In 1913, one year before World War I began, what is now Tillamook County General Hospital (TCGH) opened its doors on the Oregon Coast. Changing hands several times throughout the next 60 years, TCGH eventually joined Adventist Health in the early seventies and in 1987, Wendell Hesseltine came on board as president and CEO.
“When I first came to Tillamook, it was like there was a revolving door. The CEO stayed two or three years, and it seemed the community never felt connected to the hospital,” said Wendell, who 20 years later has more than exceeded his original goal of outlasting his predecessors.
“The average turnover for CEOs in America in 3.7 years,” according to Larry Dodds, Adventist Health executive vice president and COO, and TCGH board chair. “Having such a long and dignified tenure speaks well for Wendell’s management capabilities and community relationships.”
To be sure, one of Wendell’s best assets has been getting involved. From joining boards such as the Tillamook Bay Community College Foundation, to sponsoring events for the United Way, Wendell said, “My team and I strived to let the community know their hospital was really there for them.”
“I know from experience at small hospitals, having a good presence is important,” he added. “Your community has to know you.”
Because of Wendell’s focus on relationships, when it came time for the hospital to expand and remodel in the late nineties, the community supported a $10.3 million bond issue to fund the improvements.
“We took a building designed for 1950s inpatient medical care and made it a current, more functional building,” said Wendell of the project that added 25,000 square feet to the original building and remodeled 38,000 feet of existing space.
Reminiscing about the complicated challenge, Wendell stated, “I attribute our success to the hospital’s outreach and our work building connections in the community.”
Deeply intertwined in building connections is another passion Wendell holds dear: mission service. Be it health fairs, free health screenings or the volunteer program “Faith in Action,” Wendell has made it a priority to bring service to his community.
“The biggest improvement in our mission focus happened about five years ago when we established a full-time chaplaincy department,” Wendell said. “Having a dedicated team to coordinate mission efforts has been a real blessing to our hospital and community.”
Wendell’s mission focus also included increasing community access to vital services. During his tenure, Wendell helped bring medical oncology, mobile PET/CT and dialysis clinics to Tillamook. As a result, patients no longer have to drive to larger cities for care.
“An important part of our strategic plan was to develop these much-needed medical services to improve care for our patients,” he said of the 45-bed critical access hospital.
“Through Wendell’s leadership in recruiting physicians and employees, not only has the hospital expanded, the local Seventh-day Adventist church and school have grown as well,” added Larry Dodds.
So it’s with a heavy heart that Wendell says goodbye to TCGH as he retires this year. “It’s hard to leave the people and the friendships, but I’m looking forward to change,” said Wendell, who will move to Southern California to help his son run a medical practice.
“Wendell is a friend as well as a colleague,” said Dodds. “He is a good, solid person and an honorable Christian man. Adventist Health will miss him greatly.”