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Rees looks forward to health care challenges, opportunities

Adam Rees and his wife Rhoda talk about their move to Brainerd at the hospital i1 / 2
Adam Rees and his wife Rhoda talk about their move to Brainerd at the hospital i2 / 2

Making healthy choices easy through a collaborative community effort is one of Adam Rees’ goals.

It’s the kind of goal one might think counter intuitive for a health care provider. But Rees said with an aging American population there won’t be a shortage of people needing health care services.

Rees’ office, at the end of a long hall on the south side of Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center, has become a familiar place in the four months since Rees took the reins from Tom Prusak. Along with art from his children, the office is dominated by sailing images. The Boston native is looking forward to plying the waters of the lakes region.

Selected to lead the medical center and its 12 clinics in north central Minnesota, Rees is making the transition to Essentia from a career with the Mayo Health System.

For most of his time in the state, based in southeast Minnesota in Rochester and Austin and surrounding cities within the Mayo orbit, Rees’ experience was truncated at the Twin Cities. The first look he had of the Brainerd lakes area was during his interview. So why leave one of the most prestigious medical centers to move north?

The entire health care industry is going through tremendous change, Rees said, including the Mayo Clinic. Rees said one of his passions, especially during the past five years, has been the concept of the triple aim — a focus on better health and better care at a lower cost. The triple aim came out of the Institute for Health Care Improvement and calls for the simultaneous pursuit of improving the health of the population, enhancing the patient experience and reducing or controlling the per capita cost of health care.

“Essentia has embraced the triple-aim patient-centered medical home and is further along, frankly, than many of the major medical systems in the state,” Rees said. “A lot of that is sort of behind the scenes with new systems and care coordination nurses. But this organization truly is an innovative organization and is putting a lot of resources in those areas.”

Dr. Peter Person, Essentia Health CEO, made the triple aim the top priority, concepts Rees was interested in pursuing.

“That meant I could be a part of a place I felt completely aligned with the direction it was going,” Rees said. “And that’s a good place to be.”

On the near horizon, Rees said a challenge comes in not knowing all the rules and regulations associated with health care exchanges and details with the Affordable Care Act, meaning organizations are trying to get ready for something they haven’t seen yet.

The Affordable Care Act has put tremendous pressure on health care organizations to really manage costs tightly, Rees said. In Brainerd, Rees said the previous administration’s work and focus on the triple aim will position the organization well for the Affordable Care Act.

The biggest challenge will be moving from a traditional fee for service payment model to a much more risk-based model with the provider responsible for the total cost of the patient’s care, Rees said. Reducing frequency of emergency department users, focusing on better management of chronic disease, reducing rehospitalizations will only better position the organizations for health care changes, Rees said.

“I’m confident in our future,” he said.

Growth areas include specialists — a rheumatologist and endocrinologist were recent additions — along with a new director for the cardiovascular center and improving rural clinics access.

For any home-town medical center, prospective patients may perceive higher quality of services as those being farther down the road. Rees said what Essentia Health needs to do in Brainerd to change that is to provide a high level of service, a critical component of the organization’s recent strategic planning efforts.

“What brought me here really was the opportunity to be part of Essentia Health, which as an organization has the same strategic vision and values that I hold dear,” Rees said, adding it also offered an opportunity for professional growth. “Of my 25 years at Mayo I spent the last 15 years working in the health system which is communities not unlike Brainerd, Baxter or Nisswa ... the health system is what surrounds Mayo. I’ve spent a lot of time working and being committed to community health and wellness in communities just like this with the same sorts of challenges.”

Challenges outside the bigger cities typically include lower reimbursement rates and fewer resources.

“But we have something that metro areas don’t have and especially in rural Minnesota there is a deep sense of commitment to community and to being a good neighbor and a willingness to volunteer on a moment’s notice,” Rees said.

In Mower County, Rees was involved in a major collaborative community health and wellness effort around the vision of making healthy choices easy.

Rees was the chief administrative officer for Mayo Clinic Health System-Austin, part of a 25-year career with Mayo. Essentia Health in Brainerd as a headquarters represents a larger health care organization than Austin in Mower County.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated Mower County’s population for 2012 was about 39,372 while Crow Wing County’s was estimated to be 62,882. The Essentia Health central region has an employee count of 1,263.

Rees was chosen by a search committee of community members, physicians and staff. He succeeded Prusak, who retired after a 37-year career in health care.

Rees began working at the Mayo Medical Center in Rochester in 1987 as a fellow in its management trainee program. His Mayo experience included 14 years of senior leadership posts in its hospitals and clinics. Rees earned both a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.

Rees said being in an area with a healthy competition for health care providers presents an opportunity for choice and encourages organizations to provide the best health care possible. Rees said Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center is committed to that service to community.

During the recent strategic planning process, the organization came up with two major goals — an initiative focusing on consistent service excellence and an internal focus on improving employee engagement, empowerment and celebrating success of individuals and teams.

“We know we have some opportunities for improvement in that area,” Rees said. “It makes me feel good to know people feel valued and are really making that difference in some patient or family’s life.”

For professional reasons and personal reasons as well, Rees said he felt the lakes area would be a good place to raise a family. He and his wife, Rhoda, a nurse practitioner and active community volunteer, have two children, a 14-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. The couple met at Mayo.

“You get a sense for communities that would be great to have the family in and Brainerd was one of those communities,” Rhoda Rees said. “We felt it would work well for us. ... I think the opportunities are really going to be endless for us.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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