St. John's Health Sign

Members of the volunteer hospital board have again chosen an internal candidate to join their ranks.

On Monday, board advisor Katharine Conover-Keller was appointed interim trustee by the St. John’s Health Board of Trustees. She will serve at least until November’s general election.

Well-known for her 14 years helming the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, Conover-Keller has advised the hospital board for the past year and served on its nominating and governance committee, giving her a front-row seat to key personnel decisions.

“As an advisor, I can see firsthand the work that they’re doing,” she told the News&Guide last week.

She also became a familiar face.

Prior to candidate interviews, Vice Chair Debby Hopkins, who leads the nominating and governance committee, said people have a way of working their way up the rungs of St. John’s: from the foundation (the hospital’s fundraising arm), to advisor, then to trustee.

That progression is meaningful, Hopkins said, because “you kind of have to live it to realize what our employees go through [and] what the challenges are.”

As an example, she pointed to the former board Chair Sue Critzer, who served as St. John’s Health Auxiliary president and a board advisor before to becoming a trustee. Hopkins herself joined the foundation and served as an advisor before becoming a trustee.

“It’s just building knowledge that would be hard to access from afar,” Hopkins said.

That said, many of the candidates vying for a seat on the board expressed clear understanding of the challenges St. John’s is facing in their applications and interviews.

Public Health board member Shannon Brennan talked about new patient expectations like diagnostic and interventional treatments, as well as workforce challenges like burnout, lack of affordable housing and potential lags in compensation due to the looming inflation.

Jackson anesthesiologist Dr. Marc Domsky referred to health care as “big business” in his interview and said St. John’s needs to regain trust from the community.

St. John’s is a semipublic institution, and its board is elected by county residents. But when there’s a board vacancy, as was the case this season after 12-year Trustee Joe Albright stepped down, the board internally selects an interim replacement.

Those replacements aren’t a shoe-in for the next general election, but incumbents do have a history of success.

In the past three elections, 10 out of 11 winners were incumbents, and several started as interim trustees selected by the board. Albright, for instance, was first appointed to fill a vacancy in 2009 before winning as an incumbent in 2010.

“I don’t know that there’s any acknowledgement on the ballot that somebody is an incumbent, so I don’t know how that would necessarily be a leg up,” Conover-Keller said. “It’s a leg up in terms of knowing what you’re getting into.”

Conover-Keller said that after retiring from the Community Foundation in early 2020, she missed knowing what was going on and wanted to have a voice again, especially during the communitywide COVID-19 crisis. By joining the hospital’s volunteer leadership she found that sense of purpose again. And now, as the board looks to hire a CEO, she is looking to transform her front-row seat into an on-stage accompaniment.

St. John’s will lead a search to replace interim CEO David Robertson sometime this year, and Conover-Keller will chair the CEO search committee, Hopkins said Monday.

In her interview earlier that day for the trustee position, Conover-Keller said she helped find John Goettler, the St. John’s Health Foundation president. And apparently, she has also already been in conversations with staff about the hospital’s next CEO.

When the board asked her what traits the CEO should have, she described what employees already like about Robertson: One staffer told her they felt like they could take responsibility for burning down St. John’s and Robertson would still be unflappable. “He’d say ‘Can we roast s’mores?’” the staffer reportedly said.

Public Zoom interviews on Friday and Monday gave a dozen candidates 30 to 45 minutes to respond to questions from trustees and the governance committee about their experience and vision for the volunteer hospital board.

Trustees hope some of the remaining talent pool become advisors and committee members.

“As an advisor, I can see firsthand the work that they’re doing.” — Katharine Conover-Keller New st. john’s health trustee

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or ERJ@jhnewsandguide.com.

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

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(1) comment

Tim Rieser

That was an inside job. Joe Albright. He resigned early to gateway Kathy c. in. Too bad they wasted all the applicant’s time with the charade. Honestly is in the back seat of St. John’s board.

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