KEARNEY — In 2013, John Lanning assumed he’d come to Kearney for a year or two to help get Kearney Regional Medical Center established and then move on.
Now, eight years later, Lanning, the chief operating officer at KRMC, is departing. He’ll become CEO at the new 45-bed Three Crosses Regional Hospital in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His last day is Friday.
“I’ve watched the board go through tough times and obstacles, but I’ve been really impressed with the mission, the culture and the can-do attitude. The people came together and said, ‘Let’s join hands and get this going,’ and we did,” Lanning said.
Lanning was working in Kansas City when “a friend called out of the blue and said he was helping build a hospital in Kearney and invited me to come take a look,” Lanning said. He did.
Appointed interim CEO — the hospital’s first employee — in May 2013 to oversee the construction, “I thought I’d come up and get the hospital open and move on, but when Larry Speicher was named CEO, he asked me if I’d stay on.”
Lanning still was here when Speicher left in December 2017 to lead a similar start-up hospital in Grand Island, so Lanning again served as interim CEO until current CEO Bill Calhoun arrived in April 2018.
During his tenure, Lanning oversaw and coordinated new service line developments such as the open heart program, several internal remodeling projects, the expansion of the maternity center, the new patient wing and the emergency room.
“We weren’t perfect, but our mission is a good one,” he said. “We’re committed to the community.”
The 22-bed hospital struggled financially in its early days. “We were in debt for the first three or four years. Finally at the end of 2017 into early 2018, we made our first real numbers to keep the boat afloat,” he said.
New additions had to be done carefully because “it takes a year and a half to get a new department or program to support itself,” he said.
But plans to move slowly “got blown up,” he said, due to the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska debacle with Catholic Health Initiatives, parent company of CHI Health Good Samaritan. As contract talks bogged down, BCBS would not pay for elective surgeries in the 14-hospital CHI network, so many Good Sam patients came to the new hospital, and growth took off.
“We doubled in size with maternity and the new ER department. “We spent a lot of money and asked, ‘If we build it, will they come?’” Patients did, in droves.
Initially, Lanning expected the workforce might increase to 150 or 200 people, but now there are 93 beds and more than 850 employees. “I can’t extrapolate that,” he said.
Most employees have a spouse and/or a family, so “we’re responsible for the livelihood of from 2,700 to 3,000 people,” he said.
Lanning also has experienced the challenges of the COVID pandemic. He is proud of the fact that the few KRMC employees who got COVID became infected outside, not inside, the hospital.
Lanning, the second oldest of 11 children, grew up in Kansas City. He is the son of a pipe fitter and a stay-at-home mother who got a degree in early childhood development at the age of 55.
He studied to be a physical therapist, got his MBA at night and, among other things, did consulting for a pharmaceutical network. He made good money, but he got restless.
“I asked myself if this was really where I wanted to be,” he said. About that time, the friend called about the job in Kearney, and Lanning has never looked back.
He has commuted for eight years because his children were teenagers when he took the job, but they are now grown, so Lanning and his wife will move to Las Cruces, which sits an hour north of El Paso, Texas.
Calhoun said, “John provided leadership as we’ve gone from an idea to a start-up operation to a highly complex and comprehensive health care delivery system serving nearly 200,000 people across Nebraska and northern Kansas. It has been my pleasure to support him as he has prepared himself for his next role.”
Outside the hospital, Lanning has served on the CASA board and helped with United Way events.
“I’ve made lifelong friends here, not only at the hospital but with people in the community. It’s been a joy to be here. I am incredibly grateful to have had this experience,” he said.