DAYTON — Dale Polla, the new CEO at Columbia County Health System, says Dayton’s hospital is a perfect example of why critical access hospitals in rural communities are so important.
“Having a local primary-care hospital makes communities like Dayton and Waitsburg much stronger,” Polla says. “Not only does it provide needed health services, but it also provides a strong employment base.”
Polla, 63, was selected after an extensive search by the Columbia County Hospital board. He began his new job Oct. 1, succeeding Charlie Button, who left in May.
The Columbia County Health System operates Dayton General Hospital, along with Booker Rest Home, the Columbia Family Clinic in Dayton and the Waitsburg Clinic. It employs more than 100 people.
Polla moved to Dayton from Missoula, Mont., where he was administrator of the Missoula Health and Rehabilitation Center for about a year. Before that he spent seven years as CEO of Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, Wash. Three Rivers also is a critical access hospital.
Polla has also been an administrator at several other small nonprofit hospitals managed by Quorum Health Resources in Washington, Idaho and Montana.
Polla takes over a health system that has struggled financially in recent years. When Button arrived in 2008, CCHS had experienced seven straight years of losses, totaling $3 million. Button made major staffing and budget cuts and introduced new revenue-generating sources, including a new CT scanner and MRI services.
“Charlie did a great job turning things around,” Polla said. Polla says he feels the financial condition of the Columbia County Health System is sound now, and he sees no need for cuts in services or staff in the near future.
“Our goal going forward will be to encourage more local people to take advantage of the services we offer,” Polla said, “rather than driving to Walla Walla or Tri-Cities.”
Hospital District board chair Ted Paterson says Polla is an excellent fit for CCHS. “He’ll be a great leader to keep our system going strong into the future,” Paterson said. “He has a lot of experience with critical access hospitals.”
The Critical Access Hospital Program is a federal program that is administered in Washington by the Department of Health. It was established in 1997 to assure that residents of rural communities in the U.S., particularly Medicare recipients, have adequate access to health services.
Through the program, critical access hospitals receive guaranteed payments for treatment of Medicare patients. Hospitals in small rural communities must meet specific requirements to qualify for the program.
Polla said he and his wife, Kathy, are delighted by the reception they’ve received in Dayton and Waitsburg. “All of the people we’ve met since we’ve been here have been wonderful,” he said. “And we just love the way Dayton’s downtown has been restored.”