If significant change is on the way to Wheatland County, it might well be that Scot Mitchell is one of its forerunners. While relatively new to the area, Mitchell is certainly not waiting for things to happen but trying to help “make it happen.” A nudge here and a push there. Go, Scot!
Mitchell, who has been the administrator of Wheatland Memorial Medical Center for close to two years, exudes intelligence, accuracy and action. Those qualities certainly come in handy as he runs the county’s largest employer. Being at the head of this key business gives Scot a wide view from the medical complex to town, county, and region.
Mr. Mitchell hails from rural West Virginia but considers that he now lives in frontier country. “It’s a challenging place with many differences from what I was used to. Back in West Virginia, we had a lot more resources available. Many of them are just not here.
“But, the people can and do make up for many of those differences. I’ve been very impressed by philanthropy here - people helping each other. I’ve not met a stranger here. People go out of their way to help.
“I think a lot of that has to do with there not being many people in these parts. They just have had to work together to get things done. It’s really nice to see people so willing to help.”
“Help” could be Mitchell’s middle name. Scot has been visible, active and helping far beyond the medical center campus since he and wife Bonnie came west. He is involved with the Wheatland County Economic Growth Council, on the Board of Directors of the Upper Musselshell Valley Museum, an active participant in the ongoing Tourism Assessment process, 2nd Vice President of the Kiwanis Club, and Treasurer of the Board of the Harlowton Chamber of Commerce. Out of the latter, Scott and Mandie Reed have taken on the task of bringing Rails to Trails to Harlowton. They have submitted a grant request for $60,000 to get that project rolling.
Being a part of all these groups, Scot sees “A lot of talented people here. We need to tap them. The area itself has a huge amount of potential. The old railroad depot is a gold mine.”
Back in Hinton, West Virginia, the old train depot became the area’s Railroad Museum and the hub of many town activities. Similar possibilities in Harlowton have not escaped Mitchell’s eye. “There are a lot of opportunities here. Just look at those empty buildings on the main street waiting to be reopened. If we just put one new business on Central Avenue every year . . .”
“A lot of people are doing a lot of different things here to get things going again. I see the upcoming County Fair helping to pull things together. Working together we can accomplish so much more than working separately. That’s the way to build community.”
Mitchell has so many ideas and projects to keep track of. He’s excited about Wiley and the Wild West Show coming to perform at the Fair. The town’s museum is on the new Dinosaur Trail which the state is funding and publicizing. (See www.mtdinotrail.org.) “Rails to Trails should give a real boost to the town.”
There is reason for some excitement at the Wheatland Medical Center as well, thanks in large part to the C.M. Bair Memorial and Family Trusts. The Bair Trusts have donated over $800,000 in recent months toward essential projects including replacement of an old generator, upgrade of computer systems, installation of the Telepharmacy, and renovation of the nursing home wing of the medical center. Open House for the latter is scheduled for Monday, May 9.
Having spent my own time around hospitals and clinics, I was interested in how Mitchell found his way into health administration rather than health care. Actually, Scot Mitchell started out as a paramedic working his way through college in West Virginia while obtaining a degree in Biology. He had thought about becoming a doctor, “But every physician I talked to at the time told me, ‘If I had to do it all over again, I just wouldn’t do it.’”
Mitchell pursued and obtained his Master’s Degree in Hospital Administration at the Medical University of South Carolina. He still kept his hand in emergency medicine working as a paramedic throughout his training and wrote his thesis on the value of emergency medical services administered outside the hospital.
Along the way, Scot told one of his physician friends, “I figure I will become a hospital administrator and boss people around.” From my vantage point having worked in a number of health care jobs, it’s quite often the administrator who gets “bossed around.” It takes a multi-talented person to handle requests and complaints, comments and suggestions coming from every which direction. “There are so many competing interests. It can become very difficult. Health care administration is very complicated because of regulations, malpractice, staffing, physician demands, etc.”
Scot Mitchell had a deeper and truer reason to go into health care administration. “I grew up in an area where access to health care was limited. My grandmother died quite young of complications of diabetes. With better access to medical care, she might still be alive.
“I wanted and want to help people in rural areas get access to good health care. It’s as simple as that.”
Mitchell began doing just that after completing his training. In Hinton, West Virginia, where he met Bonnie, he was administrator of a 95-bed hospital for five years. Later for two years, he ran a network of West Virginia hospitals. Over the next year, he helped reopen a small rural hospital. In the following several years, Scot started his own health care consulting company, acted as a health care analyst for the West Virginia Senate, and managed various health care research projects.
With Mitchell’s two sons, Gary and John, grown now, it was time for Scot’s own big change in 2003. “I always wanted to come out west.” As “empty nesters,” Scot and Bonnie were ready to explore new horizons.
“It’s an outdoorsman’s paradise here. I love to hike, camp, hunt and fish. There are so many things to do here within a short distance from Harlowton. I don’t think we have stayed home a whole weekend since we moved here. We are always driving out in some direction. The map just doesn’t do the country any justice at all.”
Every Monday, Mitchell is drawn back to Wheatland Memorial Medical Center where he is thrilled by the staff with whom he works with at. “I’m fortunate to have real professionals working in this building. I’m amazed by the nurses in this facility. Their talent level is huge. They have to do so many things. They move from soothing a nursing resident with an emotional problem to delivering a baby to performing CPR.”
Scot Mitchell is clearly excited about the recent improvements at the medical center. With his wife working as a pharmacy technician, the Telepharmacy is of especial interest to him. Mitchell is also proud of Wheatland Memorial being a Critical Access Hospital. That designation necessitates meeting extra requirements including a relationship with a large hospital (in this case, Saint Vincent’s in Billings), special credentialling of health care providers, and providing high quality care.
The latter is a continuing process which involves Wheatland Memorial. The hospital is presently participating with a multi-state group of institutions to compare data amongst them with the obvious goal of improving health care.
It’s hard to tell where Scot Mitchell’s greater commitment lies - to the medical center or the community, but maybe the two can’t and shouldn’t be separated. “I’m on the other side (of health care). I can do more than help just one person at a time. I can help the whole community. A hospital administrator can’t just sit there. He has to get involved in the community. It’s really a way of life that comes with the job.”
“We enjoy the community. The people are great. It’s a different way of life, but we live in a place with great potential. It’s not hard to see measured growth ahead.”