WEST BRANCH – After completing his bachelor’s degree on the West side of the state, Robert (Bob) McGrail didn’t see himself returning to West Branch let alone ever at the helm of the region’s largest employer. But, after his father’s insistence to consider a position with the city and the right doors opening at the right time, McGrail changed his trajectory and ultimately became president of MidMichigan Medical Center – West Branch. A job he now says, he was “meant to do.”
“When I reflect on my previous positions, it was almost like I was being groomed to lead this hospital,” said McGrail. “I worked for the city, so I learned a lot about the ins and outs of a city-owned hospital. I worked for a bank so I learned a lot about financing and bonds. And, then, I joined the team at the Medical Center and learned a lot about the health care industry. All of this knowledge and experience came together to assist me through the years and with the successful affiliation with MidMichigan Health.”
McGrail retires after 30 years at the Medical Center at the end of this year. He will remain on as an advisor for Ray Stover, incoming president, until April of 2020 to ensure a smooth transition. Stover, who currently serves as president of MidMichigan Medical Centers in Gladwin and Clare, became president of the Medical Center Jan. 1. He will continue to oversee the Medical Center in Gladwin.
“Ray and I have a very similar management style and I am confident he will continue to do what is right for employees, volunteers, the medical staff and community,” said McGrail. “When we first affiliated with MidMichigan Health, I said I would continue as president through the integration period to ensure a smooth transition. We are now about 20 months into it and have successfully transitioned most policies and practices. It is time for this final transition to take place and I feel good about leaving the Medical Center well positioned for growth.”
Diane Postler-Slattery, Ph.D., FACHE, president and CEO, MidMichigan Health, is fond of her time working alongside McGrail. “Prior to our affiliation with West Branch, Bob and I worked together over a significant period of time as we discussed what it was we both wanted for our organizations to be successful. We discovered very early on, his leadership and vision matched that of MidMichigan Health in putting the patient first in all that we do. It’s been an honor to work alongside him and we look forward to the next few months as he stays with us through his transition retirement.”
McGrail was born in Detroit. He moved with his family to West Branch in 1966. McGrail was a member of the first four-year graduating class of Ogemaw Heights High School in 1972. He went on to graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with majors in Accounting and Business Administration. He is also a graduate of the Graduate School of Banking in Madison, WI.
McGrail began his career as a bookkeeper for the City of West Branch and went on to become the acting city manager. Then, in 1981 he moved to State Savings Bank as controller and in that role became a Tolfree Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees member. He served on that board for eight years.
“It’s interesting, when I reflect on my years as a Tolfree Memorial Board member. We faced many of the same issues that we do today,” he said. “Physician recruiting and declining reimbursement were top priorities then, as they are now. So while many years have passed, so much of health care remains the same.”
In 1989, McGrail became the assistant chief financial officer and controller for the Tolfree Memorial Hospital. Then, in 1996, he was promoted to chief financial officer and served in that role under then CEO Douglas Pattullo.
“I was very fortunate that our executive management team had great chemistry and camaraderie,” said Pattullo. “We were all equals and very much respected each other. Our success was always based on a collaboration with each executive team member contributing prior to a final decision. I am very proud that this collaborative team effort was carried on by Ed Napierala (Pattullo’s replacement) and now Bob. I am very proud of both of them.”
Upon the retirement of Napierala in 2015, McGrail became chief executive officer of the then West Branch Regional Medical Center (WBRMC). And according to Chairman of the Board, J. Daniel Stoneback, a role he was well prepared for.
“Upon Ed’s retirement, it became clear that Bob was the best candidate to serve as CEO as we continued to move from a city owned to a private nonprofit hospital and as we searched to join a larger health system,” said Stoneback. “Bob knew well the history and daily workings of WBRMC, the finances, the employees, the culture, and the board members. His calm, efficient leadership helped the board to work through the lengthy process of moving toward affiliation while keeping the hospital functional with daily business matters.”
McGrail said that, while he never aspired to be the CEO, he was pleased the board offered him the position so that he could continue the hard work started on the affiliation by himself and his predecessors.
“We (Doug, Ed and myself) spent years behind the scenes preparing for an inevitable affiliation,” he said. “And, there were times none of us thought we could do it. But we continued to push forward and each of us played an important role in our own respective areas. Once we got to the point of sending out that first Request for Proposals – and had the interest we had by so many health systems – we knew the work we had done was worth it and would benefit healthcare in the region in the future.”
And that it did. After six years of hard work by both the executive team and the Board of Trustees, in 2018 the Medical Center affiliated with MidMichigan Health.
“I believe the affiliation, which allowed us to join MidMichigan Health, has been a wonderful experience for West Branch and our surrounding service area,” said Stoneback. “In just a little under two years, we have welcomed many new doctors and other health professionals. We have opened a new larger state-of-the-art Emergency Department, moved to using the best
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computer system for hospital management and the electronic health record, and secured a source for future capital which will be needed for future projects. Bob and his leadership team have guided the path though the affiliation process with the help and support of the board and our wonderful new partners at MidMichigan Health.”
Those that worked alongside McGrail for any period of time would say his greatest attribute is his humor. While in most situations he is very quiet and reserved, those that knew him best spoke of his quick wit and humor.
“During tense times Bob’s quick wit and understated sense of humor would often lighten the discussion,” said Pattullo. “For example, budget times were usually quite stressful for department managers. Just for fun, we would often pull out our ‘eight ball’ and shake it to (jokingly) determine the fate of their yearly budgets. It always lightened the mood and made everyone laugh and I think helped us build a strong leadership team.”
McGrail has been married to wife, Cheryl, for 36 years and together they have three grown sons: James, who resides in Seattle, WA; Thomas, who lives in Los Angeles, CA; and Daniel, who lives in Lansing. He and Cheryl plan to travel to visit their children after retirement. He said he will also continue to golf and cook; two of his favorite things to do.
“I will always reflect fondly on my years at the Medical Center and all of the wonderful people I worked with along the way,” he said.
MidMichigan Health is a non-profit health system headquartered in Midland, Michigan, affiliated with Michigan Medicine, the health care division of the University of Michigan. MidMichigan Health covers a 23-county region with medical centers in Midland, Alpena, Alma, Clare, Gladwin, Mt. Pleasant and West Branch. In addition to its Medical Centers, MidMichigan Health also offers both home health care and physician services, and has a strong commitment to medical education. MidMichigan Physicians Group provides urgent care and medical offices in more than 30 specialties and subspecialties including cardiology, hematology/oncology, orthopedics, vascular surgery, family medicine and more. Currently, MidMichigan has more than 8,700 employees, volunteers, physicians and other personnel, and provided more than $90 million in community benefits in fiscal year 2019. www.midmichigan.org.