With the announcement that Donna Singer was stepping down as CEO of Utah Navajo Health System, Inc., after starting the organization fifteen years ago, UNHS employees decided it was time to honor her.
In three separate ceremonies, at Monument Valley, Montezuma Creek and Blanding Family Practice, UNHS employees and staff bid their CEO farewell, and welcomed Michael Jensen, the organization's COO, to his new position as CEO.
"Donna has been so incredible. It's intimidating to stand up here," Jensen told a gathering at the LDS Church in Montezuma Creek on January 29. He said he is honored to be named CEO, and he hopes he can serve the organization as well as Singer did for fifteen years.
UNHS Board Chair Robert Whitehorse was Master of Ceremonies for the gathering in Montezuma Creek. He welcomed Singer and her husband Lewis noting, "We as a board really do treasure her and what's she's done for the past fifteen years with UNHS and the past thirty years serving the needs of the Navajo people and all of San Juan County. I just want to say that this couldn't happen if it wasn't for Donna.
"The way she loves us Navajo people. It doesn't matter who. From the time when there was just a little bitty clinic and the people weren't getting the treatment that they wanted..." Whitehorse said. "Look what's happened now. This is one of the best clinics that we have," he said, speaking of the Montezuma Creek Clinic. "I really appreciate what's been done here at Montezuma Creek, and Blanding, Monument Valley, Navajo Mountain and Blue Mountain Hospital," he continued. "You should all be proud of yourselves. We members of the Board just talk about things, but you are the ones that have done the job, are doing the job," he told the UNHS employees gathered at the Montezuma Creek LDS Chapel. "I just want to say to Donna, you are not going away. You're going to be here with us. You're going to continue to help us."
Four other members of the UNHS Board of Directors were also in attendance. Melinda Farley, Gloria Begaye, Jamie Harvey and Edward Tapaha all expressed their love and appreciation for Singer's guidance, inspiration and leadership, as the only CEO UNHS has had in it's fifteen years of service to the residence of San Juan County.
"We've come a long way and I see your love for the clinic. I see your love for our people. I see your love for everybody. That inspires me. I want to thank you," Melinda Farley said,
"We've seen the leadership you taught us and the leadership you brought and I just want to say thank you," said Jamie Harvey.
Edward Tapaha said he noticed an ambulance across from the chapel when he arrived for the party, and when he asked why, he was told a helicopter was about to arrive.
"I didn't realize it was your flight in," he joked with Singer. "That must have been very special."
After the laughter died down, Tapaha spoke of his long relationship with Donna and Lewis Singer. Then he told the gathering that "each and every one of us are challenged to be someone."
"In order to be someone, you have to take a step. You have to tell yourself that you're able to do things. That you are capable to operate your life and whatever you do, and that's your challenge," he said. He also talked about the decision he and Donna Singer made about UNHS when he was an LPN at the Montezuma Creek Clinic.
"We had many discussions and we decided that Utah Navajo Health System, Inc. would not be just a small organization. We will become a good, strong healthcare organization in Southeast Utah, and everyone will recognize us in San Juan County, and all the way to Salt Lake City. Donna helped UNHS make a decision and take a step and challenged the organization to be better," Tapaha said.
"I'd like to say with all respect, thank you Donna and thank you to your husband, Lewis. He stood by you, and I don't know how Lewis has gray hair and you don't. But Lewis is a wise old man. I just want to say thanks for leading us and giving us responsibility and challenging us... Sometimes we didn't see eye to eye, but it was worth it all," he said.
Singer didn't arrive at the party in a helicopter. Instead, she arrived in a car, and carried a large pot of gravy across the parking lot to the chapel for the dinner. Serving, as usual. When she spoke she expressed her gratitude for the support she's received.
"I'm looking around at some of you in this room who were here when we very first started, and wow! What a journey, right? It's been a great opportunity to work with you and I hope that does continue because there's still a lot we need to do. But we've come a long way. I just want to thank every one of you.
"A couple of weeks ago, Blue Mountain Hospital received a national award. Former Lt. Governor Gregg Bell came down for the presentation," Donna explained. "He spent a couple of hours touring Blue Mountain Hospital and the UNHS Blanding Family Practice Clinic. When he went to leave, he said, 'I want you to know that I've never felt, in any medical facility I've ever been in, what I feel in this building. There's a warmth here. There's a caring. There's a feeling here that everybody's happy and enjoys what they're doing and it's their hospital.' And he said, 'I literally, physically feel that. Very different from the last hospital I was in,'" Singer said.
"I want you to know that I've had the same response from many people when they go into our clinics. It's a different feeling. And I want you to know from the bottom of my heart how much I appreciate every individual here because you are what makes it," she said. "Utah Navajo Health System is your facility. Your system. And as long as you maintain ownership of your position and what you do and remember that it's all about the patients, that will only get better and better and it will never go away. So I challenge you as you move forward to remember that when you come to work in the morning, this is your facility. And every one of you has a responsibility and an opportunity to maintain that ownership of this facility. And it will be and grow and become as much as you want it to be…
"So I thank you for this amazing experience. It has been my life and it will be a challenge to walk away, even a little ways away, but it's time and there are other people who are very, very qualified to take over for me. I challenge them to love it as much as I love it because that's what it takes."
Singer thanked Whitehorse for his kind words and then added, "I tell others, you were born Navajo, but I chose Navajo and I've never been sorry. You are my people. Every one of you, whether you're white or Navajo or mixed, and I just want you to know you're my people. Thank you so much."
Singer then introduced her successor Michael Jensen saying, "I want you to know for the past few years, it's been a concern, passing the torch, but I am confident, or I wouldn't be able to do this, that we're passing this torch onto this young man. He's been with us before. He left for a couple of years and got more experience, but his heart was not where he was. He came back where his heart is and he is a great leader. He will continue to do great things for our organization. You know how much he cares about you and that's significant, but he also accepts challenges and has the ability to continue to lead us forward. So I want you to know with confidence that I pass this torch to Mike."
Farewell party at Montezuma Creek...UNHS Board member, Edward Tapaha (with mic) had outgoing CEO Donna Singer laughing with his comments, during the farewell party at Montezuma Creek. Tapaha said Singer's leadership, "...helped UNHS make a decision and take a step, and challenged the organization to be better," UNHS employees threw three such parties for Singer. Staff photo
What a team... UNHS Robert Whitehorse (L) welcomes Lewis Singer and Donna Singer, during farewell party Montezuma Creek. UNHS Board member, Edward Tapaha, referred to Lewis as 'a wise old man,' who stood by Donna during here years as CEO of UNHS. He's right! Staff Photo