Avera Health announced Wednesday it has promoted Avera Queen of Peace Regional President and CEO Tom Clark as the health care organization's new chief strategy and growth officer.

The appointment is effective July 12. Clark told The Daily Republic in an interview he accepted the job on Monday. The position is a new creation by Avera Health CEO Bob Sutton, who sought to restructure the organization’s senior management and make it leaner, said Clark, who was selected following an internal search.

“He took the initiative to create this position and I’m thrilled for the opportunity,” Clark said.

The position will emphasize the strategic direction of Avera, something Clark said he’s looking forward to.

“When I announced this to the staff, I’ve been doing the hospital operations for right at 30 years,” Clark said. “I’m just feeling a call to do something different and that’s why this opportunity is perfect. I get to work at health care from a different angle, and I get to work on a lot of different priorities and I get to do it by staying with Avera, which is a place I have come to love so much.”

In an announcement about the move, Sutton said the health care industry is at an “inflection point” regarding care and consumer demand and being resilient in the face of COVID-19.

“Our health care ministry must be positioned to respond and meet patients’ and members’ needs in high-reliability, high-quality and lower-cost scenarios, and we want to strengthen our leadership team to address just that,” Sutton said. “Avera will benefit from Tom’s strong commitment to our mission, his consensus-building leadership style, and his thoughtful vision for the future of this health care system.”

Clark has led the Mitchell hospital since July 11, 2011, and his promotion to Avera's executive team will come nearly nine years to the day of his arrival at Avera Queen of Peace. Prior to joining Avera, he worked for nine years as the CEO of a hospital in Bluffton, Indiana.

Avera said the new position will oversee a broad area of departments across the health care group, which has 19,000 employees over 300 locations in 100 communities in eastern South Dakota and four surrounding states and had 3.1 million patient visits in 2019. Those departments Clark will provide executive leadership to include Avera’s insurance, e-care, home health, strategic marketing and communications, rural health, business development, performance excellence and facility development departments.

Avera said the announcement of Clark’s appointment begins the process of Avera’s realignment of its regional operations and follows Avera’s strategies and efforts to "innovate and sustain the health system’s infrastructure for the future."

If and how Clark will be replaced at Avera Queen of Peace hospital in Mitchell is yet to be decided. Clark said he and Sutton will meet with the hospital’s board in the next 10 days to discuss their plan of action.

In his Mitchell role, Clark was responsible for overseeing the hospital, along with Avera Brady Health and Rehab and Avera Brady Assisted Living, along with the Avera Medical Group clinics in the Mitchell region, which includes Avera properties in De Smet, Parkston, Platte and Wessington Springs.

Among his accomplishments he most cherishes, he said, includes the construction of the Avera Grassland campus, the three-story, 70,000 square-foot facility that opened in 2016. He said he also appreciated the partnerships that have provided clinical training to students at Dakota Wesleyan University and Mitchell Technical Institute. Another highlight includes five straight top-100 rankings in the National Rural Health Association’s annual list of the top Rural and Community Hospitals, including three times in the top-20.

“That’s not because of me,” Clark said. “That speaks really highly to what an amazing medical staff and hospital staff and clinic staff we have here in town, and the work that they do.”

Clark said he will eventually relocate to Sioux Falls, but he made one request to Sutton about his work in Mitchell. Clark said he wants to help see the housing development project that Avera has donated land to the Mitchell Area Development Corporation “to the finish line.”

“It is just a critical need and we have to find a way to make this happen,” he said. “I plan on staying involved in getting the housing project done.”

The outgoing leader said Mitchell is blessed with the caliber of health care it has, something for which the community should be grateful.

“For whomever steps in next, they will find a ship that is upright and strong and they’ll come in with a fresh perspective and can guide it to the next level,” Clark said.