A total of 64 resumes were received last fall for the position of Orchard Hospital's new Chief Executive Officer. While this may not seem unusual, this was the first time that community members were invited to help in the interviewing process by the hospital's board of directors.

The amount of suitable applicants was reduced by the human resources department at Orchard and board members looked at the top 20 and narrowed this group down to seven.

Once the top seven were agreed upon by the board, Orchard Hospital staff, foundation and auxiliary were asked to choose members to represent their groups in interviews that lasted one week.

The top five applicants each spent a day being interviewed by the interviewing committee and finally by board members.

Steve Stark of West Union, Iowa was one of the qualifying applicants who sat through an entire day of interviews followed by a tour of the facility. With many factors in his favor, one area that stood out was Stark's knowledge and belief in the Studer Group, a healthcare organization that works in partnership with hospitals to establish necessary changes to create a culture of excellence. Stark became a Champion in the Studer Group at his last job. Hospitals who have partnered with Studer Group see better transparency, higher accountability and the ability to execute specific, objective results that organizations want to achieve. Orchard Hospital partnered with the Studer Group last year for excellent patient care.

When the interviewing groups were asked for their top two candidates, Stark made this cut and board members made the final decision.

Stark and his wife Jennifer got a chance to see the town twice before moving here at the end of December along with the schools that their four children would attend.

Stark worked at Palmer Lutheran Health Center in West Union as CEO since August 2013. His wife Jennifer and four children were very supportive of the family being uprooted to California and as the younger children heard their father talking contracts over  the phone before leaving Iowa, they decided it was a good idea to draw up a contract for their father to follow for them.

The children stated that they wanted their father to commit to a trip to San Diego Zoo, Lake Tahoe, a trip to the ocean and his first order of business -  a trip with seventh grader Emily to see One Direction in person down south.

"My 12-year-old is excited and I will have my earplugs with me," he quipped.

The family drove their vehicles out from Iowa last month, the first time they had driven out west, stopping in Albequerque where it was zero degrees, among other pit stops.

"My family was very excited and supportive about moving to California. The Stark children range in age from three-year-old Zoie, six-year-old Jenna, 12-year-old Emily and 18-year-old Landon.

Stark says his family never got used to the cold of Iowa in the six years they lived there. Their first winter in Atlantic in 2009, the "blizzard of the century hit," according to Stark.

"When we moved to West Union, we had a week of 20 and 25 below with the wind chill making it so much worse," he stated.

Seems that they got out just in time with the weather channel showing the below zero temperatures in so many states lately.

"We were able to BBQ and send photos back to friends and family this week," he stated smiling.

The Stark family moved 2,000 miles away from anyone they knew and immediately bought a house in Gridley in preparation for their new life here.

Since arriving at Orchard for his first day January 5, 2015, Stark has held countless meetings to confer with his department heads in particular.

His initial impression of the many employees he met in his first week was that of being committed to patient care.

"The staff here is always business first - it is all about the patients," he noticed this as he held his many meetings.

"The entire time I met with department heads I did not hear any sidebar conversations, it was strictly business and patient satisfaction," he stated impressed.

Stark is also very impressed by the very good surveys that are received by patients after receiving care at Orchard whether as a patient or outpatient.

"We execute good care. I would put our nurses up against any other hospital. California sometimes gets a bad rap. We are more than just a small hospital. People can get the same care as they can in larger hospitals such as Chico or Sacramento. We do more than you might think," he stated.

December 2014 was a record month for Orchard Hospital - a total of 925 people were seen in the ER.

"Our hospital  has invested in even more services to go up against other facilities," Stark stated.

The hospital that Stark just left was around the same size as Gridley's at about the same financial status, but the population of West Union is just 1,800. The closest hospital is 30 miles away.

Another similarity is that Palmer Lutheran is a 25 bed critical access, compared to Gridley's 21, the only difference is Gridley's additional 21 skilled nursing beds in the Hovlid Center.

Before going to Palmer, Stark worked at Cass County Health System in a town of 10,000 to 11,000 citizens, a very large hospital with many services. Before Cass, Stark worked as Executive Director of Skaggs Regional Medical Center  in Branson, Missouri for five years.

When asked what he would like to see added in Gridley, Stark stated he plans to add more surgery hours, podiatry and possibly cataract surgeries.

Stark looks forward to a strategic plan being done to ascertain what services people are going out of town for that could be offered here. 

One thing many might not know is that Orchard Hospital has two full time hospitalists on duty 24/7. 

Stark looks forward to building the image and services of the hospital and focusing more on the diagnostic imaging that is already offered such as CT, MRI and Mammography.

"We want to be known as a center for Diagnostic services," he stated.

With the continuous support of the community, something Stark is very impressed by, a number of services have been added in the past five years since becoming locally governed.

Stark plans on staying many years helping to achieve even more services at Orchard and providing excellent health care. With small children in school he is happy to say the Stark family will be here for many years and of course he has that contract to fulfill for his children.