Great River Health Systems CEO Richardson to Retire

Great River Health President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Richardson will retire Sunday, Dec. 31. Richardson made the announcement Thursday to employees and the medical staff at his quarterly State of the Health System presentations.

Great River Health is a 378-bed comprehensive, regional health care system based in West Burlington, Iowa. It includes Great River Medical Center, Great River Klein Center, primary-care and specialty clinics, Heritage pharmacies, and Heritage Medical Equipment and Supplies.

Richardson, 58, joined the health system in April 1997, three months before the groundbreaking for a new hospital and two medical office buildings. Besides overseeing continued growth, he is credited for changing the culture of one of Iowa’s largest independent hospitals and health systems.

“Replacing Mark Richardson is going to be a big challenge,” said Bob Fleming. Fleming was president of Great River Health’ Board of Directors when Richardson was hired, and he remains on the board. “Looking back, we wanted to see the health system’s culture change. There was a need for the new person to focus on patient satisfaction and safety, and performance improvement. Mark’s leadership has allowed us to remain one of the strongest health systems in Iowa. He did what we wanted him to do, and he did it better than we expected.”

Richardson led the implementation of the health system’s EXCEL values in 1998. EXCEL stands for Enthusiastically friendly, X-ceeding expectations, Caring and compassionate, Energetic teamwork, and Leadership and professionalism. Intensive customer-service training for employees began the same year. In 2001, Great River Medical Center’s inpatient satisfaction scores exceeded the 90th percentile for the first time.

Surveys are conducted by Press Ganey Associates, the world’s leading developer of survey tools and methodologies for the health care industry.

The following year, Richardson and other hospital leaders traveled to Washington, D. C., to receive Press Ganey Associates’ Success Story Award. The awards are presented each year to hospitals that have identified the need for improvement in patient satisfaction and have successfully implemented and realized initiatives for change. In the capitol, they gave a presentation on changing a hospital’s culture to a national audience.

Two decades of growth

A native of Fort Dodge, Iowa, Richardson received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Iowa. Before joining Great River Health, he was hospital administrator for DeWitt Community Hospital, Dewitt, Jane Lamb Health Center in Clinton, and North Country Health Services in Bemidji, Minnesota. While in Bemidji, he was named one of 10 Outstanding Minnesotans.

Great River Health has had only two presidents in the last 48 years. Richardson continued building on a solid financial foundation established by former President and CEO Glen Heagle that led to the construction of the $120 million hospital and two medical office buildings. Great River Medical Center opened April 4, 2000.

The new hospital, one of few built in the Midwest at that time, became one of the best hospitals in Iowa, and the most technologically advanced for a facility of its size. It became one of the first in the state to offer integrated PET/CT scanning and digital mammography. In 2015, it was the first hospital in Iowa to use a new stent for treating coronary artery disease.

Construction of new facilities has continued. After the hospital and office buildings, the largest freestanding construction projects were Great River Hospice House, the only hospice house in southeast Iowa, which opened in 2007, and the 4-year-old Great River Klein Center, a 160-bed long-term and skilled-care center that replaced a smaller facility in Burlington.

Under Richardson's leadership, Great River Health has expanded services to help meet health care needs in southeast Iowa. More than 15 new health system clinics have been developed on the health system's West Burlington campus, and regional clinics were established in Fairfield, Fort Madison, Keokuk and Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

The health system's medical staff has grown more than 50 percent during Richardon's administration. Equally important, most physicians are now employed by the health system, which enhances quality and improved coordination of care.

In 2008, the health system began a management contract with Henry County Health Center in Mount Pleasant to help ensure the future of that critical-access hospital.

Richardson helped establish Great River Health' Community Endowment Foundation, which has awarded more than $1.5 million to organizations in its five-county service area to foster health-related services that may otherwise not be available to communities.

The 2014 conversion to a new electronic medical record system was the health system’s largest project since the opening of Great River Medical Center, and the Eastman and Mercy plazas.

“After we moved to this campus in 2000, I told our employees they would never again experience anything this significant in their careers. I spoke too soon,” Richardson said in 2014. “Converting to a new electronic health record and data system is the electronic equivalent of building and moving to a new hospital.”

The new system has improved the efficiency and safety of care by condensing patient records to one source, preventing unnecessary tests and providing an online portal for patients to view their medical records.

Employee satisfaction

One of Richardson’s early goals was making Great River Health the “employer of choice” in Southeast Iowa. Under his leadership, the number of Great River Health employees has grown from 1,014 to 2,350.

The health system has placed high in the rankings of the Des Moines Register’s annual Top 150 Workplaces since 2013. In this year’s independent survey associated with the newspaper poll, employee comments included:

  • “We have the best work environment and facilities, and the best people!”
  • “I love my job because of the support we receive from staff and management. We have great leaders in our health system.”
  • “There is positivity and a sense of pride. Great teamwork and wonderful management. I am thankful and blessed to be an employee of Great River Health Systems!”

With an emphasis on employee health and well-being, the health system earned the American Psychological Association’s National Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award and Wellness Councils of America’s silver Well Workplace Award. It also received a platinum-level award from the American Heart Association for helping employees eat better and move more.

In 2006, Kid Zone Day Care Center opened on the health system’s campus to provide convenient child care for employees.

State and local service

Richardson was elected to the Iowa Hospital Association Board of Officers and Trustees in 2003 and later was elected chairman. In 2014, he received the association’s Excellence in Leadership Award for outstanding achievement in the management of a hospital or health system, and for involvement in the comprehensive area of health affairs.

Richardson also served as board chairman of Health Enterprises, an organization that provides programs and services that support community-based health care.

Locally, he served as president of Burlington-West Burlington United Way and Burlington Junior Achievement, and chairman of the Grow Greater Burlington Board of Directors. He was named Mississippi Valley Council Boy Scouts of America’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 2007.

“Mark Richardson has been a tremendous asset to Great River Health Systems,” said board chairman Dan Wiedemeier. “His visibility and approachability are among his greatest strengths. His good example inspires employees to do their best for our patients and their families, and the community.”

A nationwide search for a president and CEO will begin soon, and a new leader for Great River Health is expected to be announced by early November.

20 years of growth

Construction projects and new clinics during President and CEO Mark Richardson’s tenure at Great River Health:


  • Great River Klein Center, 2014
  • Great River Orthopaedic Specialists, 2012
  • Health Fitness gym, 2012
  • Great River Clinic, Wapello, 2010
  • Great River Hospice House, 2007
  • Behavioral Health Unit, 2006
  • Digestive Health Center, 2006
  • Emergency transportation building, 2006
  • Heart and Vascular Center, 2006
  • Kid Zone Child Care Center, 2006
  • Snake Alley Rehabilitation, 2006
  • Great River Medical Center, 2000

New health system clinics

  • Great River Business Health
  • Great River Cardiology
  • Great River Eye Specialists
  • Great River Family Practice Clinic
  • Great River Gastroenterology
  • Great River Healthy Living Clinic
  • Great River Medicine Specialists
  • Great River Mental Health
  • Great River Nephrology
  • Great River Orthopaedic Specialists
  • Great River Pulmonology
  • Great River QuickCare
  • Great River Surgeons
  • Great River Urology
  • Great River Women’s Health
  • Great River Wound and Hyperbaric Clinic
  • The Keokuk Clinic