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John Porter on Avera, Retirement, and Soccer

Feb 23, 2018 11:21PM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

This year, after more than four decades at the helm of Avera Health, and on the brink of his 70th birthday, President and CEO John Porter will retire. Porter saw the health system through tremendous growth and change, including the transition from traditional hospital/nursing-home focus to fully-integrated care continuum. In the late 1990s, Porter helped facilitate the process of uniting the Benedictine and Presentation health systems in the co-creation of Avera Health. We talked with him about his tenure and his plans.

MED: You have done and seen so much during your time at Avera. What accomplishment are you particularly proud of?

JP: The fact that we were able to take these two disparate catholic groups who had been engaged in their own separate ministries for 100 years and bring them together. There is trauma in letting go of something that you have had for 100 years. At one time, they saw each other as competitors. To have them come together and share a vision of a system that could be stronger and bigger, that was significant.

MED: What do you think has been your biggest challenge?

JP: Trying to figure out how to provide the highest possible quality of care and still remain financially viable. Part of that was right-sizing, being more intentional in focusing on our geographical footprint. The Presentation sisters had nursing homes in Montana and the Benedictines had some in Colorado. So the orders had to go through a divestiture and and transfer of these facilities so that we could make a more intense investment in our core geography.

MED: Beyond the clinical advances, how do you see things changing for the better in the future?

JP: We are now in all aspects of healthcare under the auspices of the Avera Health ministry. And we are growing those services and the specialty nature of those services. We recognize that it is frustrating to get bills from lots of different places. We are moving to where it will be one singular medical record, one bill, one relationship. It will take a while, but I think this is what people want.

MED: Are there things you are going to miss?

JP: Well, I’m not going to miss going to work every morning at 7, especially when it’s 17 below wind chill! But I am going to miss people. The Sisters have given their entire lives to this health ministry, day in, day out. When you work with people like that and with clinicians that are just so committed to treating every patient physically and holistically, you can’t help but miss that.

MED: So what is next for you?

JP: I have 8 grandkids between 6 and 19 and they all live in SIoux Falls, Pierre, and Rapid City. I kind of missed my own kids growing up and I don’t want to miss my grandkids. I don’t think I’m going to write a book, or become a worldwide speaker or a consultant. My wife and I may travel some and I love to ride my motorcycle. But, honestly, I see myself at a lot of soccer games and school plays!