Paul Hanson is president of the Sioux Falls region of Sanford Health. Here, he shares his long history with Sanford Health and its legacy institutions, expresses pride in the contributions the organization has made to the community, and discusses the importance of listening in maintaining cohesion as one Sanford Health “family.”
Small town upbringing
Paul Hanson grew up in Galesville, a small town in southwestern Wisconsin — “population 800 on a good day,” he says. His mother was a business teacher, and his father was a pharmacist.
“I had a small town upbringing. I had that work ethic instilled in me from a pretty young age. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It has served me well,” he says.
He chose to attend Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, partly because family members, including his mother, were alumni.
Hanson’s father was a second-generation pharmacist, and there was hope that there would be a third-generation pharmacist. However, he says, “it became clear to me pretty early on that organic chemistry and I were not going to jibe real well.”
Fortunately, health care would remain in Hanson’s life. Concordia College offered one of the few hospital administration degrees in the region as part of their business program. The college also provided a path to a degree in long-term care through their social work program. Consequently, Hanson double majored.
In his sophomore year, Hanson took a position with St. Luke’s Hospital in Fargo (now Sanford Medical Center Fargo) in the medical records department, which he continued through his senior year. In the summers, he also worked in the Moorhead area as a nurse’s aid.
Hanson speaks highly of the education Concordia provided, especially Professor Ted Heimarck. Heimarck founded the health care administration program in 1968. Hanson praised the way he helped students build relationships and network. Coincidentally, President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft and CEO Dave Horazdovsky also graduated from Concordia. They went through the health care administration and long-term care program respectively.
However, Hanson’s time did not overlap with theirs. “They are much older than I am,” Hanson jokes.
Career in hospital administration
Out of college, Hanson took an administrator position in eastern Montana in a small town roughly the size of his hometown. It housed a 16-bed hospital and a 40-bed nursing home.
After about a year and a half, Hanson accepted another administrator position with a for-profit company in Hardin, a slightly larger town in southeastern Montana, where he stayed for roughly four years.
Thereafter, he transitioned to Glendive, Montana, located near the North Dakota border, at an institution that was two or three times larger. He joined the hospital at a difficult time, when about 10 physicians had just left en masse. Hanson’s primary role, then, was recruitment. He partnered with a local physician group, and together, they succeeded in bringing doctors to the region.
“Glendive was really the place that I realized, operationally speaking, you can be really efficient. But without the connectivity, without the engagement of and with the medical community and the physicians that compose your staff, you’re not going to be able to grow,” he says.
At that time, he also focused on completing his education, earning a master’s degree in an executive program from the University of Colorado.
An opportunity in Watertown, South Dakota, allowed Hanson to move closer to home at an important time in his life. His father received a cancer diagnosis, and Hanson wanted to be closer to his parents.
Sioux Valley Health System (now Sanford Health) managed the Watertown facility, “and to my surprise, the president and CEO (Krabbenhoft) was a Concordia grad as well,” Hanson says. He then spent nine years as president of the hospital in Watertown and “fell in love with the state.”
Joining Sanford Health
Hanson’s career would again intersect with Sanford Health in his next position, as president of North Country Health Services (NCHS) in Bemidji, Minnesota (now Sanford Medical Center Bemidji and related locations). When Hanson took on his new leadership role, Sanford Health had just merged with MeritCare (now Sanford Medical Center Fargo and related locations), which many of the physicians at North Country Health Services were affiliated with.
Shortly thereafter, NCHS sought out a partnership. Hanson, by that point, was very familiar with Sanford Health. Still, NCHS hired a consulting firm to ensure they were doing due diligence.
“We looked at a number of systems that would best meet the needs of not only the community in Bemidji but the community in the region,” Hanson says. “It wasn’t a quick process, but that process really opened up the door for me to see the benefits that Sanford Health had to offer a smaller community. There were hard topics to score, but it was easy to score Sanford Health as the number-one partner that we wanted to align ourselves with.”
Reflecting on where the health system in Bemidji is today, Hanson believes Sanford Health has propelled the growth and quality of care in the region. “Sometimes when you see systems come in and make promises, they don’t fulfill those promises,” Hanson says. “The thing that I like best about Sanford Health and the experiences I’ve had here is that we’ve fulfilled those promises.”
After three years in Bemidji, Hanson took on the role of president of Sanford USD Medical Center.
Role expands regionally
Originally brought on as president of the hospital in Sioux Falls, Hanson has a role that’s expanded to the wider region. “It’s the greatest job within the system. I love this place,” Hanson says.
In describing his current roles and responsibilities, Hanson leads off by saying, “You must hire people that are better than you. This is a huge task for any organization. And I’m happy to say I think I have the skill set to find those people, whether it be in operations, finance, clinical or elsewhere.
“For example, my clinical background is very limited, so I have to rely very heavily on the clinical expertise that’s around me,” he says.
He’s most proud of Sanford Health’s contributions to the community.
“When you see the investments that we’ve made in our community — in the educational system, in economic development, in developing our future leaders, in developing our future medical leaders — to me, that’s one of the greatest accomplishments we’ve made as an organization,” he says.
The other point of pride for Hanson is the ability of Sanford Health to listen to its medical leadership and its medical staff.
“On some points, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. But once we listen to each other, we can appreciate where everybody is coming from. And at the end of the day, you realize that we are one Sanford Family,” he says. “Once we have that piece in place, there isn’t anything insurmountable that we can’t accomplish.”
Looking forward, Hanson speaks of expanding clinical services to new communities in the Sioux Falls region and providing resources to make them better. He also intends to focus on continued investments in centers of excellence: cancer, orthopedics, cardiology, women’s health and more.
‘Like a mobile billboard’
Hanson is married with four adult children. “I am so blessed that I have a wife who is incredibly supportive of what I do and understanding of what the hours are — the short notice, meetings that come up, the commitments you have to make,” he says.
In his free time, Hanson loves sporting events — checking out local high school prospects, attending college games and traveling to see professional competition.
He and his wife also enjoy attending plays at the Washington Pavilion.
There is no place he and his wife would rather be than in South Dakota.
“Sioux Falls is my favorite city, and it’s my wife’s favorite city. But I get razzed a lot because my wife and I ride scooters around town, and I wear the Sanford Health T-shirt so I’m like a mobile billboard,” Hanson says, laughing.
At the end of the day, Hanson believes that people should never forget who they are and who we are as an organization.
“Respect the individuals that have brought us this far, but know that you are part of the future,” he says.
This summer marks the 125th anniversary of Sanford Health. Those working today will lay the groundwork for the next 125 years.