GUNNISON—Mark Dalley, chief executive officer of Gunnison Valley Hospital, will end his 40 year career in healthcare in December.
After a hard year in 2020, he now reports, “The hospital is in good shape. We are financially strong and continue to be independent.”
The Gunnison Hospital is a service district, which is a government entity, managed by a board, with representatives from the cities in Gunnison Valley. “We get no tax help—though the county did buy us a new ambulance,” he says.
During the coronavirus shutdown in much of 2020, the hospital was taking care of emergencies only. Procedures like knee surgeries and mammograms were cancelled, and the hospital took a financial hit.
Dalley says CARES Act money “offset some of the lost revenue.” The hospital also received grants to help purchase personal protective equipment (PPE).
State Bank of Southern Utah helped with an application that accessed money from the federal Payroll Protection Plan (PPP), which was actually part of the CARES Act, so employees could continue to be paid.
While semi-shut down, Dalley oversaw a quick remodel of two patient rooms to “negative pressure.” Air in the rooms is sucked out and recycled several times each minute, which inhibits spread of the airborne coronavirus.
Now the Gunnison Valley Hospital can care for COVID patients as long as they need less than 15 milliliters of oxygen. Those two rooms have been filled for the past month.
The new Delta variant of the disease is “wreaking havoc,” Dalley says. Without most of the people in the nation being vaccinated, he says, the coronavirus can mutate and break through the protection the current vaccination gives.
Dalley has been in charge at the Gunnison hospital for 10 years—since 2010.
Dalley was raised in Summit, a tiny community in Iron County. After his mission to New Mexico/Arizona for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he began to date a girl named Mary he knew from Parowan High School.
Today, the couple have six children, Cindy, Christopher, Amy, Aaron, Nathan and Necia, and 14 grandchildren.
Dalley earned his bachelor’s degree from Southern Utah University. He started a master of public administration program at BYU, thinking he’d like to be like the Cedar City manager, who was the father of one of his friends.
But while he was in school, “public employment took a downturn,” he says. People in his department encouraged him to “look at the healthcare track.” He did an internship at a hospital in Rexburg and enjoyed the rural hospital atmosphere.
“In a small hospital, you can get to know everybody,” he explains.
Upon graduation, Dalley worked for Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, St. George and Orem, and then worked for Mark Stoddard at the Rural Health Group (an organization involving several small hospitals).
Later, he took over managing a Catholic Health Initiatives Hospital in Ontario, just inside the eastern border of Oregon. He and his family lived just over the border, in Idaho, for 10 years.
When the hospital was sold and the new owners came in with their own managers, Dalley heard through a friend about an opening in Gunnison. He and Mary loved Idaho, but liked the idea of living closer to their grandchildren, many of whom were in Utah.
After Mark got the job in Gunnison, they settled in Mayfield, where they intend to stay permanently, since four of their six children live nearby in Utah County.
As CEO, Dalley watches over 200 employees working for a multi-million-dollar non-profit business that covers almost an entire city block.
“We can’t do everything, but what we do, we do very well,” he says.
The complaints the hospital receives are mostly people upset about their bill, not the care they received. “Our staff does a phenomenal job,” he says.
For a long time, the hospital has offered a discount to patients able to pay their bills up front. “When you consider the cost to collect a claim, it saves us time and money, and we want to pass that along to patients,” he says.
For those unable to pay right now, Dalley is sympathetic. “Healthcare is expensive. We have lots of programs to help people.”
Dalley has worked to expand the hospital’s services, such as offering tele-behavioral health, tele-stroke, tele-neurology and soon, tele-oncology. The hospital has opened a clinic in Manti and will be adding a pharmacy to the clinic.
One of Dalley’s accomplishments was helping create a master plan for hospital expansion. Three years ago, the hospital completed a major expansion. It renovated an operating room and added to two more operating rooms, plus an endoscopy suite.
One of the operating rooms is not scheduled so it’s ready for emergencies. The basement underneath the new rooms holds a state-of-the-art sterilization area and a Laminar flow lab for the pharmacists (some sensitive medicines need to be prepared in a vacuum).
The next step in the master plan is to update the obstetrical unit by taking down Dr. Jan Christensen’s former office. Eventually halls with patient rooms will make a complete circle in the hospital. After that, expanding the emergency room will come to the top of the master plan list.
The helicopter pad will remain. “We have a surprising number of helicopter transfers that go north,” Dalley says.
Dalley says before he leaves, he will have time to introduce incoming CEO Brenda Bartholomew to healthcare leaders around the state. He is confident nothing will change dramatically when she takes over. “She’s very capable,” he says.
As CEO, Dalley meets with other hospital managers in the Rural 9, an association of nine rural hospitals. They keep up on legislation, such as the bill that passed in the last Utah Legislature allowing physician assistants to practice independently.
In his first healthcare job out of college, after a hard day, Dalley wrote in his journal: “I don’t know if I can do this.”
Looking back now, he says, he enjoyed his career.
“Fantastic, very dedicated, capable people work in healthcare,” he says.