It’s not easy to rattle Dr. Nicholas Wolter, CEO of Billings Clinic. But he was admittedly “flustered” this week when he received a standing ovation from his peers as they acknowledged his 30 years of service to the organization.
“I felt like Jon Stewart all the sudden,” Wolter quipped after the deafening applause subsided.
Wolter, 64, was one of several employees recognized for service this week during the hospital’s quarterly awards presentation. The beloved leader, known for his trademark humility, was showered with accolades from Dr. J. Scott Millikan, chair of the Billings Clinic board of directors, and Kristianne Wilson, executive director for health policy at the hospital.
Millikan described him as a “great physician” who always has patients, their families and employees at the forefront. He praised Wolter for having the “steadiness of doing the right thing.”
Wilson likened him to an architect, someone who is “motivated by big ideas.” She praised him for his work and recognition on the local, state, regional and national levels.
Wolter was recognized by the American Medical Group Association in 2004 as Physician Executive of the Year. Modern Healthcare named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in Health Care in 2010 and 2011. Modern Physicians identified him as one of the 50 Most Influential Physicians in Health Care in 2011 and 2012.
His 15-year tenure as the chief administrator of Billings Clinic is nearly three times as long as the national average. The average is slightly more than 5.5 years, according to a recent report prepared for the American College of Healthcare Executives.
The former prep school teacher-turned-physician sought employment at the hospital in 1982, attracted by the structure of its multispecialty group practice. It didn’t take long before the young doctor began to make his presence known.
He was the first medical director of critical care for the clinic and expanded services for people with cystic fibrosis. He would later become director of respiratory therapy and along the way, find time to volunteer his medical services at free migrant worker clinics in the Billings area.
Though he had no designs on getting involved in administration, he was named chair of the clinic’s executive committee and ultimately played a pivotal role in the integration of Billings Clinic and Deaconess Medical Center.
When the two entities were combined in 1997, the board of directors asked him to become CEO. He was the first physician to be named CEO of a Montana hospital.
During his administration, Billings Clinic has become the largest health care organization in Montana, with more than half a billion dollars in annual net revenues. With 3,500 employees, including 240 physicians and 400 inpatient nurses, Billings Clinic is the city’s largest employer. It also provides the greatest dollar amount of charity care in the state and has gained a reputation nationally as a leader in patient safety, quality and service.