Mel McNea is leading the return west to healthcare as interim CEO of Scottsbluff Hospital

Had Mel McNea got the job he wanted to get this year, he wouldn’t have been able to help Scottsbluff’s Regional West Health Services until it found its next head.

McNea, 67, a former Unicameral candidate and retired CEO of Great Plains Health in North Platte, began work Monday as interim CEO of the Panhandle’s largest healthcare organization.

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He said on Friday he will be there until the Regional West board can hire a successor to John Mentgen, who resigned on November 16.

“I am employed by the hospital until the (recruitment) process is complete,” he said. “Sometimes it can take three to six months to find a CEO.”

McNea was supposed to start work Wednesday, but he drove up the North Platte River Valley early to avoid the big snow storm that battered the Scottsbluff-Gering area and western Nebraska on Tuesday.

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He took time out on Friday to thank Regional West staff for welcoming them, he said. “The people in these communities were wonderful.”

McNea ended seven years as CEO of GPH and 34 years at North Platte Hospital last December, six months after he announced his candidacy for the District 42 seat of the Legislature.

He retired in March after North Platte’s temporary Senator Mike Groene resigned on February 23. Annual semester 8 Nov

“I think there are certain forces and things that help us make these decisions that we’re not aware of,” McNea said, reflecting on how his decision gave him the freedom to help Regional West.

He said he and his wife Michelle would be juggling life in North Platte and his part-time job over the next few months. Michelle McNea still works for GPH as a Registered Nurse and Case Manager.

“I just have good family support and a solid marriage,” said Mel McNea. “But I’m really just committed to the (Scottsbluff-Gering) community. It can’t just be a part-time thing. It has to be full-time no matter how long it takes.”

However, he will be home for the holidays because McNeas’ daughter Molly is getting married in McCook on New Year’s Eve. Mel and Michelle McNea have three children and five grandchildren.

He said he will retain his other post as a board member for Ogallala-based Educational Service Unit 16. First elected in 2008, he was running for a fourth full term after retiring from the unicameral race.

McNea said he hopes his time at Regional West will be beneficial to the people and communities at the 2,000-staff hospital after a troubled period before Mentgen’s resignation.

“I think what I can do is help the staff through this transition and continue to focus on quality care and bring some stability to the organization,” he said.

Like GPH, Regional West Health Services provides healthcare services across a broad geographic area. Its service area extends beyond the Panhandle to Wyoming, Colorado and South Dakota.

Centered at the Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff, the organization’s 28 physician offices and nearly 300 healthcare providers support critical-access hospitals in Oshkosh, Chadron, Gordon, Kimball, Alliance, Bridgeport, Sidney and Grant. Regional West also offers emergency medical services in Ogallala.

Even officially retired, McNea said he still has concerns about helping the people of western Nebraska find and receive the quality health care they deserve.

“Ensuring access to quality health care is a challenge in rural America,” he said. “This is the opportunity to really improve people’s lives.”

McNea grew up near the US-Canadian border in Bottineau, North Dakota, where he graduated from high school in 1973.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Valley City (North Dakota) State College and received a master’s degree in health administration from the University of Phoenix in 2009.

A radiologist by training, McNea was Director of Radiology at St Andrew’s Hospital in Bottineau and St Anthony’s Hospital in O’Neill before joining GPH in 1987 as an Ultrasound Technician.

He worked his way up to CEO in 2014, leading North Platte Hospital through the COVID-19 pandemic.

GPH added more than 300 employees and 18 healthcare specialists during his time as CEO. It was named one of the top 19 US rural hospitals by the Leapfrog Group in 2019 and 2020.

McNea is a past recipient of the Nebraska Hospital Association’s Excellence in Service Award.

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