Ashli Danilko

Ashli Danilko

TYNDALL — In her new position, Ashli Danilko will take charge of a vital service — the rural hospital — that has vanished from many small communities.

In contrast, she will oversee not only a rural hospital with a long history but also a network of related services in multiple communities.

Danilko will take the reins as the new chief executive officer (CEO) of St. Michael’s Hospital Avera in Tyndall. The critical access hospital, licensed for 25 acute care beds, also offers swing bed care in which patients may have short-term to long-term residential stays.

The hospital serves not only Tyndall, a community of about 1,100 residents, but also the surrounding region.

“I’m joining the team at St. Michael’s Avera July 20 for the transition and will become the CEO September 12,” she told the Press & Dakotan.

St. Michael’s holds a management agreement with Avera Sacred Heart Hospital (ASHH) in Yankton. St. Michael’s Hospital Avera has been a Catholic institution since 1949, shortly after its beginning.

Besides its hospital care, St. Michael’s sponsors the Bon Homme Family Practice Clinics Avera in Tyndall and Avon as well as Bon Homme Pharmacy Avera. A wide range of diagnostic and treatment services is available for outpatients and inpatients.

“We also provide medical services for (Mike Durfee State Prison) in Springfield,” Danilko said, with the medium-security prison housing around 1,200 inmates.

She will succeed Carol Deurmier, who retires Sept. 11 after working at the hospital for 44 years — including 28 years as CEO.

“Carol has been a tremendous resource,” Danilko said. “I am fortunate to have the opportunity for a transition and spending it with someone who can give me plenty of guidance. I’m definitely the newbie. I intend to listen and learn.”

PAST EXPERIENCE

Danilko currently serves as the vice president of administrative services and strategy at ASHH.

She previously served as the regional director of clinical initiatives for Avera Health and as director of lean and network operations for Trinity Health/Mercy One in Sioux City.

A “lean” operation seeks to make the greatest use of resources, often limited in number and scope. Those strategic plans can include forming a network with other facilities to make the greatest use of available staff and supplies.

Danilko grew up in Yankton, and her move to ASHH in 2013 brought her back home. Since returning to River City, she has undertaken a number of initiatives.

In one major project, she worked with the acquisition and development of the Starlight Motel across the street from ASHH. The purchase provided the hospital with needed adjacent property for hospital services.

“Where we’re located, there isn’t a lot of ground for expansion,” she said. “The initial plans (for the former hotel) are to create housing for patients or family members of patients receiving long-term care. It’s a new service and part of our programming.”

With another initiative, she worked on a partnership with Mount Marty and Coach Mark Roozen to develop training programs using the school’s new fieldhouse. Roozen brings an extensive background in strength and conditioning programs at various levels.

“We’re looking at starting those programs in late summer or early fall (when the fieldhouse opens for use). All of the services can be offered there in one building,” she said. “‘Coach Rozy’ brings so much enthusiasm, and this will be an excellent opportunity for him to hold a ‘boot camp’ for area athletes.”

Danilko has also worked with the establishment of a wound clinic and other services.

“All of those experiences were a real primer for me,” she said. “They helped prepare me for my work here and in the future with St. Michael’s.”

FORMING A PARTNERSHIP

During her ASHH outreach work, Danilko has developed a relationship with St. Michael’s staff and leadership.

“I have a great deal of admiration and respect for St. Michael’s Hospital Avera and for Carol (Deurmier),” she said. “She has been a mentor to me over the years. I’m honored to have been chosen for this leadership role and look forward to helping our providers and staff to serve the people of Bon Homme County and the surrounding area.”

That partnership between the hospital and general public will prove critically important in both the immediate and long-term future, Danilko said.

“It’s a challenging time in health care, and we will need a team approach to find ways to adapt and succeed in the years ahead,” she said.

Her announcement as St. Michael’s CEO was made this week by Doug Ekeren, the ASHH regional president and CEO, in coordination with the St. Michael’s Hospital board of directors.

FUTURE CHALLENGES

In her new role, Danilko will work with a rapidly changing landscape for rural health care. Many rural hospitals — especially those without any outside affiliation with a major health network — have faced everything from financial struggles to staffing shortages.

In a number of cases, those rural hospitals have closed.

St. Michael’s Hospital has weathered those storms, including a declining and increasingly elderly rural population. In addition, Tyndall lies 27 miles from Yankton, a regional medical center.

However, Danilko notes that St. Michael’s continues offering a wide range of services and filling an important role for its service area.

“These rural hospitals, especially the critical access ones, provide an important service for their areas,” she said. “The patients are a shorter distance from a hospital and other medical services, and they can receive care immediately. They often can remain in their community and stay closer to their families, which can be really important to them.”

Should St. Michael’s patients require more specialized services, they can use the Avera health care system, Danilko said. Those services may range from care at a regional center such as Yankton to traveling professionals who offer outreach clinics and services in surrounding communities.

St. Michael’s can offer office visits through its Tyndall and Avon clinics, Danilko said. In addition, the hospital staff can perform routine surgeries and offer pharmacy services.

She considers St. Michael’s in a good staffing position, but she also acknowledges the continual need for recruiting and retaining health care professionals.

“We are mindful of the importance of physician recruitment and making sure that they find the physicians they need,” she said. “That goes for other staff members, too. We want to keep the medical community strong.”

Danilko takes over the St. Michael’s leadership during a particularly stressful time with both a pandemic and economic challenges at the state and national levels.

However, St. Michael’s has already implemented a number of COVID health and safety recommendations in its daily regimen, she noted.

“There’s no reason to change that,” she said. “Our teams will continue providing services while also following COVID protocols.”

Some things, such as the increased use of telehealth, will likely continue after the pandemic, Danilko said. “I suppose that things will look differently, in this day and age, as we move forward. We can expect to see continued telehealth and doctors using their iPads,” she said.

However, it won’t replace the personal touch found in office visits, she added.

“There will always be a time and place for the provider to look the patient in the eye and have a good conversation,” she said.

“There is a balance between telemedicine and providing that face-to-face care.”

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