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LifeScape’s New CEO on Meaning, Expansion, and ‘Drinking from a Fire Hydrant’

Jan 03, 2019 10:00AM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

In September, Steve Watkins, former CEO of Orion Foods, became the new CEO of Sioux Falls-based LifeScape. Since his unanimous approval by the Governing Board, Watkins has jumped into his new role with both feet - an experience her describes as “trying to drink from a fire hydrant.”

MED caught up with him to find out how he is settling in and what is next for LifeScape, an independent, non-profit organization serving special needs adults and children across the region.

MED: LifeScape is a pretty big change from food manufacturing. What drew you to this position?

SW: The biggest thing is that I knew that I wanted to migrate out of for-profit into something that really mattered, something tangible, something that involved giving back to my community. At Orion, we supported organizations including Children’s Home Society and Sanford’s Children’s Hospice, which was very meaningful to me. When I was contacted about LifeScape, I wasn’t even actively looking, but it really felt like the right move.

MED: In the board’s recommendation of you, they said they thought you could help LifeScape “address the big challenges”. What are these challenges?

SW: There are several. The biggest one is workforce. In some cases, we have had to turn away individuals looking for our services because we did not have the staffing to meet their needs. This is an economic but also a cultural issue and it means that we may need to look more closely at things like retention and even automation. The other big challenge for us is space. What we are seeing is that there are demands for services that exceed our capacities. A lot of that has to do with space.  

MED: So that begs the question...how are you going to deal with that?

SW: Anne believed that it was time to expand to a new facility, a new campus, and I am excited to take on that challenge. Our Foundation gave us $6 million to buy 40 acres so we are in the process of determining what the landscape looks like for property. We are looking at an overall project of about $60 million for a campus that would bring together most of the high level services that we currently provide in 18 buildings across Sioux Falls. We are putting together the appropriate committees and hope to have a more formal timeline in place by March.

MED: Today, as we are talking, you are just a month into your new position. What have you learned so far?

SW: The biggest take-away in my first month is that the level of excellence in care that LifeScape provides is a very well-kept secret. We have very specialized services and there are still a lot of people who don’t know what we do. So that is something we need to address, as well.