Moab Regional Hospital has a new chief executive officer. Robb Austin was hired by the hospital’s board in recent weeks.
The board stated that he has a proven track record in hospital operations and development and has dedicated his entire professional career to working and serving rural communities.
Austin’s most recent position was as the chief executive officer of the Estes Park Medical Center in Estes Park, Colo., from August 2007 to January 2013.
Estes Park is similar to Moab in many ways, Austin said. The town itself has a population of about 5,000 people, yet approximately 11,000 people live in the area. And, being close to Rocky Mountain National Park, it is a tourist destination with three million visitors a year.
Moab Regional Hospital opened its doors February 2011. Roy Barraclough served as the CEO for seven years for the county-owned Allen Memorial Hospital and Moab Regional Hospital before his retirement in January this year. Barraclough is now the interim administrator for the Canyonlands Care Center.
Jim Richardson, a consultant provided by Quorum Intensive Resources, acted as the interim CEO after Barraclough’s retirement.
Moab Regional Hospital began working with Quorum when it was unable to make both payroll and a mortgage payment due to insufficient cashflow in May 2012. Payroll took precedence and the May mortgage payment was made five days after the grace-period ended.
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recognized it as a technical default and they began monitoring the hospital very closely, Barraclough said in a previous interview. HUD provides insurance on the hospital’s $30 million mortgage.
The hospital’s contract with Quorum ended in February. John Hart served as the interim CEO after Richardson and until Austin’s arrival.
Austin said that he is aware of the hospital’s financial history.
“I knew about most of the issues out there, but for someone who likes a challenging job, that’s why I accepted it,” Austin said. “I think we’re on the upswing. The board and the staff did a behemoth job in getting us from where we were to where we are today.”
Mike Bynum, the chair of the Moab Regional Hospital board, said that Austin has a proven track record in hospital operations and development.
“The board and hiring committee are confident that Robb Austin’s experience and visionary leadership in rural healthcare will allow the hospital to overcome challenges and leverage opportunities as we navigate healthcare reform,” Bynum said. “Our physician partners and staff members interviewed Robb personally, which was much appreciated and certainly contributed to his eagerness to become a part of our team.”
Bynum expressed confidence that the hospital has a solid foundation and a bright future.
Moab Regional Hospital has made a great deal of progress financially over the last year,” Bynum said.
Austin cited some of the strengths he saw at Moab Regional Hospital.
“We have a good staff, a good group of physicians – some places don’t have that,” Austin said. “We’ve got a great board, too.”
Austin has a long history with rural hospitals. Before working in Estes Park, he was the president of the Gunnison Valley Hospital in Gunnison, Colo., from 1984-2003 and the director of business development and outreach for the Poudre Valley Health System in Fort Collins, Colo. Austin also served on the American Hospital Association’s Regional Policy Board and the Section for Small or Rural Hospitals Governing Council.
He noted some of the advantages that Moab has for a small community including a good set of family practice doctors, a general surgeon and an infusion center.
“Do you know how fortunate the community is to have an infusion center?” Austin asked. “It allows people to stay here to receive chemotherapy treatment instead of going to Grand Junction.”
He referred to how that improves the quality of life for people who are facing serious health issues.
“It is less traveling for people, how much better for people to be able to stay here instead of having to worry about both a trip and their disease,” Austin said. “We can take away the worry of that one thing, which is traveling.”
He also recognized the role of the hospital as an economic driver for the community, by providing jobs and providing services.
“It’s too easy to get your health care and other necessities in Grand Junction. I’d rather keep it here,” Austin said. “If we can keep them here, the money stays here. It’s jobs, yes, but it’s helping the local economy, too.”
Austin and his family have been traveling to the Moab area for decades to hike in Arches National Park. His children are now grown and living in Colorado and Pennsylvania. He said the hardest thing in moving is that he will be farther from his fifteen-month-old grandson who lives in Fort Collins, which was only an hour away from their home in Estes Park.
Austin is making the move to Moab with his wife Betsy Bair.
“She will be such an asset to the community,” Austin said. He praised her intelligence and her love for community.
Bair has a master’s in social work and looks forward to earning a license in Utah to practice.
The two love to hike and would visit Rocky Mountain National Park each weekend. They both look forward to exploring the outdoors in the Moab area.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to join the family at Moab Regional Hospital and to live in this beautiful community,” Austin said.