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Altru names new CEO

Brad Wehe

Altru Health System will embark on its new hospital construction under new leadership.

Altru announced Thursday that CEO Dave Molmen has announced his retirement and will be stepping down from his position at the end of this year. The board of directors of the health system already has chosen Molmen’s replacement in Brad Wehe, who currently serves as Altru chief operating officer.

Wehe’s appointment to CEO will begin Jan. 1, 2019, according to an Altru press release.

A statement from Altru Board Chair Kris Compton said Wehe is a “dynamic leader who understands all dimensions of the health care landscape.”

The release describes Altru’s plan for the future, which includes building a $250 million-plus hospital complex on its campus at 1200 S. Columbia Road in Grand Forks, as the system’s “New Era,” a concept that includes new and improved facilities, medical technology and service provision. That plan came together with Molmen at the helm.

Like Wehe now, Molmen was also formerly Altru COO before being promoted at the start of 2008. Molmen was in that earlier position to oversee the formation of Altru Health System after the 1997 merger of Grand Forks Clinic and United Hospital.

According to the Altru release, aside from his work at the health system, Molmen is also a member of the American Hospital Association Board of Trustees.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 40 years,” Molmen, 62, said in an interview. “I’m one of those lucky people who’s gotten to do the work that they love with the greatest people on earth.”

Molmen said he’s been working with Dr. Eric Lund, Altru president, and members of the board for “over two years now” to ensure a smooth transition for his retirement. The selection of Wehe as his replacement, he added, has been in the works for the past few months.

The appointment fills the top executive position in the health system, a post that comes with a salary to match. Altru wouldn’t provide the salary Wehe might expect for the job, but 2015 public documents filed by the not-for-profit health system show Molmen made $856,750 then. As COO, Wehe made $520,442.

An Altru representative said the COO position will be phased out after the transition. The duties of that office will be distributed to other members of the Altru executive team in a push for “increasing efficiencies and shared responsibilities.”

Wehe said in a Thursday interview the board hopes the timing of the succession plan is intended to keep leadership as “seamless” as possible -- a condition of greater importance when extensive changes are in the works.

Wehe, who started his career at Altru in 1989 as a physical therapist, identified the continued growth of the system as one of his key priorities moving forward.

At the heart of Altru’s “New Era” is a health care sector that is itself in transition.

“It’s in a pretty uncertain time,” Wehe said of the industry, listing disruptive elements such as changing technology and patient needs. He cited the planned hospital construction as a core element of the system’s plans for the future, but listed the facility as just one part -- emphasizing the broader changes Altru wants to make to service delivery.

His guiding focus there will be on “creating value in health care,” a philosophy he defined as providing care while “being more lean with the situation that any patient is involved with.”

“We’re figuring out ways to deliver health care more cheaply while making it more efficient,” Wehe said, breaking that down to an approach guided by improvements in both capital investments and staff training.

At any rate, it seems clear Altru is on the verge of changes made on multiple levels. And Molmen and Wehe aren’t the only ones whose job status is changing. Dwight Thompson, Altru treasurer and chief financial officer, is retiring June 30.

With uncharted territory ahead, Wehe said the Thursday announcement “feels good” and that he was excited to get started as CEO.

“It’s always a humbling opportunity to be called to serve at that level,” he said.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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