Ryan Fowler has joined Morrow County Health District as Interim Chief Executive Officer

Ryan Fowler begins interim stint

HEPPNER, OR – Ryan Fowler took over the helm of Morrow County Health District on Thursday, Jan. 28.

The Idaho native signed a one-year contract to serve as the rural health district’s interim chief executive officer as the current CEO, Bob Houser, prepared to retire, also effective Thursday. Houser worked as the district’s administrator for about five and a half years after being coaxed out of retirement.

Fowler, who grew up in Inkom, ID, a high desert town near Pocatello, said he was drawn to the opportunity to lead the Morrow County health organization after learning about the opening from the Oregon Office of Rural Health.

“I started looking into the area, and it looked really intriguing,” said Fowler, 42.

“I’m committed to rural health care – that’s where I’ve spent the majority of my career,” he said. “After some conversations at home, I thought this would be a really good fit for me and my family.”

He and wife Kim are the parents of five boys, aged 8 to 20. Fowler and his family love the outdoors and recreation such as hiking, camping and fishing. Fowler said he’s especially looking forward to exploring Northeastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains.

Before coming to the nonprofit Oregon special district, Fowler served as CEO for Lower Umpqua Hospital District in the Oregon coastal town of Reedsport.

He began his career in health care quality and administration after putting himself through college at Pocatello’s Idaho State University by working as a housekeeper and Intensive Care Unit monitor technician at Intermountain Healthcare in Pocatello.

After earning a bachelor’s in American studies and master’s in public administration with an emphasis on state, local and nonprofit management, he joined the health care quality and risk department at Intermountain, which had been renamed the Portneuf Medical Center.

He chose his career path while a graduate student following an internship at a local hospital, where he got an inside look at what it takes to run a hospital.

Fowler landed his first management job as a senior manager of quality and risk management at Banner Health Ogallala Community Hospital in Ogallala, Neb.

“It was an area where I could see myself being successful,” he said. “I thought my experience as a front-line worker would be an asset for working on the administrative side of health care.”

This week, Houser has been wrapping things up on a tenure that included doubling the size and capacity of the district’s Irrigon Medical Clinic; expanding the district’s presence in Boardman by purchasing a building and transforming that into a home health and hospice office with room for a physical therapy department and Murray’s drugstore; and more clearly defining what’s needed to modernize and improve the Heppner campus.

The number of district employees has grown during Houser’s administration from about 80 to 136 full- and part-time staff. The district has added the capacity to offer DEXA scans for bone density studies, MRIs, mobile mammographies, echocardiograms and ultrasounds.

“I can’t say enough about the staff,” Houser said.

On Thursday, district staff held a retirement party for Houser, who admitted his retirement after more than 37 years in health care would be “an adjustment.”

“It’s kind of a bittersweet moment,” he said.

Yet he said he has high hopes for the district as he hands the reins over to Fowler.

“I’m very pleased with the selection the board made. I think Ryan is going to be a fine fit,” Houser said. “He’s personable, he knowledgeable, he’s got rural healthcare experience. And I think he’ll keep the district moving forward.”

Fowler said his family hopes to join him in Heppner once the school year is over.

“For us, it’s a little bit closer to home in many ways,” Fowler said. (It’s) “A little closer to family. And the geology of the area is closer to where I grew up.”

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