Allan Atkinson of Decorah, Iowa, has begun serving as interim chief executive officer and president at Columbus Community Hospital.

Atkinson, who stays in Madison during the week and makes the three-hour drive home on weekends, has 28 years of experience in healthcare administration. He retired in 2008 after 10 years as CEO at the Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah. For the past two years he continued to serve there as a paid consultant.

Prior to his work in Decorah, he was a regional vice president of Mercy North Iowa in Mason City, serving as CEO of a hospital in their network.

He grew up in San Diego, and moved to Iowa in 1995.

CCH found Atkinson through B.E. Smith of Kansas City, a health-care recruitment firm.

"They're nationwide," Atkinson said of B.E. Smith. "It's a very well-known company."

Atkinson has gotten used to Columbus and his first interim position very quickly.

"The only negative aspect of it is just being away from home so much," he said. "It's just been great. I am really enjoying this assignment."

He plans to be here until a new permanent CEO and president is hired, which he anticipates coming in April or May.

Atkinson said that as of last week about 170 applications had already been received for the position. B.E. Smith, which has also been hired to conduct the search for the permanent position, has narrowed those applicants down to 80.

"They will present finalist candidates," Atkinson said. He expects that to happen by the end of February or early March. The CCH board will make the final hiring decision.

Ed Harding spent 10 years as president and CEO of CCH before moving on early this month to assume the same role at the Bay Area Medical Center in Marinette. Atkinson came on board during Harding's last week on the job.

Atkinson explained what his main focus will be during his time here.

"The way Ed put it - just make sure you keep the balls in the air," he said. "I'm still in the initial evaluation and assessment mode of what I am able to observe here."

"Virtually every financial indicator with which hospital financial performance is measured is either above average or excellent," Atkinson stated.

He said he has also taken note of high patient and employee satisfaction.

"My primary responsibility is in making sure that, prior to my departure and before the arrival of the new CEO, I will be able to make recommendations to the board of directors regarding opportunities to enhance services and/or revenues," Atkinson said. "Also, to see if there are any concerns that need addressing regarding management issues of the hospital, staffing or other related areas that need to be analyzed and considered."

"Things here are in fine shape," Atkinson stated. "My impression so far at CCH is that the staff here are some of the most warm and welcoming that I have encountered in my career. I think this community is very fortunate to have such a fine hospital staff who are not only professional but friendly and caring."

"I think it will be an enjoyable assignment to be here," he stated.

Atkinson's wife Christine is a licensed, independent clinical social worker, and owns an outpatient mental health business in Decorah.

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