As he readies to move, Avera's Todd Forkel sees Meyer Center of Excellence as his legacy
When Todd Forkel thinks about his legacy at Avera St. Luke's, the first thing that comes to mind is the Don and Carmen Meyer Center of Excellence at the Avera Cancer Center.
“That’s something I’ll always look at fondly,” he said during an interview this week.
Not only does the cancer center provide badly needed extra space, it has updated technology for cancer treatments, more light and a healing atmosphere, he said.
"Avera’s philosophy has always been care is best delivered locally," Forkel said. "We can’t do that for everyone, but the Meyer center helped provide that goal."
More: New Avera cancer center opens Feb. 1 in Aberdeen
He recalled asking Don Meyer, who received cancer treatment at Avera, why he chose to receive care in Aberdeen as opposed to Nashville, Tenn., which has a world-class cancer center. Meyer coached at Lipscomb University in Nashville prior to taking over the men's basketball program at Northern State University.
“He said, ‘I believe Avera employees wake up every day thinking, 'What good works will God do through me?’” Forkel said.
After 10 years as CEO for Avera St. Luke's, six of which he was also president and CEO for Avera St. Mary's in Pierre, Forkel has been hired as CEO for Altru Health Systems. His office will be in Grand Forks, N.D. His last day at St. Luke's is today. He'll start his new position at Altru on Feb. 28.
More: Avera St. Luke's CEO Todd Forkel hired to lead Altru Health in North Dakota
"The atmosphere there is really patient-focused," Forkel said of Altru, noting that it reminds him of Avera St. Luke's in many ways.
"I felt a kinship and at home," he said.
Forkel said he'll always have a soft spot for Avera St. Luke's.
“I was born in this hospital,” he said.
A graduate of Central High School, Presentation College and later the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., Forkel started his career at Avera St. Luke's as a radiology technologist. He would later move to radiology manager before he left Aberdeen to work at hospitals in Minnesota and North Dakota.
He returned to Aberdeen in 2008, first as vice president of clinics, then as CEO. Forkel said he wouldn't have been ready for those leadership positions without the experience he gained at other hospitals. As he moved from position to position, taking opportunities that presented themselves, Forkel said he now sees that as God's hand at work in his life.
"I definitely want to thank the (Presentation) Sisters," he said. "They educated me and gave me multiple roles in their ministry."
Forkel said he’s been amazed at the commitment of the employees, who all believe they are carrying out the mission of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The sisters opened what is now Avera St. Luke’s Hospital as part of a health care ministry in 1901.
Future growth planned at St. Luke's
In recent years, the St. Luke’s campus has seen some change with the removal of Lourdes Hall, which was a fixture at a the intersection of South State Street and Third Avenue Southeast for 80 years. An overhead walkway that crossed above Third Avenue connected Lourdes Hall to the main hospital, although use of the connection was long since discontinued.
More: Lourdes Hall on St. Luke's campus to be demolished
Lourdes Hall came down in 2021 along with other nearby buildings, and a cross is now a prominent fixture on the north side of the main hospital building. But those changes were just the first in the hospital's 10-year improvement plan, details of which will be unveiled over time.
Forkel mostly spoke of the plan in general terms. The goal, he said, is to address areas where the hospital has seen an increase in demand.
As the campus continue to grow, behavioral health and orthopedics needs will be addressed, he said.
With orthopedics, Forkel said, most of those services are now offered at the orthopedics clinic, which isn’t on the main Avera campus. The vision, he said, is to build on top of the Avera Cancer Center, which was designed to accommodate two additional floors.
What did the pandemic teach?
Forkel said there have been a lot of lessons learned with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top two, he said, are teamwork and the power of the human spirit.
"There's no way we would have accomplished what we did without the mindset of, 'How will we do this together?'" he said.
Through the pandemic, Forkel said, staff willingly picked up extra shifts.
"The sense that no one is bigger than the mission permeates," he said.
When family visits were restricted, employees did what they could to make sure they were there for patients and provided that family touch when relatives couldn't, he said.
As for product supplies, Forkel said the hospital learned to be flexible, agile and willing to change — sometimes minute to minute.
Like other health care providers, St. Luke's is now facing staffing challenges. But those working at St. Luke's remain focused on its original mission.
"At the end of the day, the sisters came with the philosophy to meet the challenges of the day and our staff stepped up," Forkel said.
Forkel, 53, was elected to the Aberdeen City Commission, as it was then called, in 2002 and served until 2005 when he announced he was taking a job at the Mayo Clinic as director of radiology.
Before he started studying for a career in faith-based health care, Forkel also served three years in the U.S. Air Force. He earned an Air Force Accommodation Medal in 1989.
This article originally appeared on Aberdeen News: Avera's Todd Forkel sees Meyer Center of Excellence as his legacy