RiverStone Health, Montana
March 24, 2016
RiverStone Health, Montana
March 24, 2016
Local health departments seem to constantly find themselves in a state of transformation, adapting and responding to shifts in politics, culture, science, and economics. Most recently, healthcare reform challenged local health departments to grapple with their core identity and posed challenges to the way many agencies have always done business. Now more than ever, it is important for local health departments to assert their role and value in the communities they serve. One health department in Montana has successfully tackled this challenge time and again.
RiverStone Health is no stranger to transformation. Since its start in 1974, the agency has embraced change. Originally Yellowstone City-County Health Department, YCCHD operated under the Board of County Commissioners as an advisory/public health policy entity. In 1998, it separated from the county and became a multi-jurisdictional service while still retaining its old name. In 2006, they expanded services to include public health, healthcare, social services, and healthcare education. Then, following a drastic hike in funding in 2007, they underwent an extensive re-branding process, where they emerged as RiverStone Health.
These changes have made RiverStone Health a stronger, unique community organization and helped it remain relevant and viable. Leadership at RiverStone Health see the agency as an entrepreneurial health services organization. Today, approximately 90% of Yellowstone County adults are familiar with the organization, and as a healthcare provider, RiverStone sees around 1,000 patients a day. But the agency offers much more than clinical services: they are involved with everything from home health services to emergency preparedness to restaurant inspections. It also partners and collaborates frequently with two local healthcare systems―Billings Clinic and St. Vincent’s Hospital―on a variety of projects, including community needs assessments and increasing access to primary and mental health care.
A major reason for RiverStone’s triumph amid transformation is the comprehensive rebranding process the health department went through in 2006. Research showed that the agency had low name recognition, despite numerous reorganizations. Often confused as a branch of “the county,” the agency felt that its name did not represent the innovative public-private partnership model they had established. The rebranding process, which John writes about in NACCHO’s latest Exchange issue, looked at what the agency was and who it wanted to be, and pinpointed what was not working to adjust its future direction. Establishing a brand broke down internal silos and united all employees behind the single cause of improving life, health, and safety for their community. It also allowed them to take credit for all of the work they were doing. Before, the agency had an excellent reputation for its services, but a lack of cohesion led to confusion within the community about who was responsible for what.
Another major part of RiverStone’s continued success is a shared embodiment of the philosophy that “leadership is a job that’s too big for just one person.” As director, John strives to create a culture where everyone can be leaders. He instituted a leadership program that staff at any level or program can apply to participate. Another way he does this is through his managerial style: he aims to provide staff with the information needed to do their work, but gives each of them room to learn from successes and mistakes. John explains that as long as employees have integrity, the organization can recover from any missteps. This is why RiverStone considers character traits in addition to skills during the hiring process.
RiverStone Health has emerged from the changes and challenges as a valued leader in its field and in the community. When John considers RiverStone’s future, he is confident that the department’s commitment to leadership, integrity, and the RiverStone brand will continue to guide them in the right directions. You can read more about RiverStone Health in John Felton’s piece on branding featured in NACCHO latest Exchange issue and in The Value of a Brand, which is featured on NACCHO’s Stories from the Field blog series.