Sterling Area Health Center CEO stepping down
STERLING — After close to 30 years of serving as the president and CEO of the Sterling Area Health Center, Roger Rushlow has decided it is time for somebody else to call the shots at the multi-county health provider.
Rushlow said he started at Sterling Area Health Center in 1979 as a health educator. He said he stayed in the position for approximately three years before serving as an assistant director for one year. From that position, Rushlow was promoted to chief executive officer.
“After 34 years and lots of great time to interact with the community, I think it’s time for somebody else to step in and carry the ball forward,” he said. “It’s a good time to transition and spend some time with my wife. We’ve got a place in Arizona that we’ll be spending time in during the winter.”
Rushlow, who currently lives in Tawas, said he is proud of the progress SAHC has made during the three decades he has been active as president and CEO. As an organization, it has grown from one medical campus in Sterling to having three offices in two counties, including two in Ogemaw County.
“When we first started we had only this location, and we had a facility that was only about 3,500 square feet,” he said. “Now it’s 16,000 square feet. In addition, we’ve grown to those two locations in southern Ogemaw County.”
SAHC operates a dental clinic in Mills Township on Rifle River Trail and a one-physician clinic in Skidway Lake, both of which were opened in the ’80s.
Rushlow said the offices were opened up to spread SAHC’s mission of providing low-cost quality health care to the area. Dental care for low-income people was especially needed, Rushlow said.
“We really saw the need for dental care in the area,” he said. “There weren’t any dental providers seeing Medicaid patients.”
Growing outside of Sterling took a commitment and vision by leaders at the health center, including the volunteer board members, Rushlow said. Being able to work alongside the board and SAHC employees to provide care to people who may not be able to have received it otherwise has been the most satisfying part of the job, Rushlow said.
“I think helping folks get affordable, high-quality health care has really been the key to our mission, and what has been most satisfying to me — to be able to see just a few hundred patients from the onset to seeing more than 6,000 now,” he said.
One of the ways the health center has been able to increase its patients to 6,000 has been to expand its original campus in Sterling, Rushlow said.
“We went, essentially, from one family practice physician and physician’s assistant to a clinical staff of 12,” he said.
The increase in staff included adding a pediatrics department and a behavioral health department with psychiatrists and social workers and substance abuse counseling, Rushlow said. The dental outreach has also grown and the office is up to eight operatories with two dentists, he said.
In fact, the number of employees of all sorts has ballooned over the three decades Rushlow has worked at SAHC. He said there were about six employees his first day in 1979. Now, he said there are about 80 people employed by SAHC, and its annual operating budget has grown from $300,000 annually to $6 million.
SAHC has also become a leader in Michigan when it comes to providing preventive care to low-income patients, Rushlow said. He said the center provides screenings to its patients that can help detect cancer and other diagnoses.
“We’re always very high in the state, amongst the leaders really, in terms of having patients get those preventive measures,” he said.
Rushlow’s final day will be Nov. 18. Until then, he is working with his replacement, Bill Wypyski. Wypyski said he has been impressed with Rushlow ever since he was first interviewed as a potential replacement more than two months ago.
“Getting to know Roger in the interview process, I had a feeling when we talked of his leadership style and the culture he helped to create here, and it felt very much in line with my own leadership style,” he said. “It’s been a good transition, and working with Roger during the transition has been fantastic.”
Wypyski was the CEO of Harrington Family Health Center in Harrington, Maine. He said he took a look at the Sterling job because he wanted to continue working at a Federally Qualified Health Center, and was interested in the whole-person care offered by SAHC.
While Wypyski has recently met Rushlow and been impressed with him, Vicki Flanagan, like many SAHC employees, has known Rushlow for years.
“I’ve been here 20 years, and Roger’s been here 35 years. I’ve learned very much from him,” she said. “Roger’s a very fair person. He treats everyone with respect. He’s a go-getter. It’s going to be hard to let someone go after all these years.”