PORTLAND — The statewide spotlight shone bright on Klamath Falls and one of its leading business officials Tuesday evening, as Sky Lakes Medical Center CEO Paul Stewart accepted the 2017 Statesman of the Year award for his efforts as a driving force behind many the local efforts to enhance the health and well-being of the community.
Oregon Business & Industry, which merged from Associated Oregon Industries and Oregon Business Association, awards the honor to a leading business executive each year at what is known as a “signature” statewide business event.
Stewart is the first from Klamath Falls to be recognized with the award. As his wife and adult children watched from a crowd of more than 750 people Tuesday evening, Stewart was awarded the top honor at the Oregon Convention Center in downtown Portland.
Watch a video about Mr. Stewart and his vision for the region.
Attendees at the event included Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, as well as many Oregon legislators and leading business owners from around the state, and more than a dozen officials from Klamath Falls.
Stewart kissed his wife, Suzanne, on the cheek after accepting the award on the stage, sharing praise and gratefulness for her support.
Making life better
“I’m truly humbled and honored by this recognition,” Stewart said. “I feel this recognition is less about recognizing me personally than it is about recognizing ... invisible efforts going on in small communities around our state trying to make life better for those who live outside our metropolitan areas.”
Stewart’s mantra as a health administrator is focused on proactive care versus reactive, “sick-care.”
“I’ve spent most of my career trying to coordinate our collective response to disease or injury after it happens,” Stewart said. “And while I’m immensely proud of all healthcare workers for their dedication, their sacrifice … my board and I recognized that if we’re going to truly move forward on our vision of creating a healthier community, we need to do more than just react to disease when it presents itself on our doorstep.
“We are here to reduce the burden of accidents, illness and disability,” Stewart added, noting Sky Lakes facilities are increasingly focused on helping people avoid habits leading to preventable diseases.
“We need to make upstream investments to make the right choice become the easy choice.”
Led by Stewart and his board of directors, Sky Lakes is also known for leadership efforts in spurring and collaborating on a variety of community projects aimed at economic vitality as well as enhanced community health. Such projects include, Klamath Works Human Services Campus, the Blue Zones Project, development of the Sky Lakes Wellness Center, Kit Carson Park renovations and more in attempts to enhance the community health and well-being.
“Paul is an example of what statesmanship can accomplish in our communities, regardless of the stage or the spotlight,” said Scott Bolton, vice president of Pacific Power, who chaired the event. “Paul demonstrates a brand of quiet and courageous leadership that emboldens others to band together to forge a stronger and healthier community and a path to a new, better day.”
Bolton also recognized Stewart as a leader who works “shoulder to shoulder” with individuals in Klamath Falls on efforts to enhance the community.
“You may know it as the gateway to Crater Lake or as part of the agricultural bread basket of our state,” Bolton said, “or home to Oregon Tech — Go Hustlin’ Owls,” Bolton added. “Or perhaps you may know Klamath Falls for its many challenges, uncertainty over water, economic setbacks, or the social problems that many large cities struggle with, let alone a rural community of just 21,000 residents,” he said.
“Klamath Falls has resiliency. It has grit, and has leaders driven to make a lasting difference rather than just tomorrow’s headlines. Leaders who lead through action by showing up and pitching in,” Bolton said.
The event featured a video about Stewart’s involvement in the community, reflecting both local and statewide voices, such as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Gov. Brown called Stewart an “innovator” who has been “tackling the underlying causes of illness” before it was popular.
“He was way ahead of his time,” Brown said.
Witnesses to change
The video also showcased local voices of those who work closely with Stewart, such as Katherine Jochim Pope, program director of Sky Lakes Wellness Center.
“Paul of course is the reason we have the Blue Zones Project,” Pope said in the video. “It would not have come to Klamath if Paul had not pledged financial support.
“Paul has supported everything we’ve done. From the wellness center, we have launched a weight management classes, which also includes cooking classes and stress management classes and yoga and circuit training. Pretty much everything good that’s happened in health in Klamath can be traced back to Paul’s support. You can find his fingerprints on pretty much everything we do,” Pope said.
“He knows that a community can’t be healthy unless insurance companies are involved, or businesses, or economic development associations, or individuals or civic organizations,” Pope said. “He’s been able to bring all of those groups together to improve every aspect of health in the community, not just physical health, but economic health, spiritual health, societal health.”
The video also showcased thoughts on Stewart’s leadership from one who knows him best, his wife, Suzanne.
“He’s a very strong but quiet leader,” Suzanne said, who noted his keen ability for listening to others.
Stewart started out in healthcare emptying wastebaskets in the chief executive officer’s office.
He admitted Tuesday evening he never thought one day he would be on stage, being awarded business’ top honor as CEO of Sky Lakes Medical Center.
“That job taught me one very important lesson: All positions and people in an organization are critical to the successful execution of the mission. It was there that I grew to appreciate the contribution of those who often are under the radar and behind the scenes to make sure that those on the front line can make sure to accomplish their objectives and tasks.
“In a hospital, everyone is a caregiver,” he added.