Health

Departing Cedar Rapids health care leader optimistic

Competition, culture of caring bodes well for community, he says

Ted Townsend, president and chief executive officer of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, poses for a picture last Monday behind his desk at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital. Michelle Niermann, executive vice president and chief operating officer of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, will succeed Townsend after he retires, beginning Jan. 1. “I think we are leaving UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids in great hands and I think you should continue to look forward to good things,” Townsend said. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Ted Townsend, president and chief executive officer of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, poses for a picture last Monday behind his desk at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital. Michelle Niermann, executive vice president and chief operating officer of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, will succeed Townsend after he retires, beginning Jan. 1. “I think we are leaving UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids in great hands and I think you should continue to look forward to good things,” Townsend said. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — The departure of Ted Townsend, outgoing head of a Cedar Rapids hospital, marks the end of nearly two decades of leadership within the health care industry in Eastern Iowa.

Townsend will step down from his role as president and chief executive officer of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids at the end of the year after 16 years as the head of the organization and 39 years in the health care industry — an opportunity for which he said he is grateful.

Townsend’s retirement is effective Dec. 31.

Townsend has led UnityPoint St. Luke’s “superbly,” said Tim Charles, president and chief executive of Mercy Medical Center, in a statement. “While we have been competitors, we have agreed upon a common aim and that is to deliver the very best care possible to the communities Mercy and St. Luke’s serve.”

He added: “I will always appreciate his support at the time of the 2008 flood, joint effort to create the MedQuarter and our mutual recognition as one of the nation’s best medical communities. I wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

Michelle Niermann, executive vice president and chief operating officer of UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, will succeed Townsend beginning Jan. 1.

“I think we are leaving UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids in great hands and I think you should continue to look forward to good things,” Townsend said. “I feel comfortable and confident and happy she’s here and ready to take the reins.”

Townsend, 65, first came to Cedar Rapids in 2002 after working for several years at health systems in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Back then, St. Luke’s Hospital was part of the Iowa Health System, which became UnityPoint Health in 2013.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, which includes the 532-bed St. Luke’s Hospital and several clinics and offices, staffs nearly 4,000 employees. In 2017, the hospital saw nearly 18,000 admissions, about 53,000 emergency room visits and conducted around 30,000 surgeries.

According to UnityPoint Health documents, Townsend’s salary in 2016 was about $510,000.

It was never in his plan to establish a career in health care administration when he first entered the workforce. In fact, he said he was aiming to get into writing “and then I missed.”

Townsend taught high school English for four years and was looking to spend more time writing when a part-time job writing internal communications for a hospital in Michigan opened.

“I was planning on spending more time writing and instead, the health care just sort of became a consuming professional passion and my career took on a totally different trajectory than what I planned,” he said.

From there, Townsend eventually became the vice president of public affairs. He also went on to the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, where he held various roles in public affairs, marketing and operations starting in 1985.

“Once I got into health care and once I started getting different professional opportunities ... it became apparent to me that was a great training ground for overall system leadership,” he said.

Townsend said he sees UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids’ ability to not only recruit, but retain high-quality professionals as a major success during his tenure.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

In addition, the Cedar Rapids organization was able to establish itself as the provider with “the most complete continuum of care within any region of UnityPoint Health,” including services from inpatient to in-home health.

“We’ve done it. It’s a very complex organization, but we’ve been able to do it and run it successfully for 16 years,” he said.

But something that did not come together successfully during his tenure was the effort to create a single community cancer center.

Townsend said that some years ago there were discussions between St. Luke’s, Mercy, Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa and other independent practices to pull together a citywide system for cancer patients.

“The philosophy was cancer is so big, so complex that as a community we could do a better job if we just combined our resources. But we were just not able to get that done,” he said.

Among local boards he served on in Cedar Rapids ­— including the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance — Townsend was chair of the Iowa Hospital Association board of directors from 2014 to 2015. He was also awarded an excellence in leadership award — the highest honor for state hospital CEOs — by the Iowa Hospital Association in 2010.

He “provided excellent support and leadership to IHA, especially during his time on the IHA board and as IHA board chair,” said association President and CEO Kirk Norris. “His outstanding communication skills, particularly as a speaker, and his engaging personality have benefited him as a hospital leader and advocate. Within the Iowa hospital leadership community, (Townsend) has been viewed as a valued colleague and mentor.”

In nearly two decades at the organization, Townsend said he has seen the Cedar Rapids health industry change in many ways. When he first began, the area was made up of independent providers — but nowadays, very few are not a part of one system or another.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Another major change that shifted how health care is provided to Iowans was the move to Medicaid managed care in April 2016, Townsend said. However, it’s a move that leaves the UnityPoint Health executive concerned for the future.

Townsend said he is not opposed to managed care, the system in which Medicaid coverage is administered by private insurance companies. But then-Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to move all members — then about 600,000 people — at one time on April 1, 2016, has made the system unnecessarily complex.

But Townsend is confident in the future of health care in Cedar Rapids and rest of Eastern Iowa, saying he was certain the strong culture from area health systems will benefit patients over the long term.

“Combine that with a strong culture and the competitive spirit from Mercy and St. Luke’s as hospitals, that legacy has positioned Cedar Rapids with having very high quality health care.”

• Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.