Friday, April 24, 2020

Turnarounds and Transitions

In 1992 after eight years of leading successful hospital turnarounds I was without a job. The stress of 16-hour days to keep hospitals open and battle angry unions and staff as well as being away from home for weeks at a time caused somewhat of a meltdown. I lost my moral compass and judgment that I needed to juggle an intense career with two teenage boys and my wife hundreds of miles away.  I was let go because of my own issues.  I did not know the Lord, but He was using this trial as a transition for me.

Because of God’s grace, I found faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord in the process of finding myself. I have written in my books This is The Way, Walk in It as well as in my latest book, Hospital Parables: “Front Office To Bedside,” how God met me on a snow-packed highway along Lake Superior late on a Friday night trying to get back home from a marathon week leading a dramatic hospital financial turnaround. The hospital, which was going to close was now well on the way to a strong comeback to be the sole provider for nearly 100 miles.  The transitional and turnaround work was successful, but my life was in shambles. Hearing the invitation from God over the only radio station available, I knelt in the deep snow in the headlights of my car, repented and received Jesus into my heart. A new journey had begun.  My turnaround had begun.

I would lead one more hospital turnaround, with a newfound but a newborn’s faith. I needed discipleship. Yet before I could find spiritual help I was without a job. Probably a good thing as God wanted me to stop, listen to Him and rebuild my life and family. As well, I needed to take care of my mother, dying of Alzheimer’s and alcohol related dementias. This several year journey led to many transitions for my mother and growing faith for me. God spoke audibly to me in a counselor’s office, “This is The Way, Walk in It!”  Both of us clearly heard God, but only I heard His admonition for my life. I have been seeking and writing about His “Most excellent way” with zeal since.

I am writing this piece because I have left out another transition in my life; I believe all times are a transition to something new. I was at a seeking period in my life when a graduate school classmate that I knew very well reentered my life. He led a very prominent,  “brand name” consulting and education company. His name still is synonymous with hospital medical staff organization and quality.  He invited me to join him as a consultant, teacher and writer. I had led several hospitals through the muck and mire, but I was not a teacher or speaker. He suggested I begin teaching at Concordia University to help gain this skill. He also provided for me to attend perhaps the preeminent public speaking “boot camp” for executives. The transition was God ordained and very challenging. I was no “Rock Star” like my friend, as he had groupies and a host of disciples. His generosity allowed me to consult with nearly 100 hospitals across the country, speaking to the finest medical staffs.  I had the privilege of serving from Oregon State University Medical School to the New York, California and 20 states in between. I conducted “Mock” accreditation compliance surveys and revamped credentialing and quality improvement programs. I was not the brand name and it showed. But little did I know at the time that God was using this work to develop my skills to be a teacher, preacher and writer of the Gospel. He was preparing me to write books and present His Word to billions across the globe.  However, there would be another hospital transition in store for me. I would become one of the first corporate compliance officers in the nation as HHS regulations put hospitals at great legal and financial risk for potential false claims or non-compliance issues.  I had started Bethel Seminary in St. Paul at the time traveling frequently to the Twin Cities for intensive classes. Children’s Health System of Wisconsin let me develop their corporate compliance program. This experience allowed me to be called by the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville to do the same. This patrician of a Sothern university was founded in 1803 by Thomas Jefferson and possesses one of the nation’s finest medical schools and health systems.

 In the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains and several former presidents and patriots’ homes, this world-class University trains and does research in a broad range of industries from health care, nuclear and engineering. Federal regulations and laws abound to oversee these efforts. Being out of compliance with some is inevitable. Here I would audit, teach and write about these tough issues. This was a southern university not accustomed to anyone watching over them since before the Civil War. High-ranking professors and prestigious researchers took umbrage with the process. Fortunately I reported to the heads of the university and medical school, who were both strong evangelical Christians. Often I was in Washington D.C. battling with Federal agencies on compliance issues. Legal help usually accompanied me past the monuments to the concrete Federal triangle. The university said that they hired a “Yankee” so they would not feel badly to fire or allow him to go to prison for their own non-compliance. The test was intense. I could say an eventual turnaround for the university was transitioning. Again the stress for me was almost unbearable except for God’s people. I have written how during this trial, God added what would be diagnosed as a potentially fatal virus or illness that had no known cure. The tick- borne illnesses that I contracted caused a downhill spiral that was deemed futile. God however intervened as I prayed out loud Psalm 103, praising the God who heals all your diseases. My fever broke and frozen limbs loosened up immediately and miraculously. I was healed even though my transition to full health would take a while. I resigned my position at UVA to return home to Wisconsin where I would begin my transition into healthcare chaplaincy and our sons’ transition to leave home and “Go West young man” for dentistry, hunting and fishing.

As I began consulting for Aurora Healthcare in Wisconsin I was able to transition to be a part-time chaplain in a continuing care community (CCC) they owned. Soon I transitioned to become the first chaplain in their psychiatric hospital. Shortly thereafter the CCC was sold to another CCC and the new owners required me to leave Aurora and become their employee. I began a difficult transition to be a student in a healthcare chaplain internship as well as being a full-time chaplain in the company. Here I completed seminary training and began my ordination process in the Christian Congregational Church.

Under the duress of a difficult boss I decided to take a new position to lead the spiritual care department for Roger’s Memorial Health System. This was a difficult transition, as all seem to be. The challenge was beyond my capability, although I learned amazing lessons concerning caring for the mentally ill and addicted. Serving five campuses was too much for me. But God intervened allowing me to undergo a hip “resurfacing.”  During my convalescence I was led by the other chaplain to begin to write. I wrote Great is God’s Faithful, a Devotional Based On The Psalms. So began my writing career. This was another transition point that I would not fully recognize until my next transitions.

 God intervened again in a crisis at my church and I was asked to serve as Director of Congregational Care.  I hoped for a tranquil transition, but that would not be. The Senior Pastor was not gifted for this ministry and his behaviors brought chaos and pain to the church. Three of the four pastors were forced out, leaving only me to transition the church back to stability. The implosion brought spiritual and emotional agony to several hundred parishioners who abandoned the church. In the interim transition I cared for many and taught and preached while leading a grief process. The process was successful, but left me emptied of health, hope and help.  Again, God intervened and healed me of my despairing depressive state. I was totally healed miraculously as I was at UVA.  This Pentecost Sunday Holy Spirit embrace brought healing and joy that has not ceased since. I resigned from the church when God allowed. I had stayed the course and finished race. It was time to transition back to hospital chaplaincy.

Froedtert and The Medical College of Wisconsin brought me on board as a call pool chaplain, working weekends and odd shifts at Froedtert Hospital, a private teaching hospital. This transition back into hospital chaplaincy was difficult as well, but opened the opportunity to move to a place that I call the “friendliest hospital,” also part of the Froedtert System.  This seems like the place I will finish my employed career in chaplaincy. There is one unit, ironically mental health, where my services are not appreciated. People are funny. Otherwise my ministry has been well received.

My schedule allows me to write part-time and publish a written and spoken blog concerning walking with God called,  I have published or scheduled over 300 essays with accompanying You Tube sermons that have gone across the globe. The most fascinating finding is that there are some 500 people in Ukraine reading the blog in a country hostile to Christianity. May God grant them rest and peace.

So back to the beginning. It seems that the generosity of a friend lifted me out of unemployment to God’s calling for me, to write and preach the Gospel in and out of season. I will be forever grateful for his largess in my transition and turnaround.

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