Holland Hospital’s new CEO: Ready to lead ‘through this new era’

Patti VanDort began her new role as Holland Hospital CEO at the end of January.
VanDort brings experience in strategic planning and operations as well as a commitment to patient-centered care. With a career spanning 37 years, VanDort most recently served as Holland Hospital president from April 2022.

She began her career by following an aunt into the nursing field and earning her degree at Grand Valley State University, followed by her first job at Holland Hospital. She then started her master's degree with plans to teach, but after filling in for an evening shift supervisor on medical leave, she realized she loved leadership and switched her graduate studies to health care leadership.

 A year later, she moved up to a management position, the first in a series that led to joining the executive team in 2001 as vice president for nursing and chief nurse officer. She advanced in 2018 to senior vice president of hospital operations before serving as Holland Hospital’s president. 

New president chosen

In addition to VanDort’s appointment, Mark Pawlak was named president, also effective Jan. 29. Pawlak has held leadership positions in health care since 1991, joining Holland Hospital in 1998. Most recently Pawlak served as executive vice president, with other positions including senior vice president and vice president of ancillary services.
Mark Pawlak
“I am honored to steer the organization through this new era while ensuring we continue to deliver high-quality and compassionate care to our patients,” VanDort says. “Together with our exceptional team of skilled providers and dedicated staff, Mark and I look forward to continuing our efforts to improve the health of the communities we serve.”

Under VanDort and Pawlak, Holland Hospital was the only hospital in West Michigan to receive the five-star CMS rating since 2016. Under their leadership, it has performed among the top 10% of hospitals in value-based care, earning the Outstanding Patient Experience Award 15 years in a row, and was rated among the top hospitals in the nation for quality in areas such as surgical care, joint replacement and orthopedics.

“We are fortunate to have two individuals of Patti and Mark’s caliber within the Holland Hospital team who are ready to lead the organization forward,” says outgoing CEO Dale M. Sowders. “Both are well poised to uphold our strategy and continue delivering on our commitment to the lakeshore community and beyond,"

Long-serving CEO

Sowders was one of Michigan’s longest-serving hospital CEOs, with a tenure of more than 22 years. He will serve as vice chair of the board of directors through 2024. 
Dale M. Sowders
Since he began his career with Holland Hospital in 2002, Sowders guided Holland Hospital’s transformation from a highly regarded community hospital to a regional health care leader.

“While remaining responsive to the changing needs of the community, Dale led our organization to achieve benchmark outcomes in quality, service, and financial performance,” says VanDort. “He has served the Lakeshore community well and established a clear vision for the future.”

Throughout Sowders’ service, Holland Hospital consistently earned top designations by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), including receiving the CMS 5-star rating every year since the ratings began and ranking in the top 10% nationally in the Value-Based Purchasing program. 

From Healthgrades, Holland Hospital has earned the Outstanding Patient Experience Award for 15 consecutive years and ranks first in Michigan and among America’s 50 Best Hospitals for surgical care, placing it in the top 1% in the country. 

The hospital is also rated by Healthgrades as first in Michigan and among America’s 100 best hospitals for orthopedic surgery as well as one of America’s 100 best hospitals for joint replacement for five years in a row. 

The organization earned West Michigan’s Best & Brightest Companies to Work For award for 22 years in a row.

Under Sowders’ leadership, Holland Hospital maintained financial strength with investments in new services, advanced technology, expanded facilities and expert medical staff.

“It has been an honor to work alongside the remarkable people throughout Holland Hospital,” Sowders says. “This journey has been profoundly rewarding. I’m grateful for the hard work and dedication of every team member and proud of the accomplishments that we’ve achieved together.”

New CEO looks ahead

In her new role, VanDort is shifting from managing the operations to working with a board of directors to plan strategy.

"I will work more with physician groups and plan partnerships together with them. I will work more with other organizations like the University of Michigan in our partnership there and figuring out how we are going to keep care local. That's really our focus, to make sure we have access to excellent local care."

Holland Hospital

The Holland system has a 2,300-person workforce. Its service area includes 200,000 people along the lakeshore, from Ottawa County to Allegan County.

"Keeping care local means providing value, and value is defined for us as high-quality care and service at a low cost that comes with a personal touch because of our size. We don't want people to have to drive an hour to get care they can get here.”

She says the hospital leaves services such as high-level trauma care, pediatric ICU,  transplants and high-end cancer therapies.to larger facilities.

“We can cover about 80% of what the typical consumer would need. We're going to try to meet the vast majority of their needs here and do that locally."

Over the years that she has been in health care, she has seen how innovation and technology has advanced health care, vastly improving recovery times.

"Patients were in the hospital for a much longer period of time and they weren't nearly as sick. Now everything's done on an outpatient basis."

Van Dort says the biggest challenges to Holland Hospital are "the reimbursement environment and how health care is paid for,” and staffing. 

“We are fortunate here in Holland because of our size and our local flavor and the committed staff we have. While we struggled a bit during the pandemic with staffing, we're now at a much better place. Technology is important, but at its core, we need people to care for people."
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.