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Westhofen: A legacy of health care in Norwalk

• Aug 16, 2017 at 12:00 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: The information for this story was compiled by friends and co-workers of the late Dick Westhofen.

Leader, visionary, dynamic, humble, teacher, servant and friend.

No matter who you talk to about Richard C. Westhofen, these words are mentioned again and again in describing this highly respected former president and CEO of Fisher-Titus Medical Center, who died Aug. 8 at age 81 in Clemmons, N.C. with family by his side.

Better known to his colleagues and friends as Dick, he served as President of Fisher-Titus for 27 years before retiring in 1998 to become President of the Fisher-Titus Foundation, a post he would retire from in 2000.

Dick Westhofen came to Norwalk in 1971 from Deaconess Hospital in Cincinnati to serve as Administrator of Fisher-Titus Memorial Hospital, which would be restructured as Fisher-Titus Medical Center under his leadership.

“Before getting into ‘health care’, Dick was a teacher and he never lost that special skillset,” said former President and CEO Patrick Martin, who worked with Dick for 22 years and was selected to follow him as president in 1998. “He encouraged us to think, allowed us to make mistakes (not big ones!) and learn from them, and grow as managers. Anyone who wanted to take on more responsibility was given the opportunity.”

Current president and CEO Lorna Stayer, who joined Fisher-Titus in 1985, agreed.

“He was a true mentor to me and many others,” she said. “Dick was well-known for his low-key humble approach, his hearty laugh, his innate kindness, and his vision to build a health-care organization to serve our community.”

During his tenure, Fisher-Titus completed numerous construction projects valued at $13 million including the first Medical Park physician office on the Fisher-Titus campus in 1976; the Morse Wing which housed the Emergency Department, Operating Rooms and Material Distribution Center in 1978; and a state-of-the-art Emergency Department in 1996. In 1997, he established the Transitional Care Unit of Norwalk Memorial Home and began construction for the Carriage House assisted-living facility.

In addition to building a strong physical infrastructure, Dick’s vision included bringing medical specialties into the hospital so that people did not have to leave the community to get the care they needed.

According to General Surgeon Dr. Farid Said, who came to Norwalk in 1975, “Mr. Westhofen knew that to keep people here we needed to grow our medical staff. He understood that people came to our facility because of the doctors, nurses and staff.”

At that time there were 17 physicians on the medical staff.

“We had a very strong group of family physicians in our community, but needed to have specialists here permanently and dedicated to Fisher-Titus.

By 1998 there were 65 physicians on the medical staff representing a wide variety of specialties including ophthalmology, orthopedics, and oncology – a progressive representation of medical specialties for the times.

Dr. Said added that an important part of the recruitment process was the commitment for physicians to live locally and be part of the community.

Dick believed it was the organization’s responsibility to serve the community and he instilled a culture of community service within the organization. As Kiwanian, Dick himself would take tickets at the Huron County Fair every August. He also was on the board and served as president of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce as well as the board of directors of Citizens Banking Corp, American Heart Association (Huron County chapter) and Stein Hospice of Sandusky.

A Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Dick also was well-known in the larger health-care community. He served as chairman of the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio board of trustees.

Hospital Council Executive Director Scott Frye remembers Dick as “one of the most professional, gentlemanly, caring individuals I’ve had the privilege of working with. He was an extraordinary mentor. Pat Martin and, subsequently, Lorna Strayer are examples of ‘the proof is in the pudding.’”

Dick was an active member of the Ohio Hospital Association and Small & Rural Hospital Committee. In a 1998 letter from James Kneen, president of United Health Partnership, in support of Dick’s nomination for the OHA Distinguished Service Award, Kneen wrote “I know of few hospitals, large or small, that have created the array of programs, services and community support that Dick has garnered in Norwalk. Fisher-Titus clearly has Dick’s imprint on it and it is a wonderful example of a truly dynamic and successful hospital.”

When announcing Dick’s retirement in 1997, Fisher-Titus Board Chair Jim Gerken said, “Dick is one of that handful of people whose hard work and strategic thoughts has had a significant impact on the quality of life for all of us in this area. He leaves us a model of what can be accomplished as a community medical center in a rural community.”

Dick himself took no credit for the accomplishments of the hospital . . . but called out Fisher-Titus employees as the key to the organization’s success.

“Dick always challenged the organization to live up to its potential,” said Strayer. “His example of leadership, vision, care for others, and service to community is a tradition that we all have strived to continue in the decades since his retirement. It is truly his legacy.”

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