2016-12-29 / Front Page

Cheeseman Will Succeed Nelson As Hospital CEO

By Tom Pink


Karen Cheeseman will take over as the CEO of Mackinac Straits Health System next July, when she succeeds current CEO Rod Nelson in the position. Mr. Nelson has been the hospital’s CEO since September 1999. Here the two are pictured together in the lobby of the hospital Thursday, December 22. Karen Cheeseman will take over as the CEO of Mackinac Straits Health System next July, when she succeeds current CEO Rod Nelson in the position. Mr. Nelson has been the hospital’s CEO since September 1999. Here the two are pictured together in the lobby of the hospital Thursday, December 22. The Mackinac Straits Health System has appointed St. Ignace native and 16-year staffer Karen Cheeseman as chief executive officer effective this July, following the retirement of Rod Nelson, who has been CEO for 17 years. The hospital announced this week the appointment of Mrs. Cheeseman, who is currently chief operating officer.

The facility employs 302 people between its 15-bed hospital, rural health clinic, and 48-bed long-term care facility in St. Ignace, and medical centers in Mackinaw City, Cheboygan, and on Mackinac and Bois Blanc islands.

Mrs. Cheeseman holds a bachelor’s degree in human resource management from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in organizational management from Spring Arbor University. She serves on a variety of healthcare groups, including the Michigan and Health and Hospital Association’s Small and Rural Council.

She worked closely with Munson Health Care when MSHS affiliated with the health care system in 2015, and notes the affiliation has been beneficial to the hospital and the community.

“We share a lot of very similar values and our approach to health care,” she said.

The affiliation with Munson provides some behind-the-scenes changes, most notably in purchasing and information technology (IT).

“We’ve become a member of the Northern Michigan Supply Alliance through Munson and through that purchasing power, we’ve been able to recognize savings,” she said. “They have also been providing biomedical services that include maintenance on equipment throughout the hospital.”

The partnership with Munson has also brought a mobile magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) service. Meanwhile, Mrs. Cheeseman said she is waiting to see how and when a comprehensive information technology initiative throughout the Munson system will be put into place in St. Ignace.

“The goal is to have a consistent IT application for everyone within the system. They [Munson] are in the process of finalizing their vendor selection and a strategic plan for all of their affiliates,” she said. “This is another benefit that provides smaller hospitals with added resources when we share in this expertise.”

Mrs. Cheeseman said the additional help with resources is welcome as changes in health care delivery continue and regulations provide challenges. She said hospital administrators are keeping an eye on changes that are expected to come from the federal government as the new administration reviews its options with the Affordable Care Act.

“The Affordable Care Act will certainly be reviewed and, like many hospitals, we are waiting to see the results from that. In our business, that could result in some pretty significant changes in the delivery of health care,” she said. “That is something we are monitoring closely. As changes are rolled out, we will be preparing to respond to them and educate our patients and community.”

Mackinac Straits Health System and other health care providers, she said, are all facing similar challenges, with costs rising and insurance reimbursements declining. Another potential problem for MSHS and others is a projected physician shortage, something MSHS has been fortunate to avoid, so far.

“There are projected shortages for not only primary care physicians, but various professional staff. Rural areas face challenges in their abilities to recruit and retain professional staff,” she said. “We are fortunate at this point that we are not facing any significant vacancies or voids, but as time goes on, changes are projected to occur and we will need to respond to those shortages.”

As part of its plan to continue to recruit and retain physicians and professional staff, Mrs. Cheeseman said MSHS plans to construct a new professional/medical office building.

“We’re working closely with our foundation on a campaign to work toward that,” she said. “It will allow space for professional offices, such as administration, billing and coding, and it will provide additional space for visiting services that provide specialty care, which means less travel for our patients who may have had to go outside the community for certain specialties.”

In addition, Mrs. Cheeseman said she looks forward to continuing work with MSHS partners, including the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. An MSHSSault Tribe joint venture provided the land for the new facility in 2008 and other resources that resulted in both groups sharing the same building and some of its resources.

“We’re two separate entities — they have their employees and we have ours – and together we provide a wide variety of services. We partner on things as we can and as mutual interests arise. At this time, we’re sharing space for clinical services. They have been very gracious about sharing their space when it is available. We’re also providing services during off-hours, so tribal members have access during weekends, holidays, and after hours.”

Mrs. Cheeseman and her husband, Greg, have one daughter, Addison, 13. Gregory S. and his father, Gregory R., own Cheeseman Insurance in St. Ignace. Mrs. Cheeseman’s parents, John and Maureen Lipnitz, are preparing to retire and have transferred ownership of their St. Ignace True Value Hardware store to another daughter, Erica.

She said she is glad to be able to work professionally in her home community, noting, “It’s certainly not an opportunity all young adults in a rural setting have following completion of their degrees.”

Of her new appointment, Mrs. Cheeseman said, “I am honored to serve as Mackinac Straits’ next CEO. It is a privilege to work with a dedicated board of trustees, a core group of dedicated physicians, clinicians, leaders, and employees who work hard to serve our patients and community.

She will take on the CEO role on July 1, after longtime administrator Rod Nelson retires in June.

“Rod and I have worked closely on a succession plan that will ensure a smooth transition,” she said. “We feel that’s really important, making sure it is as seamless as it can be for employees and patients.”

Said Mr. Nelson: “Thanks to our dedicated staff and the support of our community, I am very proud of what our organization has been able to accomplish. It has been a privilege to work with so many talented board members during my time at MSHS. Karen’s experience will continue to move Mackinac Straits forward. She understands the value of fostering strong relationships, not only with our colleagues and our patients, but also with the community. Her knowledge and experience will be invaluable in dealing with the ever-changing world of healthcare.”

MSHS Board Chair Patrick Shannon agrees.

“Mackinac Straits has been very fortunate to have had very steady leadership with Rod as our CEO,” he said. “During that time, Karen has also demonstrated strong leadership qualities and commitment in her roles. While there will be challenges ahead, the board is confident that this seamless transition will continue our mission of providing local access and quality healthcare to the families and communities we serve.”

Fellow board member Richard Smith has worked with Mr. Nelson and Mrs. Cheeseman since they started at MSHS.

“Over the last couple of decades, Rod and Karen have been instrumental in developing Mackinac Straits Health System into a wonderful asset to our community. I had the privilege of chairing the special committee in 1999 that brought Rod to St. Ignace. Over the last 17 years, the transformation of our health system has been phenomenal. The credit goes to Rod, with the help of Karen and the dedicated staff at MSHS.”

“Karen has been very involved in all the progress we have enjoyed,” he added. “She has been active not only with our local facilities, but also at the state level with the Michigan Hospital Association.We are very proud to have her become our new CEO.”

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