward-thinking” at Holland Hospital and “one of the reasons that collaborating with them has been a true pleasure.”

“We look forward to continued partnerships with Holland Hospital that align with the needs of those served throughout the Lakeshore region,” Runge said.

Under a succession plan that was crafted in 2018, Sowders will become vice chairman of the board of directors and will focus on strategy, collaborative partnerships and financial stewardship.

Patti VanDort, Holland Hospital’s senior vice president of hospital operations, becomes president, taking over those duties from Sowders.

The longest serving hospital CEO in the region, the 62-year-old Sowders has no plans right now to retire, although “it’s definitely coming into focus,” he said.

Making the corporate leadership changes now gives Holland Hospital “continuity over time, but (with) still having some fresh eyes be incorporated into the executive level,” Sowders said.

“We’re planning for a future,” said Sowders, who’s been just the seventh chief executive in Holland Hospital’s 105-year history.

“We, as an executive team, embrace the concept that we have been given an incredible privilege to steward these roles and provide an essential resource for the community, and it’s incumbent upon us to have there be orderly planning for the future and where everywhere possible create some depth and develop leaders, including within our own office,” he said. “We’re just trying to have this be orderly so people know what to expect.”

Putting into place a succession plan helps to prevent any worries or uncertainty among hospital staff, particularly long-term staff, when an executive transition does occur, VanDort said.

“The continuity equals stability in those relationships, and those relationships really are the centerpiece of our culture,” VanDort said. “To keep that going by doing internal succession planning like we’ve done is just critical.” 

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