Fossum reflects on two decades

Retiring Ely hospital administrator looks back in farewell address

by Tom Coombe -

If it was a routine annual meeting, John Fossum would have spent much of Monday night looking ahead - perhaps to key initiatives at Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital or challenges facing the community’s health care facility.
But this was no routine Monday. It was Fossum’s last annual meeting as Ely-Bloomenson’s chief exective officer and the longtime administrator took time to reflect with hospital board members, shareholders and staff.
From his arrival in late-1997 to his retirement, which takes effect early next year, Fossum has overseen two decades of upheaval at Ely-Bloomenson, from the appearance of the hospital campus to developments that reflect both advances and major change in the delivery of health care in the United States.
Fossum shared anecdotes, many mixed with humor including one of an errant blast outside the nursing home window during the clinic relocation project, to fillng in as a substitute drum player when the Barich Brothers performed at the nursing home.
Fossum also saluted former board members and staff and noted the passing of those who made great contributions during his tenure, including the late Larry Klun, Dave Peterson, Richard Freeman, Don Langan and Al Vogt.
When Fossum came to Ely from southwestern Minnesota, the hospital had a 99-bed nursing home and an aging campus, a money-draining ambulance service while the community’s clinic was in another part of town.
That has all changed, and Fossum shared his five biggest accomplishments.
Topping the list was the change enacted several years ago that changed the hospital’s governance structure, and created a separate hospital foundation to maintain community assets.
Of the change, Fossum pointed to Albert Lea, where the community stands at rsk of losing its hospital, which is owned by Mayo Clinic. Fossum said the existence of the Ely foundation better protects the hospital.
“I know I’m leaving you in I think a good spot,” said Fossum. “If you take care of this foundation, you’ll never be where Albert Lea is.”
The creation of the Ely Area Ambulance Service ranked second on Fossum’s list.
“This has worked,” said Fossum. “Morse, Fall Lake, Ely, Winton and the hospital are governing a very important service,” said Fossum.
Fossum also ranked the 2015 restructuring of hospital debt third on his list, with the restructuring of senior services fourth, including the downsizing of the nursing home and the creation of other options including assisted living facilities adjacent to the hospital.
“I’m proud of how we changed long-term care,” said Fossum.
A slew of capital projects, ranging from the clinic relocation to more recent remodeling of the hospital facility, rounded out Fossum’s top-five.
Fossum noted the visibility of his position but said the hospital has succeeded because of its staff.
“The folks who work here do their job and do it right,” said Fossum.
He noted the service of numerous current personnel, including chief financial officer Scott Kellerman, nursing director Becky Gaulke, plant manager Al Forsman, quality control director Patti Banks and human resources director Rochelle Sjoberg.
“As I leave, you’ve got some leaders here,” said Fossum. “The new person is going to benefit from their knowledge.”
Fossum notified board members of his retirement plans earlier this year and was presented with an engraved clock as a going away gift.
Before being saluted with a standing ovation, Fossum battled emotions as he said farewell.
“I’ve been blessed by a supportive board and a great staff,” he said. “This is a good place.”