Scott Kelly, Asante's long-time President and CEO, recently announced his retirement after decades of working his way up from a strategic planner to the top executive. He was highly lauded for his deep understanding of Asante's operations and culture, as well as his engaging and humble leadership style.
When Asante President and CEO Scott Kelly announced his retirement last week, he completed a goal he had set at age 6, when he told his mother he would be a CEO when he grew up. Taken aback, his mother responded, “How do you even know what a CEO is?”
He would eventually learn what it means to shoulder the weight of an organization, especially when a global pandemic upends all normal operational functions. COVID-19 struck just one year after his appointment in 2019. As he and his executive team steered Asante through those chaotic early days of testing, PPE shortages, capacity constraints, staffing challenges and the halting of many revenue-producing services, Kelly still had to keep his eye on Asante’s other pressing matters. This included the biggest capital project in years — a new patient tower at ARRMC — and the opening of the Mary and Dick Heimann Cancer Center in Medford.
Both projects maintained their momentum throughout the pandemic. The Cancer Center was completed in 2022 and the pavilion project is on schedule to open later this year. Unlike other health systems, Asante avoided mass layoffs and has begun its financial recovery.
Before becoming CEO, Kelly served as Asante’s chief operating officer, which allowed him to work closely with his mentor Roy Vinyard, who retired as CEO in 2019 after 20 years. The two remained close and when Kelly was forced to take a medical leave in October, Vinyard stepped back into his old role on an interim basis. He will remain in this position while the board conducts a national search for a new CEO.
Kelly’s style was to become steeped in Asante’s operations and culture so that he could make informed decisions. As chief executive of ARRMC from 2012 to 2017, he shadowed as many disciplines as possible: nursing, respiratory therapy, phlebotomy, emergency physicians — even the switchboard.
It was an approach he’d picked up in his first job in health care. As a strategic planning analyst for a Dallas, Texas, hospital, he rose through the ranks by learning the ropes, first as supervisor, then manager, then director. He learned marketing and communications, which landed him at Asante in 2000, when Vinyard hired him to become chief strategy and business development officer. In that position, he played a key role in developing the Asante Outpatient Center in Grants Pass.
“He could see the vision for that project,” said Win Howard, ATRMC’s chief executive. “He was instrumental in making that happen.”
During Kelly’s tenure, Asante Rogue Regional was named a 100 Top Hospital and a 50 Top Cardiovascular Hospital in the nation multiple years in a row. During his years as president and CEO, Asante was continuously named a 15 Top Health System in the nation.
As an executive, Kelly was a casual leader who was quick with a joke or a warm hello. Dressed in an open-collared shirt, his ID badge swinging from a lanyard, he could be found scooping ice cream for the hospital’s root beer float Health Care Week party and later, as system CEO, posing for selfies with employees.
Howard, who worked with Kelly for 20 years, says what stands out most about his former colleague were his people skills.
“Scott is really good about connecting with people. Whether you work for him, with him or were a member of the team.”
Kelly also gained a reputation for self-deprecating humor. At one Asante Leadership Forum, he had the room roaring when he shared a story of mistaken identity involving a famous astronaut.
Like Vinyard, Kelly had high standards but a gentle approach to leadership. Amanda Kotler, chief nursing officer who worked with Kelly for 11 years, says she always admired the grace he extended to others.
“Whether I made a mistake (there have been plenty) or needed to take personal time away, he always gave me the space to learn from experiences and come back stronger. This is a testament to his character and who he is as a leader.”
Kotler says Asante leaders and employees have the opportunity to return the sentiment. “I know we’re all supportive, and will extend grace to Scott and his need to put himself first and take care of his health and well-being.”
Throughout the years, Kelly maintained grounded in his devotion to his three daughters, the Wisconsin Badgers and giving back to the community. Even as an executive, he volunteered weekly with the SMART program, reading to students at Washington Elementary School.
His community work reflects the key value he brought to leadership. Asked what trait he valued in leaders, he said: “Kindness. There’s no reason you can’t be kind.”