One of four articles in the series Young Rural
Healthcare Leaders Share Experiences and Insights.
Benjamin Anderson, Age
CEO, Kearny County Hospital (Lakin, Kansas)
Kearny County Hospital is a 25-bed Critical Access
Hospital and comprehensive health complex that serves
patients of 30 nationalities within a 180-mile
- BA in English, MBA, Drury University
- Master of Health Care Delivery Science,
Accomplishments and Recognition
- Hospital gross revenue increased by 35%
- Eliminated the use of locum tenens physicians
through the creation of a regional provider sharing
- Recruited 10 providers, allowing the hospital to
re-open its services to out-of-county patients
- Named Becker's Hospital Review's
2016 Rising Star: Healthcare Leaders Under 40
- Named Modern Healthcare's
2014 Up & Comers
What was your path to your current position as
Through my connections at Drury University's business
school, I was hired as a medical staffing consultant for
rural hospitals located in the Pacific Northwest. During
that time, I became fascinated with the role that a
hospital CEO plays in his or her community. Although I
enjoyed matching people's passions with an organization's
mission, I realized that, at the end of the day, all I
was doing as a medical staffing consultant was taking a
physician from one community and putting him or her in
another one for a fee. I wasn't really helping the
system. I decided that what I really wanted to do was
become a hospital CEO by the time I was 40.
I interviewed to become a director for a pain management
service line at Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center
in Dallas, Texas. That seemed like a natural introduction
into healthcare leadership. Through some persistence and
many early-morning cold calls to hospital CEOs in Kansas,
where my wife grew up, I was offered and accepted a CEO
position at Ashland Health Center in rural Kansas in
2009. It was my first job in a healthcare facility and my
first introduction to rural living. I worked there for
nearly five years before being recruited as CEO at Kearny
County Hospital in 2013.
What has been your most effective innovation at
Kearny County Hospital?
A wise physician once said to me (lightheartedly),
“CEOs, they can do nothing productive by
themselves. Any contribution from them comes
through the work of other people, but by themselves, in
the absence of accountability, they can cripple an
organization.” We chuckled about it, but we
both knew it was true. “We” is much
better — and more accurate — than
At Kearny County Hospital, we have developed a culture
that has allowed us to recruit medical staff – everything
from a sustainable on-call structure to building a sense
of trust between medical providers and administration.
For example, earlier this week, my wife and I babysat a
physician's two-year-old daughter so he could have a date
with his wife. More important than strategy, managing
human resource issues, or negotiating contracts with
payers is communicating that we care about our team
members and their families.
What I am telling them is, 'It's great if you want to
serve in Somalia. Go to Somalia. In fact, I'll go with
you, but you can also serve Somalis here.'
We have also implemented a successful
model for medical provider recruitment that allows
our medical providers to have extended time off and we
encourage them to use it for medical service overseas.
The area's political refugees have become the most
significant draw for many of the people we are recruiting
– people who are “wired” to serve in
the most challenged parts of the world. So every
interview we conduct with a new physician includes a tour
of the nearby Tyson Foods plant. It's not so much the
meatpacking they're interested in; it's the
“United Nations meeting” happening in
the lunchroom. What I am telling them is, “It's
great if you want to serve in Somalia. Go to Somalia. In
fact, I'll go with you, but you can also serve Somalis
here. Learn Somali, learn the culture, and build
relationships with them.” We get a call a few
times per month from medical providers who want to work
here, in part because of the multicultural experience it
What impact did that innovation have on patients,
your facility, and your community?
It makes financial sense to take care of our team in
order to prevent burnout. The resulting economic impact
has been positive. When we were struggling financially,
three of our medical providers volunteered pay cuts to
help get us through. They walked into my office
individually and offered changes to their contracts (when
things improved, I went back to them and reversed those
changes). I've never heard of that. But that's
the trust that we share with one another.
The Tyson Foods plant and growth of the refugee
population is affecting our organization financially, and
we are adding more than 2,000 new patients per year. Over
the past 12 years, our annual number of baby deliveries
has increased from 98 to 327, with patients coming from
up to 120 miles away. Many of these patients are insured
by Blue Cross Blue Shield through Tyson and we are
finding them to be amazing people – fiercely loyal. When
we love them and when we support them, they bring their
friends. We've had many of them in our homes for meals.
They are like family to us now, and some of them are
choosing to receive their healthcare at Kearny County
As a young leader in rural healthcare, what is
the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you
During my interview at Ashland Health Center, the Board
Chair was honest with me and said, “Our
building is 55 years old and poorly maintained. Our
finances are upside down. Our morale is low and turnover
is high. We have very little money left in the bank and
if this hospital closes, we will lose our school. And if
we lose our hospital and our school, we'll lose our town.
To lead us, I believe this community is ready for a
normal, compassionate human being who wants to be a
missionary to Ashland, Kansas. So, if you fit that
description, I'm going to advocate for you despite your
youth and lack of experience.” It was a mutual
gamble and we trusted each other. So, I worked there for
five years, pouring my life into that place, working long
hours to help rehabilitate a broken culture – the Board
Chair mentored me along the way. We recruited four new
medical providers to join us and the team had many of the
answers to the complex problems we were facing. They just
needed a CEO who would listen to and support them.
Outside the hospital, we collaborated with our community
and several neighboring towns to host a charity
basketball game that involved WNBA players and U.S.
Olympians playing alongside local high school student
athletes. Fox Sports Network broadcast the game live in
over 35 states and won an Emmy Award for it. Sports
Illustrated printed a story. Over the past decade,
the games have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to
pay for cancer screenings for rural southwest Kansas
women. The most remarkable part of this story is that the
idea came from a 21-year-old dishwasher in our hospital
kitchen who had lost his grandmother to cancer. The best
ideas often do not originate in the C-suite. They come
from the local people working closest with patients and
with the community.
What drives your workplace motivation?
Two things: one is that I was poor, which helps me
empathize with people who are suffering. The second is my
Christian faith. I was born and raised in a diverse,
lower-middle-class neighborhood in California's Bay Area.
During my high school years, we lived well below the
poverty line. I remember what it was like to get
medications at a homeless shelter because we had no
access to healthcare. I went to a private college, but
was on every grant, scholarship, and financial aid I
could find to make it through. I promised that if I could
ever get out of poverty, that if I was ever able to end
up with an education and some professional influence, I
would leverage those resources for the common good.
Justice is one of my core values. I take literally the
call to serve the orphan, the widow, the poor, the
oppressed, the wounded, and the foreigner. I could work
in an inner city, or I could work in a rural, frontier
setting, as long as there is need.
What guidance can you offer to young
professionals considering rural hospital
Develop mentoring relationships. Listen to your mentors
and respect their time. If they are willing to share
their wisdom with you, remember that they are not your
therapist. Thank them for their support and follow up by
email, explaining how you applied their advice.
Before I left for work, from 6:30 to 7:30 in the morning,
I would give them a call and say, 'My name is Benjamin
Anderson and I'm a 29-year-old MBA from Dallas, Texas,
and I want to be like you when I grow up. What do I do?'
Before I learned of the CEO position in Ashland, I
committed to cold-calling hospital CEOs in Kansas for 90
days. Before I left for work, from 6:30 to 7:30 in the
morning, I would give them a call and say, “My
name is Benjamin Anderson and I'm a 29-year-old MBA from
Dallas, Texas, and I want to be like you when I grow up.
What do I do?” To my surprise, they actually
talked to me and gave me meaningful coaching. There were
very few millennials asking these 60-something folks for
advice, so they were more than willing to help me.
There are undeniable virtues one should have. Three of
them are compassion, a strong work ethic, and
“teachability.” There is nothing that
replaces hard work, and compassion is essential in this
industry. But the rarest of the three is teachability,
which requires humility. It is more than a willingness to
accept occasional rebuke and making a conscious effort to
improve. It is the conscious act of seeking out wisdom
from others; asking for feedback on personal performance,
communication, and character; and then making necessary
changes with gratitude.