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Avera president and CEO announces retirement

A long and undeniably successful career that impacted thousands will soon come to a close.

After 44 years with Avera Health, President and CEO John Porter announced his plans to retire on Friday, capping a career that shaped the face of health care in South Dakota.

And Porter can enter retirement knowing he accomplished many of the goals he set decades ago.

When he became CEO in 2000, Porter said his main focus aligned with other company officials: create a company that is integrated and serve as many people as possible. Now, with more than 300 operating units — hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities — in 104 communities, Porter said there’s no doubt that’s been accomplished.

“We have a very strong presence working with a lot of rural communities,” Porter said in an interview with The Daily Republic on Friday. “That is one of the hallmarks is we want good, quality health care that’s very accessible and as close to home as we can bring to people.”

Porter is credited with sparking innovation in the Avera system, as well as growing the company to integrate a full range of care including hospitals, clinics, retirement communities, health insurance, sports and fitness centers, home care and more.

But the humble Porter takes little credit, instead directing praise to all of Avera’s 17,000 employees.

“I would say I haven’t accomplished a dang thing. When you think about it and all of the history and people who are involved, I’m more of a blink than anything out there,” Porter said. “Where I take the biggest amount of pride and satisfaction is the people we have.”

A graduate of the University of South Dakota, 69-year-old Porter began his tenure at Avera in 1974, serving as a staff attorney for the Avera System Members, which is comprised of six Sisters, three from each of the two religious orders that sponsor Avera.

He helped form the Benedictine and Presentation health systems, serving as executive vice president of the Presentation Health System in 1984 until taking over as president and CEO in 1989. In the late 1990s, he facilitated the process to merge the two entities to create Avera Health, which he said is his greatest professional accomplishment.

He became president and CEO of Avera Health in 2000.

“We feel blessed to have had John’s partnership and collaboration in our health ministry. He has truly been a remarkable leader,” said Joan Reichelt, Avera System Members Vice Chair and Executive Vice President of Culture at Avera. “Over the coming days and months we will celebrate Avera’s many accomplishments achieved under his leadership.”

With Porter’s announcement comes the daunting task of finding his replacement. Porter will remain in his role until December 2018 or until his replacement is found, according to a press release from Avera. The Avera System Members will utilize a professional executive search firm to assist in the hiring of the company’s next president and CEO.

Until that process is finalized, Porter said he’ll still be at the office every morning at 7 a.m. ready to work.

“We’re going to find the right person … somebody who comes in and makes it as much their own personal ministry as I tried to,” Porter said. “When it comes down to it, what I’ve found is it’s like the old saying to find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life and I’m probably an example of not ever working a day.”