Nathan Vander Plaats has settled into his role as the executive director for Promise Community Health Center in Sioux Center over the last three months.
Here are his thoughts:
Q. As you reflect on your first few months as Promise CHC’s executive director, what have they been like for you?
A. Overall, it has been a great experience! I’ve got a great team in place here, and everyone is so enthusiastic about their work. Of course, any time you’re the new guy there are plenty of things to learn, and this is no exception to that rule. A fair amount of my energy has been spent learning more about Community Health Center operations and about our patient population, as well as learning more about our employees and their families. This learning process never ends, but I’m really looking forward to also being able to work on building what our organizational culture will look like for the next several years.
Q. What has stood out to you about Promise as an organization?
A. I think it’s in great shape as an organization. Financially and operationally, Promise is in a great position in terms of planning and having the technical capacity to carry out whatever may lie ahead. That is amazing – an organization the size and age of Promise typically would not be at this stage, which really speaks to the progress Nancy and her team have made over the last 10 years. That level of health really allows us to focus strategically on how we can continue to meet community health needs over the course of the next 5-10 years.
Q. Has your perspective about Promise changed any from your initial impressions? Is so, how?
A. If anything, my initial impressions have become stronger! I absolutely love the people I get to work with every day. We have great providers, awesome nurses, dental hygienists, dental and medical assistants, receptionists and outreach workers, and they are a joy to work with. They all want Promise to perform to the highest levels, but they also know how to have fun!
Q. With an enriched perspective about Promise, what do you hope you can bring to the health center as it prepares to enter its second decade of operation?
A. Even at 10 years, Promise is still young and we have a lot of growth ahead of us. A lot of that growth – at least operationally – will be spelled out in strategic planning, but on the whole what I want to bring is a transition to a new level in our organizational life cycle. For me, that revolves around two things: culture and impact. Continuing to build a strong culture that focuses on employee strengths, allows employees a level of autonomy in their work, and makes Promise a great place to work is one of my top priorities every day. If an organization can build that kind of culture, the second piece – impact – becomes easier and easier. A culture where people are trusted and empowered to perform will help us reach more people and impact their lives in a meaningful way.
Q. How do you view your role your leadership role as Promise’s executive director?
A. Well, first, I should say that I don’t see leadership so much as a role as I see it as an attitude. I think anyone in any position in an organization can hold a leadership role. I just don’t see it as something based on a position in a hierarchy. To me, leadership in an organization is more about having the permission of those who work with me to lead them toward our shared goals. That permission involves a high level of trust in face of the unknown, so it is vital to build positive relationships with each member of the team.
In terms of how I lead, I like to refer to my leadership style as long-rope leadership. I give those under my care the room they need to operate and do their jobs, providing feedback and support as they need it. But I also incorporate what I call mistake-led learning into this work style. Think about how people learn best; how many times does a child put their hands in a closing door? Hopefully, only once, as they learned from the first experience that keeping their fingers in the door is a pretty painful experience. That core biological way of learning never leaves us. I believe that when people make mistakes and are given the room to learn from those mistakes as opposed to simply being scolded, it not only gives them room to experiment and innovate, it also gives them the support they need to continue progressing in their career goals.
Q. Now that you are settled into this role, what are your goals for the months ahead?
A. Well, Promise has some pretty important events coming up this year. We are working on wrapping up our building project that the community has been supporting. We hope to have all of the external renovations completed early this spring. I have to say, a lot has changed on this building since its days as a bowling alley.
Also, as a Federally Qualified Health Center, we receive periodic site visits to review our operations and ensure we are in compliance with standards. We have that visit coming up in June, and Nancy has been consulting with us to make sure we have our ducks in a row. We are looking forward to this site visit, and we see it as an opportunity to get expert feedback on how we can continue to strengthen our programs and services.
Last, I’m really looking forward to forming collaborative relationships with our community stakeholders. I honestly believe that when organizations come together to work toward common goals, the community and those organizations benefit and become stronger.
Q. Why is a Community Health Center such as Promise important to the greater community and region?
A. Community Health Centers offer a wide range of benefits to the areas they serve. Most important among those benefits is the availability of high-quality medical, dental, vision and behavioral care without regard for a person’s ability to pay for that care. That person can be down on their luck, homeless or even a person with health insurance but a high deductible that they can’t afford. This is incredibly important for a community. When everyone in a community or county or region has access to quality care, that community becomes healthier. Workers that otherwise may have been ill can come to work healthy. Their kids aren’t home from school and missing out on important learning opportunities. The bottom line is that when people are healthy, communities are healthy and prosper.
Q. When people hear the name Promise Community Health Center, what do you hope comes to their minds?
A. Access and quality. We are open to anyone, for any reason, and offer quality-focused programs with a genuine desire of building healthy people, families and communities.