SALEM - Salem Community Hospital CEO/President Howard Rohleder said he's a planner - when he plans something, he works through the plan.
When he retires June 30 after 20 years at the helm of the hospital's administration, he said he'll have no regrets.
Retirement is another plan completed after many years in the making, just like the many blueprints he's followed during his tenure to expand the hospital's services and help it remain an independent, community-based operation, always keeping the patients in mind.
"That's how I've approached my job and how I've approached my life," the 54-year-old Salem resident said about his penchant for planning.
He grew up the son of a general practice physician, so he was always close to the healthcare field, but in college, the business side of healthcare was more appealing to him. He graduated from Albion College in Albion, Mich. in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in economics and management. In 1982, he earned a Master of Health Administration degree from The Ohio State University.
His work experience included time as a health care consultant for Ernst and Whinney, at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus and as vice president of operations at Licking Memorial Hospital in Newark.
He came to SCH in 1992 as assistant administrator and was named Chief Operating Officer in 1996. He's been serving as Chief Executive Officer and President since 1998 and has been on board for several renovations since coming to Salem.
The first big project he was involved with was the 1994 overhaul of the emergency department, which he said enabled the hospital to go from serving 23,000 patients per year to serving 28,000 patients per year for emergency care. The hospital in the past two years completed a renovation of that department, with new paint, carpeting and the continued upgrading of equipment to today's technological standards.
In 2001, the hospital opened the Columbiana Medical Center, expanding its reach to the east with physicians, mammography and other services in one location.
In 2003, the first of three major projects on the main hospital campus occurred with a three-story front addition and construction of the Salem Medical Center across the street, connected by elevated walkway over State Street. Rohleder said they were able to bring in new doctors, open a sleep center and expand physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy services.
In 2006, the hospital opened a new central plant behind the hospital on the other side of Pershing Street, with an elevated walkway and utility corridor connecting it to the main campus. He said this enabled them to relocate support services and utilities, which had been antiquated.
The last big project was the 2009 surgery center, which Rohleder said "improved the flow and efficiency so more patients can be taken care of."
Over the years, he said they've been able to attract a number of new physicians and young, well-trained doctors. The hospital also boasts many physicians born and raised in the area, which he said speaks well of Salem that so many have returned to the place they grew up to practice.
"That's the lifeblood of a hospital, to have the right mix of doctors to serve the needs of the patients," he said.
Last month, Rohleder announced the hospital's next big project, a $42.5 million patient bed tower to be built on the east side of the facility to include 87 private, family-friendly, technologically advanced rooms on three floors, with a two-level parking deck below that and a ground floor with access to the cafeteria, a coffee kiosk and gift shop.
He'll be turning over the reins for that project and the hospital operations to new SCH President/CEO Steve Ruwoldt, who was named as his replacement. The two have been working together on the transition, with Rohleder bringing him up-to-date on the history of things done in the past.
When asked what accomplishments give him the most pride, he said the building projects are the most noticeable to the public, but "the expansion of services is what's most satisfying to me because it increases care to patients."
Rohleder said he and his wife, Susan, who's been volunteering at SCH for 20 years, will remain in Salem. He said he's staying involved with the community and she's continuing to volunteer. He agreed in January to accept appointment to the Salem City Board of Education, knowing that he was retiring. He said it's an important role that can also be a time-consuming role.
He's continuing to be involved in the Salem Rotary, which he joined 20 years ago, and the Salem Area Industrial Development Corporation, which is involved in economic development in the area.
On a more personal note, his first grandchild turns 1 in July, so they'll be traveling for his birthday celebration. Their daughter, Laura, lives in Cincinnati and works as a physician's assistant. Their son, Kevin, the father of the birthday boy, lives in Sterling, Virginia and works as a software engineer. Rohleder's father is deceased, but his mother lives at Copeland Oaks, so he'll be able to spend more time with her.
He's also a member of the board at the Salem Community Center and likes to workout and likes to run.
"We enjoy the outdoors," he said.
He'll miss the staff he's worked with over the years and said "I've developed working relationships and friendships I'll miss."
Rohleder credited good fiscal management over the years for SCH remaining independent, noting the hospital board and managers have done what's necessary to make sure SCH is financially sound. He praised the hospital staff and said the hospital has been fortunate with many longtime employees who live here and serve here.
His advice for Ruwoldt was to "stay the course." He said he has a good track record of being visible and he's already started to get out in the community.
"The hospital is certainly positioned well for the future," he said.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at email@example.com