Bruce Viessman: ‘See the big picture’

It helps when you have a can-do attitude and a good team around you. Don’t let little things get you down.

Bruce Veissman

Whether it’s working with Sanford Health regional facilities or independent hospitals and clinics, Bruce Viessman meets local leaders where they are, participating in the state hospital associations, visiting small town clinics and hospitals and having coffee in local cafes.

The former baseball and basketball enthusiast –- now avid golfer and passionate Minnesota Twins sports fan – exudes a feeling of teamwork and collaboration. But don’t let the big grin and warm handshake fool you, Viessman has the spirit of a competitive athlete who hates to lose and works hard to achieve his goals.

These attributes are part of what makes him successful as the vice president of operations for the Sanford Health Network in North Dakota and western Minnesota.

How did you get to where you are now?

I graduated with accounting and finance degrees from Minnesota State University, Mankato, then received an MBA from Southwest Minnesota State University. I returned to my hometown of Worthington, Minnesota, and worked for a CPA firm for four years. In 1987, I became chief financial officer for the local hospital, Worthington Regional, until April 2008.

In 2008, I became the CFO of the Sanford Sioux Falls Region. In 2012, the Sioux Falls network combined with the Fargo network to form the Sanford Health Network, which expanded my duties to include the Fargo Region.

What was it like growing up in Worthington?

It was your typical small town. The kids all played outside till the church bell rang at 6 o’clock. My graduating class was 300. There was no diversity at all. The community really changed as my kids were growing up. The Worthington school system is now 60 percent diverse, which gave me a great understanding of diversity in rural America.

I was very involved in the local community and served on several community boards. For 30 years, I was involved in putting on a local basketball tournament for kids in third through ninth grade. I was actually in charge for 10 years.

My wife, Mary, and I were classmates, but we weren’t in the same groups in high school and didn’t start dating until after college. Mary retired from the Nobles County Attorney’s office when we moved to Fargo.

How did you make the move into your current position?

Nate White (Sanford Health COO and president of the Fargo Region) called me up and said, “I hear you have a couple of kids and grandkids in Fargo?”

We have three children, Dan, Lisa and Brian. We have four grandchildren, with one on the way. Dan is in finance at United Health, Lisa is a PT with Rehab4Life in Fargo, and Brian in IT for Sanford in Fargo.

I was wondering where he was going with that question. He told me he wanted me to move from finance to operations. After all the things I told operations they should be doing, I now actually have to put my money where my mouth is and do it.

What is your main focus now?

My role is about building relationships in the network. Meeting contacts face-to-face and building trust early on makes a big difference. They know they can call on me if they need something. Working for an independent hospital for so long and working in rural health care has given me a good perspective. The smaller communities need Sanford Fargo and Fargo needs the smaller communities. How can we partner with Sanford’s Network and other local organizations to help patients get care closer to home and also make them comfortable when they do need to travel for care?

What do you like most about working in health care?

I love the nature of being able to help people, no matter what your role. You get the satisfaction of accomplishment while helping people. I also like having a plan or strategy that is successful.

What are your main challenges?

When I took this role, Nate gave me three specific challenges:

  • Expand the network: look at independent facilities that would be a good fit with Sanford’s footprint and culture.
  • Keep our own facilities functioning, profitable and providing quality care.
  • Get facilities to look ahead five years and work together more to get where we need to be.

How do you feel about the state of health care in the U.S. right now?

Whether they run a large health care system or small hospital, leaders in the Upper Midwest have the same concerns: physician and employee recruitment, changing reimbursement models, and aging, rural demographics. The reduction of government payment sources, transitioning to quality instead of fee-for-service and just keeping a step ahead of changes are what keep me up at night. But I have been blessed in both the Sioux Falls and Fargo regions with great team members to work with. That helps immensely.

What would you tell new Sanford Health employees?

You are entering a huge, family-like organization, but you are not going to believe the pace. You either thrive on it or it gobbles you up. Not everything’s going to be perfect. It helps when you have a can-do attitude and a good team around you. Don’t let little things get you down.

Do you have a motto or a philosophy you try to live by?

I try to have a positive attitude and say hello to everyone I meet in the hallway or down the street — no matter who or where. See the big picture — that’s my main philosophy. Even when I was in finance, I didn’t just look at the numbers. I looked at the whole picture of what was going on in the network and enterprise. That has helped me in my new role.

Posted In Faces of Sanford Health

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