New CEO starts at West River (Video)

When he drove into Hettinger, he said it was like coming home.

Record Editor |

Matthew Shahan assumed the role of West River Health Services (WRHS) Chief Executive Officer on April 4, saying it was the culmination of his work through his education and past professional experience, and that he’s happy to return to this community. This is Shahan’s second stint in Hettinger with West River, previously working in the Information Systems department.

Matthew Shahan started at West River Health Services on April 4 as the new Chief Operating Officer. Shahan is replacing the retiring Jim Long, who has been with the healthcare facility for over 30 years. (Photo by Cole Benz/Adams County Record)
Matthew Shahan started at West River Health Services on April 4 as the new Chief Operating Officer. Shahan is replacing the retiring Jim Long, who has been with the healthcare facility for over 30 years. (Photo by Cole Benz/Adams County Record)

Shahan replaces the retiring Jim Long. Long has been with WRHS for over three decades and is slated to finish in early June. He will be consulting Shahan during the next few months.

Shahan said he was brought up to be involved with and to improve his community, he plans on abiding by that philosophy in his new role.

“It really was just a natural progression to bettering the community and being involved in the community and being able to make a difference,” Shahan said.

Shahan grew up in Colstrip, Mont. and graduated from Colstrip High School before pursuing further education at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton where he was a member of the school’s football team. Earning his degree in Information Systems, Shahan then attended the University of Montana to pursue a business degree. There he was a member of the Track and Field team.

After living in San Francisco for a few years, Shahan and his wife decided they wanted to move out of the big metro area and found a home in Hettinger in 2009.

He spent two-and-a-half years in the Information Systems department before expressing his interest in hospital administration.

After conversing with Long at the time, Shahan enrolled in the University of Mary’s MBA in Healthcare program while still employed with West River.

Shahan then spent the next four-and-a-half years at the Glendive Medical Center (Montana) in a multitude of leadership positions, including the Director of IT, Clinic Administrator and the Head of Strategic Planning.

His desire to come back to Hettinger was two fold. On the professional side, he always knew he wanted to move into a CEO role of a healthcare facility; on the more personal side, he said his family grew to love Hettinger. With the fondness he and his family developed for the community, they knew that making this move was the right choice.

“Since we moved here in 2009, we absolutely love the community of Hettinger,” Shahan said. “We really like Hettinger and this is where we want to be.”

Shahan said that his understanding of industrial technology (IT) and how it impacts medicine is an asset he will be bringing to the CEO position. He said playing that ‘translator’ between entities is a skill he developed during his time in San Francisco.

“Part of my job in San Francisco was relaying IT to non-IT people,” Shahan said.

He also has experience with implementing technological changes, at the Glendive Medical Center he oversaw the facility move into a new EMR system. Shahan said that having that hands on experience should also help with his ability to communicate.

“[To] kind of have that hands on experience with how what we, as administration, are asking providers to do, how it impacts their daily lives, how it impacts their ability to provide care to their patients,” Shahan said. “And then being able to react to that to try to make changes in a positive way for them.”

Communication will be a big part of how Shahan does his job, he said, and he will want to keep that line of communication open with the community, which is something he believes is important for the CEO. A key to successful community outreach, according to Shahan, is just being present and available.

“In a small community, people want to be able to talk to you about what they think could better the community and maybe how West River could help with that,” Shahan said. “You have to be present and you have to be willing to sit down and talk with everybody.”

One thing he would like to see sustained is the hospital’s independence.

“As long as we can remain independent I think we can truly deliver the care that our patients need and our patients deserve in a rural area,” he said.

Shahan will always be looking to find ways to improve the current processes too. Looking at the process, and being aware of efficiency opportunities is something that will be ongoing, and not only to improve how the providers perform their job, but also to keep costs down for patients.

“We always have to be looking for efficiencies,” Shahan said. “All a cross the board we have to look at it, because in the end all the costs we have are passed to our patients, we need to be able to keep those costs as low as possible so we can have affordable healthcare.”

Making sure patients are not receiving duplicate services is just one example Shahan cited as something they may be able to improve.

As he walked in on his first day he was reacquainted with many staff members he knows from his first employment at West River. He joked that they were happier to have his wife back in town then himself.

“Just to be a part of the community again was a great feeling,” he said. “It truly feels like coming home to my wife and I.”

Shahan and his wife, who is a nurse, have two young daughters.