Say what you will about Larry Mullins, who stepped down at the end of last year as the president and CEO of Samaritan Health Services (and people over the years have had many things to say), but there's no doubt that without his work, the mid-valley's health care picture would look very different than it does today.
Mullins, who was originally trained as a registered nurse but who kept gravitating toward management roles, arrived in the mid-valley 25 years ago to start work at what was then Good Samaritan Hospital. At the time, hospitals in Corvallis, Albany, Lebanon and along the Pacific Coast all were independent operations. Mullins had a sense of how the economics of health care were putting the squeeze on smaller hospitals and medical facilities.
As Mullins put it in a Sunday story by the Democrat-Herald's Alex Paul: "Our trade model was extremely challenged."
Which is a nice way of saying that, standing alone, the hospitals in the mid-valley were economically vulnerable. They could have been bought, as so many other smaller facilities have been, by out-of-state medical conglomerates. Worse, these facilities simply could have been forced to close their doors, aggravating the already tenuous health care situation facing residents in small-town and rural America.
Although he didn't act alone, Mullins was the point person for the long effort to convince these hospitals to band together to create Samaritan Health Services.
That wasn't easy work. Over the years, it's fair to say, a measure of distrust had built up among the region's medical facilities. It required long hours of tough negotiations and diplomacy to overcome that. But in June 1997, Lebanon Community Hospital became the first to merge with Good Samaritan. Albany General Hospital came on board in 1999. By 2002, the hospitals on the coast had joined as well.
At the time of its merger, the Lebanon hospital was financially stable. But Bob Adams, a retired pharmacist who has served on the hospital's board since 1969, says a merger of some sort was inevitable: "Health care was getting too complicated and too complex for Lebanon to survive," he said. "We would not have been able to keep up with the industry." Without Samaritan, that picture would have played out again and again in the mid-valley.
Mullins also played a key role in convincing the Western University of Health Sciences to place a new medical school in Lebanon; part of his goal was to see if training prospective doctors in the mid-valley would convince them to stay in the mid-valley. The campus has become a magnet for other mid-valley projects, such as the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home and a new health sciences complex for Linn-Benton Community College. Samaritan is a key player in the coordinated care organization that serves the mid-valley.
Mullins has been relentless about pursuing alternative revenue streams for Samaritan Health Services (he buys into the health care adage about how without a margin, there's no mission) and these have occasionally generated controversy. To list just two examples, Samaritan developed a housing complex for students on the site of its old hospital in Corvallis and launched a successful series of fitness centers. But one glance at the chaotic state of health care across the nation shows you why a health care administrator would want to find other sources of revenue to keep the operation afloat.
Health care across the nation still is in the midst of considerable change, to put it mildly. So one can hardly blame Mullins for stepping down and handing the keys to Doug Boysen, who has been serving as Samaritan's executive vice president and chief administrative officer. Boysen will have plenty of challenges to occupy his time. But Boysen (and the entire mid-valley) are in a much better position to deal with those challenges thanks to the work of Larry Mullins.