When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Don Wee Says, "Know Your Plan and Take It!"

Member Spotlight: Tri-State Memorial Hospital, Clarkston, WA

As expected from a critical access hospital, Tri-State Memorial Hospital offers a wide range of care to its local community, from surgical services to medical clinics. CEO Don Wee is always busy keeping this 24/7 operation running smoothly, and you can tell that his energy comes from a focus to put patients and families first and a passion to make good things happen—even in times of uncertainty.

ON AMBIGUITY:  “Rely on the strength of the organization.”

Wee says that the biggest challenge is that change is coming fast, yet the new rules are still not clear. While at the federal level decisions are being made, at the local level we are often in a wait-and-see pattern, which makes planning difficult.

So, how does a modern-era hospital CEO keep things running “all systems normal” during not-so-normal times? Wee says he relies upon the strength and collaboration of his managers, his senior team, and physicians for the day-to-day operations, and he counts on the board of directors for strategic momentum. It helps to have very engaged physicians and a committed board. Overall, they function as a team united by a patient-focused approach.

For smaller, independent hospitals like his, Wee admits that ambiguity is easier to handle. “In our case, the board is unified, strong, and tightly focused on the community’s well-being. That helps us make decisions and then move forward and take action.”

ON CHANGE:  “Let’s push off from the dock and just do it.”

There are a lot of predictions about the impact of the Affordable Care Act, and the increased numbers of people to be cared for, but it is still an untested plan. Wee believes the ACA’s ultimate effectiveness will depend upon how user-friendly, or cumbersome, the system is to access and use. A bigger issue will come later—the employer part of the equation. How this piece drives the economics of medicine is a bigger issue that will get settled further down the road.”

Wee says their approach to moving forward during times of change is to have a strategy, then have a contingency plan to that strategy. “This is a plan with multiple layers, which includes planning for the worst-case scenario. But you always need to be quick, nimble, and responsive while staying patient-focused.” For instance, even while payment models change, at the end of the day you still have to take care of patients’ needs—even if you have to simultaneously operate in the old and new models.

No matter how things play out, Wee says the ACA is here and he doesn’t see it being overturned anytime soon. “I don’t know of any government program that got abandoned once it was up and running,” he says.

ON REPEATED “MOST WIRED” AWARDS:  “Technology without compassion does no good.”

“We make sure we have the most efficient, cutting-edge technology that can be put to good use at our hospital,” Wee says. This technology investment is being recognized; for the past several years, Tri-State has made Hospitals & Health Networks magazine’s Most Wired list as one of the nation’s most technically advanced hospitals. But Wee cautions, “The technology is not any good without compassion and respect for the patient. No matter the tools used, it’s important to remain sensitive to the needs of patients and their families.”

What else have they been recognized for? Peruse the Consumer Reports 2013 Safer-Surgery Survival Guide to see Tri-State listed among the top-ranked surgery facilities in Washington State. Additionally, Healthgrades has given Tri-State a five-star rating and ranked them among the top ten in Washington in joint replacement for several years running, and within the top 10 percent in the nation for superior joint replacement outcomes since 2011.


Wee says the staff’s positive attitude creates the biggest impact on patients and on each other, which is why a strong focus on customer service is essential. Wee sees customer service as one of the three legs of the triangle leading to good outcomes, the other legs being operations and quality. If one of the three is lacking, they aren’t delivering at the level they’re aiming for.

“We want perfection when it comes to patient satisfaction, so we keep it as an ongoing focus,” says Wee. “We’re always benchmarking customer service, using tools for feedback, and working to keep improving. We set our own bar to meet and exceed.”

Fast Facts

Who: Tri-State Memorial Hospital
Established: 1955
Location: 7 locations throughout Oregon and SW Washington
Total Staff: 430
Location: Clarkston, WA