Retiring Yampa Valley Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Karl Gills, right, and incoming CEO Frank May jump into the near-freezing waters at Catamount Ranch & Club during Saturday’s Penguin Plunge.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Retiring Yampa Valley Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Karl Gills, right, and incoming CEO Frank May jump into the near-freezing waters at Catamount Ranch & Club during Saturday’s Penguin Plunge.

Yampa Valley Medical Center chief takes final Plunge in fundraiser

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2012 Penguin Plunge

The 2012 Penguin Plunge raised more than $70,000 for cancer services at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

— The Penguin Plunge on Saturday provided a glimpse of what Karl Gills has planned when he retires as chief executive officer of Yampa Valley Medical Center on Friday.

Gills, who has led the hospital for 11 years, took his final plunge at the ninth annual hospital fundraiser alongside Frank May, the hospital’s chief operating officer who has been transitioning for six months to take over Gills’ role.

Before jumping into the near-freezing water at Catamount Ranch & Club, the two men acted out what their lives would entail after the CEO transition. Gills wore a Hawaiian shirt and sat in a beach chair while May talked on his cellphone and wore a dress shirt and tie. Gills held up signs that read “vacation,” “hiking” and “golf” while May’s signs showed the words “meetings,” “phone” and “reform,” as in health reform.

“The support I’ve gotten with this being my last major public event has been really good,” Gills said while warming up in the hot tub after his plunge.

Gills was injured one year but otherwise has jumped in all the Penguin Plunge events, which this year raised money for cancer services at YVMC. For his final jump, Gills set out to raise more than $7,000, more than any individual ever has raised. He surpassed his goal by $100 and earned the distinction of emperor penguin.

“It’s going to be a significant benefit to the Healthcare Foundation, and that’s what I wanted to do,” Gills said.

All the participants raised well more then $70,000 during this year’s event, and more donations were expected.

While at YVMC, Gills has served as a mentor, friend and an inspiration, said Sandy St. Clair, executive director of the Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley, the fundraising arm of YVMC that Gills helped establish.

“His leadership is the reason that the foundation came to be,” St. Clair said. “His philanthropy will be felt by all the health care organizations in the Yampa Valley for years to come.”

During his tenure at YVMC, Gills said, he has taken pride in watching Routt County’s only hospital continue to grow in size and the services it offers.

“Fewer people have to leave the community to get care,” he said.

Patient satisfaction surveys have earned YVMC recognition as a top performer, and Gills said he has enjoyed the strong relationships built between the hospital and the medical staff members who work there.

“That’s not always the case between hospitals and doctors,” he said.

Gills said there have been numerous challenges in the past decade, including working through state and federal regulations and health reform.

“Everyone is looking for quality health care at a lower cost, and that’s a significant challenge in a rural environment, and that will continue to be a challenge through health care reform,” Gills said.

He said it also has been difficult to keep pace with rapidly changing technology.

“It seems like as soon as we buy a piece of equipment or put a computer system in, it’s out of date,” Gills said.

May, his successor, is aware of the challenges. He has worked in health care for 30 years.

“The regulatory environment continues to get tougher and tougher to keep up with,” he said.

May said he is thankful for the opportunity and the support that the community and hospital board members have given him as he prepares to take over.

“I think that we have an opportunity in the Yampa Valley to really control our own destiny in terms of health care service,” May said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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