Departing trustee reflects on positive experience of board service

When Bruce Wacker was elected to serve his first term as a trustee on the North Big Horn Hospital District board in 2006, big changes were already underway that would affect the future of the organization throughout the three terms he served on its board. 

The hospital had recently been designated as “critical access,” which allowed it to receive special funding, while at the same time subjected it to rules, regulations and service requirements that go with that designation. 

“All critical access hospitals like ours are highly regulated by government agencies, which requires trustees to have some knowledge of those regulations for basic understanding,” explained Wacker.

Bruce Wacker’s 12-year service as a trustee on the North Big Horn Hospital District Board is slated to end on Dec. 31.
Patti Carpenter photo

Wacker, like other trustees on the board, spent a great deal of time developing a greater understanding of what it means to be a critical access hospital in preparation for making critical decisions on behalf of the district.   

The district had also recently entered into an alliance with Billings Clinic, a partnership that allowed the district to grow exponentially over the coming years. Wacker spent the next 12 years seeing the positive results of that relationship, which has been critical in allowing the district to grow into one of the top health care providers in the state.

Wacker attributes the many achievements over those years to the dedication and teamwork of the trustees and staff and the guidance and support that is part of being an affiliate of Billings Clinic.

“Board members have come and gone during my 12 years as a trustee, but one principle has always prevailed–we support constant improvements to the quality of healthcare for the benefit of our patients, as well as the caregivers.”

Some of the most visible improvements during Wacker’s service on the board include construction of a new building housing the clinic, physical therapy department and centralized registration. Numerous other projects were made possible with the added space, including the creation of an infusion center and the addition of more patient rooms where the old clinic was housed. Those projects are currently under construction.

“The new clinic and physical therapy building was the accomplishment I am most proud of during my time on the board,” said Wacker. “It required many years from conception to preliminary design to redesigns to delayed state approvals and eventual construction. In the end, it was well worth the effort from everyone involved.”

Wacker said a larger, more efficiently designed emergency room is a project trustees will most likely focus on in the near future.

  An ongoing improvement that has been probably less obvious over the past several years is the building of a “culture” of highly trained staff, working toward common goals.

“It didn’t take long for me to realize that all the many different departments are staffed with caring professionals working very hard every day to make life better for the residents that come to the hospital in their time of need,” said Wacker. “North Big Horn Hospital District has become one of the top performing hospitals for quality of healthcare. I know the rest of the board and myself are honored to be associated with such an impressive group of caregivers.”

Wacker said he had no idea how rewarding his work on the board would be when he first ran for the elected position.

“Twelve years ago I ran for an elected position on the North Big Horn Hospital District Board of Trustees because several family members were employed there,” he said. “I thought my board service would be a good way to contribute to the success of the hospital and New Horizons Care Center. What I hadn’t anticipated was all the interesting people I would meet, who I might not have met and had the opportunity to work with otherwise. I also hadn’t anticipated how rewarding it would be to be even a small part of the positive changes I would see over the next 12 years.”

Hospital CEO Rick Schroeder commented on Wacker’s tireless efforts and commitment to his duties as a trustee for the district.

“Bruce is a great advocate for our hospital, clinic and care center,” said Schroeder. “He has spent many, many hours and days at different trainings, workshops and other functions across the region to make himself a more educated and high functioning board member – all of it at no compensation. He has been extremely unselfish with his time and energy on our behalf. He thinks strategically and long term from a governance perspective, which has helped shape our direction. Bruce’s questions and insights caused good discussion and led us to better decisions.

“Bruce was very engaged through our clinic expansion from start to finish. He was at nearly every construction meeting. We benefitted from his engineering background and his great experience, which he drew upon to our benefit. I will miss his presence and work on the board. I have gained a friend.”

Board chairman Brett Crosby worked closely with Wacker during his entire time on the board. Wacker later was voted vice-chair by his fellow trustees, and he and Crosby formed a close working relationship during their time serving together on the board.

“I have enjoyed serving with Bruce and appreciated his dedication to furthering the hospital’s best interest,” said Crosby.  “More importantly, I relied on his experience and wisdom in helping get the new clinic built. It wouldn’t be the clinic it is without his leadership.

“I also relied on him as the vice-chairman. I couldn’t be at every meeting and always knew the meeting would be run well in my absence.”

Wacker will step down from his responsibilities on the board at the end of the year.

“I enjoyed working with the board and leadership and getting to know so many of the dedicated staff members working in the district,” said Wacker. “The services provided by the district are important to our community, and it was an honor to be part of making the organization the best it can be.”

By Patti Carpenter