Retiring Dixie Regional Medical Center leader’s storied career was about doing the ‘little things’

ST. GEORGE — Patricia Shoemaker-Glessner remembers walking into what was then the main campus of Intermountain Dixie Regional Medical Center on 400 East in 2001 when she bumped into a new face. 

Terri Kane, the longtime Dixie Regional Medical Center CEO and Intermountain Medical executive is sailing into retirement after a 30-year medical career. She is seen at the offices at the medical center in St. George, Utah, Feb. 11, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

That new face was Terri Kane, who was spending her first day at the hospital as its new chief operating officer. Their meeting was brief, but the longtime member of the hospital’s governing board said an impression was immediately made.

“It was just a short conversation, but at that point I knew we had somebody rare,” Shoemaker-Glessner said. “When she walked into a room, you would feel the heightened electricity.”

Dixie Regional Medical Center is a much different place 19 years later. The main campus is now 10 blocks east on a much-larger, 69-acre footprint on River Road. And Kane’s fingerprints are all over it. 

Kane recently announced her retirement after a 30-year medical career that began as a nurse and later included leading the expansion and growth of Dixie Regional Medical Center as its longtime CEO.

From the buildings on the River Road campus, to the Life Flight helicopter pad to the healing garden, Kane’s legacy abounds. 

“You could see her touches in every part of that hospital. If it wasn’t for Terri, there would not be any of these beautiful buildings we have right now,” Shoemaker-Glessner said. “This was a dream, and she was a hard-working, determined woman who convinced everyone she would meet that there was a need for this hospital.”

Speaking to St. George News, Kane had difficulty holding back tears. But she was quick to say they were happy tears. The tears seemed to come the most when she mentioned the people with whom she worked. Those around her are quick to say she made a point to know everyone’s name – from the surgeons to the janitors.

“The community can be really proud because there’s excellent people in the performance of this hospital. They treat people so wonderfully. They love them like their own family, and I don’t think in times of hardship, you can expect anything more than that,” Kane said. “I mean, that’s a gift.” 

From rural to regional

With Kane as COO and then CEO from 2006 to 2017, some might argue that was the time the hospital earned the “regional” in its name. 

An overhead view of Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2020. Retiring former CEO Terri Kane played a substantial role in the hospital’s expansion and growth. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

When Kane arrived, St. George residents needing major services beyond the basics would need to be transported either south to Las Vegas or north to Salt Lake City. Search and rescue operations in the numerous hiking locations around Southern Utah couldn’t count on a place to locally airlift patients. 

As Kane departs, DRMC has certification as a Level II trauma center and also opened specialized heart and cancer care facilities. Those suffering severe injuries while traversing Zion or Snow Canyon get precious time toward survival with Intermountain Life Flights to the hospital.

“This place will be an epicenter some time into the future as we continue to grow on the corridor that extends toward Cedar and extends toward Las Vegas,” Kane said. “This medical center is now a regional Medical Center that has full capabilities.”

While Kane sees some major services like transplants staying with Intermountain Health’s facilities in northern Utah, she said she is content that she has left the St. George facility as capable of handling most medical needs for people in Southern Utah, something that couldn’t have been said for it before she arrived. 

“I think that we will be an amazing safety net for the people that live here and for people that are in those extended corridors, and that’s how I’ve seen it,” Kane said.  “Our former CEO Charles Sorenson used to say to me, ‘Terri, as I walk in this hospital, it just feels different’ and there is something to the Dixie spirit that just captures you and the people that live here and work here bring it to work with them. And so we’ve benefited from the great DNA that’s here,”

She said she made sure to maintain a calming environment for both the patients and those who work there, including the rock labyrinth and healing gardens outside. 

To Kane, the little things mattered.

“I think it is really important in a hospital, and everyone cares about that, but it mattered a lot to me, and we had a team that did rounds every week to make sure that the little things were spotted and fixed from, you know, the paint or the ceiling tiles that had a leak or the bathrooms and just a dab of paint that was needed,” Kane said. “I like to think that maybe I set the tone for that.”

Taking educated gambles

Brian Chadaz, chairman of Dixie Regional Medical Center’s governing board, said Kane was fearless when it came to going to her bosses with her dreams of what Dixie Regional Medical Center could be. 

“Over the years, she took some educated gambles,” Chadaz said. “She wasn’t afraid to stick her neck out.”

An Intermountain Life Flight helicopter sits on its helipad, St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Kane remembers needing a way to get urgently needed blood to the hospital for open-heart surgeries before the Red Cross opened its St. George donation center. Even with the lights and sirens, the quickest they could transport by vehicle would be the two hours from Las Vegas. 

So Kane rolled the dice and went directly to Jerry Atkin, then the CEO of Skywest Airlines.

“I remember not knowing him and I went over to introduce myself because I was going to ask Skywest to fly blood to us in an emergency,” Kane said. 

Atkin didn’t hesitate to say yes, according to Kane. In fact, she said part of her success came from having so much community support. 

“I was never turned down by this community for the vision of where we were going and to improve health care,” Kane said. “So people didn’t have to leave their community to get cancer care or neurosurgery care or higher.”

If one asks people connected to the hospital, the credit goes to Kane.

“She had a leadership style that people just wanted to associate with her. She really had people buy on to things,” Chadaz said. “Just to hear her talk, you knew she loved what she was doing and instilled that in others.”

That includes Shoemaker-Glessner, who has a long association with the hospital since retiring to St. George from a broadcasting career and helped start the annual Jubilee of Trees benefit for the hospital in 1983.  She said Kane had a way of convincing others, including those in the upper ranks of Intermountain, that her dreams for Dixie Regional were worth realizing. 

“She is one of the most dynamic, brilliant women I have ever known,” Shoemaker-Glessner said. “She has a personality that brings everybody to her because she cares about them.”

Gambles or not, those decisions came up as winners. Intermountain named Kane the 2003 Intermountain Healthcare Manager of Distinction. She was later promoted in 2011 to Southwest region vice president, which she served concurrently with her DRMC CEO position. 

Kane was directly involved in the $300 million addition of four buildings in 2016. But residents need only look up throughout town to see one of Kane’s other major contributions. A space with a big “H” was added to the center parking lot in January 2011 as Intermountain Life Flight added a Southern Utah base. 

From nurse to CEO

Kane’s career was always meant to take off in the medical field. It’s in her DNA.

The healing garden at Dixie State Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, as seen on Jan. 13, 2020, is one of the touches Terri Kane made to provide a calming environment for patients. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The oldest of three children of a family doctor, her first move out of high school was to go to nursing school. That led to her first medical job in 1979 as a staff nurse at Intermountain’s McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden. 

CT scans and MRIs were a new technology at that time, and the idea of calling up medical records on a computer was science fiction. 

It was also a less diverse workplace. Few, if any, of Kane’s nursing coworkers were male, while the idea of a female executive at Intermountain was also a dream. The idea of retiring 30 years later as a past chief executive of a hospital was also not on the radar of the young Kane. 

“I didn’t aspire to be in this position. I started out working part-time and raising my family,” Kane said. “Back in those days, there were very few female leaders that made it past the director level unless you were the nurse executive for the organization.”

It isn’t lost on Kane that her rise from nurse, to executive, to the head of Southern Utah’s largest hospital wasn’t a spearhead for the aspirations of other women, though she is also quick to say for the sake of the patient each job should go to the best candidate. 

“We have a lot more diversity these days, but I would say I went through some challenging times,” said Kane, who added she was grateful for the male mentors in her career at Intermountain.  “I think given the organization confidence that a nurse could be a strategic leader and we have a lot of them now in the organization that are in very important positions. I feel I’ve had some role in helping them. I want everyone to have the opportunity to apply for positions.”

A promotion in December 2017 to Intermountain’s associate chief operating officer for clinical programs meant Kane had to let go of the reins of Dixie Regional and spend more time at Intermountain’s other hospitals. But it was also her chance to see that while a lot of things have changed in her 30-year career, some things haven’t.

Pat Shoemaker-Glessner pins the DAR “Women in American History” medal on 2019 honoree Terri Kane in St. George, Utah, Mar 23, 2019 | File photo courtesy of Valerie King, St. George News

“I think about just how far we’ve come, but one thing that hasn’t changed, though, is still the compassion and the caring of the people. In the last two and a half years, I’ve been able to traverse our system through our medical group and through all of our hospitals, and there’s caring, wonderful people everywhere that sacrifice and do the extra little things.”

Kane said those little things were something she instilled in Mitch Cloward, who has succeeded her as Dixie Regional Medical Center’s administrator. Kane is quick to say a good leader has a succession plan.

But it’s those little things that will long remain a part of St. George’s hospital.

“I’ll probably miss it a little bit. I think I did my part for the time that I was here. And I feel really great about the people that are here doing their part,” Kane said. “I’m excited about that next stage of my life. And I have no regrets. I’m ready.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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