As she stood in the Kittitas County Courthouse on the evening of Sept. 15, 1998, Joan Baird Glover beamed jubilantly.
There was good reason.
Voters had just approved an $11.5 million bond levy for KVH Hospital. The measure passed with a 68 percent "yes" vote and would fund a much needed 32,000-square foot expansion and major renovations at the hospital.
"We were elated," says Glover, then in her first go-round as president of the Kittitas County Public Hospital District No. 1/Kittitas Valley Healthcare Board of Commissioners. "It was absolutely gratifying to all of us."
Accomplished in two stages, the project included enlarged operating rooms, an expanded Emergency Department, improvements to the lab area, a dedicated outpatient surgery area, a helicopter landing pad, a new main entrance and a host of other changes.
Glover, who has a deep appreciation of the importance of fostering and protecting public trust, believes the hospital’s clear communication and accountability were key to passage.
"The Board and administration showed we were effective and responsible in overseeing a vital resource for all members of our community," she says. "We answered questions clearly and honestly. We had a clear and specific plan for how the bond levy revenue would be used."
Seventeen years later, KVH Hospital is testimony to that trust - and Glover, who recently resigned after 19 years on the board, including six years as president, was instrumental in keeping it so.
Glover is highly respected both locally and at the state level for her commitment to quality healthcare . She's been on the Washington State Hospital Association's Board of Trustees since 2010, served on a variety of the organization's committees and been honored for her contributions multiple times.
At first glance, she seemed an unlikely presence in Ellensburg.
Blame love - and apples.
Raised in Texas and the daughter of a physician, Glover dreamed of becoming a doctor until organic chemistry got in her way in college. "Science was never my strong suit," Glover says, flashing a smile. Glover went on to earn a degree in English, spent two years in the Peace Corps teaching English as a Second Language in Thailand, then earned a master’s in education at Tufts University. She spent four years teaching in Houston, then moved on to a career path that eventually melded her interest in writing and communication with her passion for healthcare.
A stint as assistant director of public affairs at Houston's Memorial Hermann Hospital, the University of Texas Medical School's teaching hospital, was followed by a move to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, considered one of the top cancer centers in the country. Glover was named Director of Public Information there in 1985.
"I had the most perfect job in the entire world," she says. Then, in 1986, friends introduced her to Fritz Glover, a chemical engineer with an MBA who spent most of his career in management of chemical company operations. Before long, they were planning a life together.
He wanted a career change, a chance to try something new - something, it turns out, like growing apples. It would mean relocation. There were three criteria: a university town where she might find work, a real work shift for Fritz, and a scenic setting.
On an exploratory trip to Washington state, Fritz drove through Ellensburg and the town filled the bill.
In 1988 he took early retirement; she gave notice. They bought a 25-acre pear and apple orchard (later expanded to 35 acres) in Ellensburg, married in June and arrived in Ellensburg in August. Two weeks later they were picking pears and Glover had landed a job at Central.
"Two crazy people from Texas," Glover says now, laughing and shaking her head.
But Glover's interest in healthcare wasn't over.
In fall 1995, she filed to run for the KVH Board of Commissioners. She ran unopposed. Eric Jensen, who was the hospital administrator at the time and served in that role until 2008, "had a commitment to improving the service of the hospital and also reaching out to the community," Glover says.
He and the Board shared a common goal: they recognized that KVH, a small, rural hospital, couldn't do everything larger counterparts could do. But what it did do it needed to do well. Excellence would be the standard.
"We all wanted KVH to be absolutely the best it could be at what it does and provide appropriate services to the community while not trying to do things better done at other places - like Virginia Mason or Fred Hutchinson," says Glover.
She says people often voice surprise at the quality of care they find at KVH Hospital, recognized as one of the Top 20 critical access hospitals in the nation. It wasn't always the case. At the beginning of her involvement, she notes, "I'd sometimes hear people be negative - either about their own experience or some relatives’. I don't hear those stories anymore."
And while she recognizes the reputation KVH has for friendliness, it's not the yardstick she uses to measure the hospital's success. "To me, it's lovely that people are kind and pay attention to you," she says. "But if they can't back that up with excellent, high quality and evidence-based, care it means very little."
What's she proudest of looking back over nearly two decades? Plenty.
"I can't just give you one thing. The overall quest for excellence certainly," Glover says pointing to a "culture of excellence" that stresses high quality patient-family centered care. At every level of the operation, "it's very clear what the expectations are," she says. "There's never complacency."
Credit leadership that has set the bar - and a staff that has embraced the challenge. Neither is lost on Glover. "I have an appreciation and admiration for the people who work here on a daily basis that I don't think they could understand," she says. "I see the quality of care whether it's at the reception desk or someone on the floor who delivers babies. It's a movement within the organization."
CEO Paul Nurick, recruited through a nationwide search after Jensen left, "has a vision for this organization that is extremely beneficial to the community," she says. "I am a great admirer of the energy, knowledge, and commitment he brought to this organization in 2009."
Over the years, Glover saw changes at KVH that mirrored changes occurring across the state. For example, KVH now owns and operates seven clinics and plus expanded outpatient programs, a dramatic change that ensured those services would stay in Kittitas County. In addition, she has seen greater transparency than ever before with much more information readily available to the public (except for patient records which are confidential); reinforcement of patient-family centered care; decisions based on evidence-based medicine; and a more collaborative approach to improving healthcare services.
"Hospitals work with other hospitals. Clinicians share best practices. We all know that we can benefit from others' experiences," she says. That means sharing problems and challenges as well as progress.
"I believe a very important facet of high quality medicine is humility," says Glover who lauds the hospital's current board and calls its members "very knowledgeable and highly focused." Working with them was an honor, she says.
She and Fritz are selling their orchard and returning to Houston.
"The decision to sell our orchard was the right decision for many reasons but that doesn't mean it's easy to move forward," she says. "Ellensburg has been our home for 26 years and it will continue to be an incredibly large part of who I am."
If leaving is bittersweet, so is stepping away from KVH.
After all, she came to Ellensburg for love and apples - and renewed a mission, one that's guided much of her life.
"Healthcare is where my heart is," Glover says. "It's where my energy lies."