Dina Ellwanger said she is looking forward to being more involved with the community as the new president and chief nursing officer at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – Dina Ellwanger always wanted to be in charge of a major medical facility.

So, when she was elevated to the post of president and chief nursing officer at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario last year there was a sense of pride in a grand accomplishment.

Yet she stepped into the hospital’s top slot during a time of unprecedented challenges.

A North Dakota native, Ellwanger faced an array of problems and obstacles when she became president and almost all of those challenges stemmed from the Covid pandemic.

“I never thought I would live through a pandemic. So much changed so fast,” said Ellwanger.

Ellwanger was no stranger to the local hospital. For six years she was the facility’s vice president.

As vice president, her role revolved around ensuring the day-to-day operations of the hospital functioned smoothly. As president, she said, her role changed.

“There were so many things behind the scenes I was unaware of, like community involvement, which I love. As vice president, I thought I was pretty much involved in everything but there were more, unexpected tasks to assume,” said Ellwanger.

Ellwanger, who is a registered nurse, said one of the unexpected items she encountered as president was the jump in the number of meetings she needed to attend.

“That took me by surprise,” said Ellwanger.

Ellwanger said her time as vice president helped.

“It was good I was already established,” said Ellwanger.

Ellwanger, 51, replaced Ken Hart, who stepped down to join Valley Family Health Care.

A 16-year veteran of the Saint Alphonsus Medical System, Ellwanger has worked at hospitals in Baker City, Boise and Nampa. Medicine also runs her in her family. Ellwanger’s mother is a licensed practical nurse, a brother is a doctor and her twin sister is a radiology technician.

In Ontario, she had to perform layoffs and restructuring.

“It was very difficult to have to restructure the leadership of the organization,” said Ellwanger.

Financial losses because of the pandemic forced the Saint Alphonsus Health System to slash hours for some employees, reduce compensation for senior leaders and furlough some workers.

Ellwanger said that when she became president in August she was on the cusp of losing a manager for the hospital’s obstetrics department.

“And I didn’t have a nursing manager,” said Ellwanger.

Since then, Ellwanger said, she has filled key positions and her new leadership team is in place.

“We are good now,” she said.

Ellwanger said she did not set out to find a job in the medical field.

“I was thinking about going to be a teacher or a chaplain,” said Ellwanger.

Slowly, though, her path began to shift. She became a certified nursing assistant and worked in a care home. That’s where she learned she wanted to be a nurse.

Now, Ellwanger said her day begins between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. when she arrives at the hospital and then walks through different departments.

Her goal, she said, is to make sure “nothing is unexpected that day.”

“So that’s a lot of behind-the-scenes meetings – Covid has caused a lot of meetings – and making sure everyone has what they need to do their job for that day,” said Ellwanger.

Ellwanger said she is proud of her 16-year career with the Saint Alphonsus and one of her goals in the future is for the hospital to be the “employer of choice” for medical professionals and to put “colleagues at the forefront of everything this organization stands for, which is dedication and the idea we truly are a family.”

Ellwanger said one of her main goals is for the hospital to become a state-sanctioned vaccine hub. A vaccine hub is a central location where vaccines are stored and then redistributed to medical providers in the area.

Now, she said the hospital is working with the state to finalize plans for the effort.

“We have a high probability to be chosen to be the hub,” said Ellwanger.

Ellwanger said the vaccine program is working and she is confident about the future battle against Covid.

“Just watching the number of admissions, I do think these vaccinations was the step we needed,” she said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at pat@malheurenterprise.com

Previous coverage:

Ontario hospital chief one of the first to receive Covid vaccine

Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario president to step down.

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