Jim Pope and his wife, Mary, attend the Family, Fun and Fitness Night at Van Wert Elementary School on April 6. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)
Jim Pope and his wife, Mary, attend the Family, Fun and Fitness Night at Van Wert Elementary School on April 6. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)
VAN WERT — It’s been nine months since Jim Pope walked in to Van Wert County Hospital for his first day as the hospital’s new CEO.

Pope, who was coming from five years as CEO and President of Sylvania Franciscan Health, now CHI Sylvania Franciscan Health, a nonprofit health system in Sylvania, Ohio, made it his goal to get to know the community first so that he could meet the needs of it.

Pope noted his wife, Mary, and he started attending events around the area, like performances at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, a play at the Van Wert Council on Aging, the Taste of Vantage event and they even attended Van Wert Elementary School’s Family, Fun and Fitness Night.

“It’s really getting to know the community by spending time living in it and hearing and listening to what’s going on in the community,” he said.

Pope’s first day as CEO was July 1, 2016, and after a few months of getting settled in, he began working with the Van Wert County Hospital Association Board of Directors, the hospital’s physicians, leadership team and staff, as well as community leaders to begin making a strategic plan for the hospital. The first meeting was held in September with about 75 people in attendance.

Since then, many meetings have been held with smaller groups, and focus groups have gathered to look at what direction the hospital needs to move in.

“One of the things that’s very clear is the community is fiercely independent when it comes to the hospital, and they want the hospital to remain fiercely independent,” Pope said noting that vision is shared by the board and himself as well. “There are many reasons why we would continue to be independent.”

Health care is symbiotic, though.

“No one organization can do all things for all people,” he said.

“We want everyone to choose our hospital first, regardless of what you need, and then [we want to] put ourselves in a position to help you get to that next level of care,” Pope explained of the vision of the hospital. The hospital wants to have worked through the answer for where that next level of care is whether it is at Van Wert County Hospital or another so that the patients do not have to think about that in their time of need.

“We want to be that first choice for health care in the region and we want to be the one to help you get to that next best level of care that works best for you,” he added.

“When someone entrusts you with their health care they’ve entrusted you with their most important asset,” Pope said. “It’s our responsibility to live up to that.”

For Van Wert County Hospital under the leadership of Pope, the plan on how to become a better hospital is nearing completion. As Pope said, he wants to have a goal so that as things change in the health care field and in the community he knows how to steer to get back on track to reach that goal.

“For any organization to move forward it has to have trust,” Pope said. “We’ve got to have trust that the board is representing the community. We’ve got to have trust that the senior leadership team is working to meet the needs of the community, that the physicians are all meeting the needs of the community.”

That is why Pope has felt it necessary to include members of the community throughout the development of the strategic plan, which he expects to be completed in a few months.

“We are a community hospital and if you’re a community hospital, you absolutely have to involve community in the discussion,” he said. “A vibrant community needs a vibrant community hospital; and a vibrant community hospital needs a vibrant community. As we discuss our role, it really is what is our role in contributing to make this a vibrant community, it’s not just the health care. It’s how do we make a positive impact on the community.”

One of the ways Pope wants to make a positive impact is to work on engagement with the hospital’s workforce and its patients. He noted if a patient feels engaged by the hospital, it is more likely he or she will be compliant to take care of his or her health.

Pope and the hospital have been working with young adults and teens to work on making Van Wert a part of their future plans after graduation. Pope wants to make sure the hospital is creating opportunities for graduates to come back to Van Wert.

“We encourage people to remember the hospital when they think of the future,” he said.

Pope said the strategic plan that is in the works will take a lot of work and some additional employees, but for now, it is baby steps as the hospital works to implement the plan. Since Van Wert County Hospital is financially sound, Pope said that makes it easier for them to get a start on where they want to go.

“I’m having fun,” Pop said. “I’m blessed to have a strong Board, I’m blessed to have a solid leadership team around me, I’m blessed to have very dedicated physicians that work around me, I’m blessed to have a staff that believes in this hospital and is waiting for us to give them that direction, to give them that road map so they know how to help us, so they know how to paddle that boat in the right direction.”