Henry Veenstra poses for a photo in front of Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital.There’s a certain zeal to Henry Veenstra’s approach to life.

Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital, its staff and patients have been on the receiving end of that passion and dedication for more than four decades.

Veenstra launched his career at Zeeland Community Hospital as a Grand Valley State University student intern in 1971. A year later, he was hired as an assistant administrator and was promoted to president and CEO in 1974.

Under his leadership, Zeeland Community Hospital has earned numerous awards for patient satisfaction, quality service and work environment. He also guided the move to the current facility in 2006.

Veenstra plans to retire Sept. 30. He recently shared with Health Beat his experiences and insights about the future of health care.

Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your 40-year career?

A:  Medical technology has certainly exploded over that period.

Who could have imagined CT scanners, MRIs, 3-D tomosynthesis mammography, laparoscopic surgery, automated laboratory analyzers, tele-medicine services or electronic medical records?

The shift from inpatient care to outpatient, ambulatory and even home care has been dramatic. The development over that period of specialty and even subspecialty services has also been significant.

Q: What trends do you see evolving?

A: The change in payment from fee-for-service to managed care has also been evolving into value-based purchasing and the creation of accountable care organizations. The introduction of hospitalists in the inpatient hospital setting has caused many primary care physicians to decide to be office-based.

In addition, patients have become more knowledgeable and more involved in their own care and this is good.

Q: What challenges do you face today versus 20 or 40 years ago?

A: Health care has become increasingly complex during the past 40 years.

Increased demands due to governmental regulations and accreditation standards, as well as insurance company expectations, have required hospitals to create administrative and support staffs just to remain compliant with all these requirements.

Q: What benefits/innovations for patients exist today that didn’t when you first started?

A: Medical technology advances have allowed patients to recover quickly and with less pain.

For example, after our daughter was born over 45 years ago, my wife developed gall bladder problems. She was admitted and had surgery at the U.S. Air Force hospital where I was stationed in Puerto Rico. She spent 10 days as an inpatient. When she was discharged, she had a surgical incision that needed to heal and was on limited activity for about six weeks.

When our daughter gave birth to her first child 19 years ago, she also developed gall bladder problems. She underwent laparoscopic gall bladder surgery and stayed in the hospital for less than 24 hours. When she was discharged, she had three small puncture wounds and returned to work within a week.

I spoke with one of our general surgeons recently. He said that laparoscopic gall bladder patients are now discharged home directly from the outpatient surgery unit, usually within three hours of their procedure. This one innovation has decreased the potential for wound infections, decreased the amount of pain a patient might experience, and has allowed patients to return to their normal lives much more quickly.

Q: What was the most impactful innovation during your career?

A: Advances in technology have significantly changed the way we can care for our patients. We now have tools like digital imaging, endoscopic and laparoscopic equipment in surgery, automated laboratory equipment and an evolving telemedicine capacity that significantly improves the access and care that can be provided in a community hospital.

When you couple the technology with a highly educated workforce that is focused on providing an exceptional patient experience, you can truly have a significant impact on the health of your patients and community.

Q: How has Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital grown during your tenure?

A: Here are some statistics:

Fiscal year                                1974                            2015

Total Revenue                         $1.7 million               $124.5 million

Total Assets                            $1.4 million               $73 million

Inpatient Revenue                  90.2 percent              32.6 percent

Outpatient Revenue               9.8 percent                67.4 percent

Average Length of Stay         6.64 days                   2.78 days

More importantly, the hospital has grown in the number and complexity of medical services that we can provide to our patients. In 2006, we were blessed to be able to move to a new facility designed to meet current and future needs. With the completion of our Specialty Care Service space projected for early 2016, we will be able to raise the level of care available in our community.

Henry Veenstra poses for a photo and smiles.Q: What are your plans for retirement?

A: I look forward to beginning a new journey of service. My wife, Kathy, and I plan to identify volunteer activities that will allow us both to continue to make a difference in this community. We will have more time to travel, to remain active in our grandchildren’s lives and to try out new hobbies. Most importantly, we will have a bit more control of our schedule.

Q: What is the process to fill your position?

A: Spectrum Health is currently conducting a search for my replacement. The local Board of Directors will be actively involved in the search process and make a recommendation regarding the final selection. It is anticipated that my successor will be named sometime this summer.

Q: What are you most proud of in your career?

A: My greatest accomplishment is to have been able to develop and sustain a vision and culture of providing an exceptional patient experience. This is captured by our commitment to being caring people, caring for people.

Building a new hospital was exciting, leading the decision to become a part of the Spectrum Health System was significant, but staying true to providing the best care for our patients and community over all these years is what I am most proud of.

We understood patient-centered care before it became fashionable. To have been a small part of this effort is very rewarding.

Q: What do you wish your legacy to be?

A: I hope that I am remembered as someone who was fair, kind and lived a purpose-filled life.