Deb and Micah Brunner

Micah and Deb BrunnerRelationships matter - at home and in the workplace.

Just ask Deb Brunner.

If employees at Kittitas Valley Healthcare feel like family to Brunner, there's good reason - and it's not just because her son Micah is one of them. Brunner, director of patient financial services and a familiar face at KVH for almost 40 years, has forged a host of friendships over that time.

Flash back to January 1975. The hospital, opened in December 1964, is a decade old. Deb, then 19, is hired by office manager Dee Linder to work the reception desk. Linder, a neighbor of the Brunner family, had a reputation for grooming good workers for bigger things. Deb would prove no exception.

The pay was $1.90 an hour. The business office had just gotten its first electric typewriter - and Deb was thrilled to be on board. "I loved it. The people were awesome. It just fit," she says.

But there was an obstacle: a daunting, sharp-tongued nurse intent on making sure Deb knew her place. "The worst part of the job was the beginning," Deb says. "The emergency room nurse just kept ripping into me. I found out later she did it to everybody. But once you made it through that she was your best friend."

The first of her family to join KVH, Deb was not the last. Etta Sinclair, her mother, worked a decade in the hospital laundry. Terri Rasmussen, her sister, spent several years in purchasing. But it was Deb who forged a career at KVH, advancing into increasingly responsible positions. In 1995, she was named to her current post where she supervises a staff of 18 that includes patient financial services, reception desk and registration desk employees.

Six years ago another generation of her family became part of KVH when Micah hired on as an engineering tech with the maintenance department. He was on seasonal leave from his father's underground sprinkler company when Randy Kaiser, director of engineering at KVH and a family friend, invited him to fill in for an employee going on leave. Then a permanent position opened up and Micah got it.

For Micah it was a homecoming of sorts. Now 30, he was born at KVH Hospital.

"For me, the big draw was working with Randy," Micah says. "Growing up, he was like a second dad to me. Ever since I was a kid he took me fishing and hunting."

Besides working with Kaiser, he relishes the daily diversity of his job. "I can go from troubleshooting an electrical problem to maintaining medical equipment to changing light bulbs to pulling weeds outside. I never know what my day is going to consist of," he says.

For Deb, staying abreast of rapidly changing federal regulations poses constant challenge. "It's tough," she says. "That's why you never get bored on this job." Frequent turnover on the reception and registration desks, where many of the employees are college students who leave when their studies are over, also poses a challenge.

Deb says rewards of her job outweigh the challenges because while she's not directly involved in patient care, she knows her efforts help patients. "It's rewarding to help people work through the financial process," she says. "Fortunately, we're in a position where we can help people who have trouble paying."

And then, there are the relationships developed over four decades at KVH Hospital.

"I have a lot of friends here," says Deb.

Micah shares his mother's sentiment.

"Some of my best memories are of growing up with people who work here," he says. "It's cool to be working with people I know. You're an individual - not just an employee."