KEARNEY REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER is located at 804 22nd Ave., just east of Kearney High School. It occupies 18 acres on the 79-acre parcel.

KEARNEY — Tom McLeod says he walked a tightrope when he became administrator of the Platte Valley Medical Group six years ago.

A Ravenna native, McLeod had spent 15 years as director of the Integrated Wellness Program at CHI Health Good Samaritan. In 2012, he left that job and became administrator of the North Platte Surgery Center, an outpatient facility.

After just one year, he uprooted his family and returned to Kearney and “came to a place that wasn’t even open yet. I didn’t unpack everything for about three years. We didn’t know if it was going to work,” McLeod said.

“It” is the Kearney Regional Medical Center, a $22 million, 58,000-square-foot hospital launched in 2009 by 40 physicians who believed Kearney needed a second hospital.

Platte Valley Medical Group is a 60-year-old multispecialty practice that now is a wholly owned subsidiary of the hospital. Its new 48,000-square-foot offices are located at the north end of the hospital.

“The folks who started this are the real pioneers,” McLeod said. “Every employee, from top to bottom, who bought into this had a vision to create a community-based hospital. Luck is when hard work meets opportunity. We worked hard and the opportunities found us,” he said.

That honeymoon feeling hasn’t worn off yet, he added.

“People tell us they are happy to come here. The staff is happy and helpful, and that’s part of the leadership of this organization. We are physician-led but not physician-controlled. Physicians help create the environment, but everyone else plays a role. No matter who you are, from the custodial staff on up, you feel like you have a voice. You have the resources to be successful. If you request something, you will probably get it. I’ve worked in places where you feel helpless, but not here,” he said.

Growing facilities

When KRMC opened in February 2014, it had 15 providers and 22 beds. Today, 150 physicians have privileges there, and it is licensed for 93 beds.

Its Maternity Care Center, which opened in January 2017, has delivered 1,691 babies.

PVMC keeps growing, too. McLeod has one goal when he hires employees. He wants them to be so fulfilled that it’s the last job they’ll ever have.

“I tell people, ‘I do everything I can to make sure that’s a reality for you,’” he said.

McLeod was recruited for the PVMC job by his predecessor, Larry Speicher, who was KRMC’s first CEO. In January 2018, Speicher left to become CEO at the new Grand Island Regional Hospital, a physician-run hospital patterned after KRMC that is set to open next summer.

McLeod manages PVMG and hires physicians and staff for the Platte Valley Medical Group, Kearney Orthopedic and Sports Medicine, and Central Plains Aesthetic Surgery.

Bumps in the road

McLeod said the past five years have been “exciting” but “stressful.” Success has not come without a few snags.

When the hospital opened, its Medicare certification was delayed. Accreditation stalled. Still, KRMC kept rolling forward.

It got an unexpected boost when a statewide dispute between CHI Health and Blue Cross and Blue Shield terminated BCBS benefits at Good Samaritan for a brief time.

“We would not have grown as fast had community leaders not come to us and tell us what their needs were. Blue Cross Blue Shield came to us, too, and said the same thing,” McLeod said. “Our (patient) volumes have gone up consistently in the past five years.”

Half of the hospital’s patients come from outside Kearney zip codes. Its medical staff visits 23 outreach locations in central and western Nebraska, as far west as Imperial and as far south as Smith Center, Kan.

“We do things that make sense for what the community needs. We don’t expend our resources unnecessarily, but we want to compete where it makes sense.” He said the fact that the community is using KRMC proves that its approach is working.

Letting the community lead

McLeod also is pleased with staff and their versatility. “It’s an advantage to patients having so many specialists at one site. It’s a very comprehensive team, and that makes us unique,” he said.

He said KRMC’s Maternity Care Center now delivers about 66 percent of the region’s babies. PVMG has no pediatricians, but in April 2018, three family practice physicians and two nurse-practitioners joined the staff, and more are expected, McLeod said. Cardiology has grown, too.

“We are continuing to listen to the community and needs, including medical providers,” he said.

“Our plans keep changing because the needs of the community change. We get feedback from providers, business leaders. Reimbursement patterns keep changing. More procedures may be done in surgery centers, so that could change what we might build on campus,” he said.

“But we can only build so much, so fast. We need to be deliberate. We want to create a long-term plan and listening to the community is important. Sustainability is critical,” McLeod said.

Along with being pleased at “how far we’ve come, we are also consistently proud of the quality of our services. That quality is validated by the feedback from patients. That feedback is not always perfect, but when it’s not, we listen and we fix it,” he said. “That feedback is driving our evolution.”

He added, “The staff on all levels create an environment they are proud to send patients to. It’s been glorious to be involved from the start.”

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