Photos: Kris Kathmann
How Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James Hebl works to bring world class healthcare to your hometown.
For James Hebl, medicine and a positive patient experience are not only professional pursuits, but are very personal as well.
“When I was a sophomore in high school, my youngest brother was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus at age 5. I saw the impact diabetes had on not only my brother – but the entire family. The pediatrician caring for my brother was so kind, patient and knowledgeable when describing the condition and what we needed to do as a family. This life event, in addition to my passion for pharmacology and the biologic sciences, played a major role in my decision to enter medicine,” he reflects.
But really, he made his mark on the area and the local health care community years before that. On January 1, 1969 the coveted title of New Year’s Baby was bestowed on little James Hebl. Unbeknownst at that time to his parents or the nurses and staff caring for him at Immanuel-St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mankato, the place where he started life would be the one he would eventually return to in adult life to lead into the future. Although by then both would have different names; his with a Dr. in front of it (1995)…and the hospital adding the name Mayo Clinic (1996).
Southern Minnesota has always been home to Hebl. He attended Kennedy Elementary School in Mankato until third grade when his parents moved the family to Elysian, Minnesota. Hebl graduated from Waterville-Elysian High School in 1987. Then attended St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, graduating with a B.S. in Natural Science and Psychology in 1991. He received his M.D. from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in 1995. After that he attended the Mayo School of Graduated Medical Education in Rochester, Minnesota completing a residency in Anesthesiology and a fellowship in Regional Anesthesia and Acute Pain Medicine.
And he’s been with Mayo ever since.
“I worked at Mayo Clinic in Rochester for the first 18 years of my career, including serving as Vice-Chair, Department of Anesthesiology and Clinical Practice Chair of Rochester Methodist Hospital. I was happy when I had the opportunity to return home to Mankato to accept my current role of Regional Vice-President, Mayo Clinic Health System. I’ve held that position for two years.”
In his career with Mayo Clinic he has had the opportunity to hone his leadership skills by filling a variety of roles beyond being a physician. For instance, he led a surgical process improvement initiative in Rochester that brought improvements in operating room utilization, teamwork and the patient experience. Mayo leaders have dubbed the initiative under his leadership successful and impactful. Along with real life experience, he brings academic credentials: a combination that is proving to be the right prescription for fostering a stronger presence for research and education within Mayo Clinic Health System.
And that’s no small order.
Mayo Clinic’s network of hospitals and clinics is massive. The entire system has 60 sites in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. But his experience and knowledge of not only the Mayo Clinic Health System, but his home region gained the confidence of Mayo Clinic leadership. Dr. Hebl has now been tapped to lead our region, which includes six hospitals and 22 clinics in all.
Over his nearly two decade career he has seen some impactful changes in the health care industry.
“The most impactful change I’ve seen in healthcare over the past 20 years is the ongoing integration of healthcare systems across the nation. Mayo Clinic has been a leader in healthcare integration across the upper Midwest – now serving patients in more than 70 communities across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Our Mayo Clinic network includes 18 hospitals and 46 clinics across the upper Midwest.”
As Regional Vice President for Mayo Clinic Health System his role will be to further strengthen and integrate Mayo Clinic’s presence throughout Southwest Minnesota. All the while delivering positive outcomes in that integrated experience to patients and communities across the region. That means making sure patients receive the same high quality of care regardless of whether they walk through Mayo Clinic doors in Mankato or Fairmont or Waseca.
For this interview, Dr. Hebl said he has a primary goal of transforming the Mankato campus into a premier Mayo Clinic Regional Medical Center for southern Minnesota. Certainly, Mayo is working toward that goal already having made a significant investment in the community by adding support space, the Andreas Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic Heart Center and the $3.4 million expansion to the Eastridge Clinic that will house a pediatric and adolescent medicine department and soon a new family and child advocacy center.
In the Southwest Region, Mayo has 3,466 total staff, 222 physicians/advanced practice providers and 3,244 Allied Health Staff.
What could possibly be next? In this interview, he talks about the challenges ahead for the industry in general, Mayo Clinic Health System specifically and the patients they serve.
Let’s start from the beginning. Why did you choose anesthesiology?
During medical school, I found myself drawn to all types of patients and a variety of medical conditions. I enjoyed caring for newborns, women during labor and delivery and elderly patients undergoing surgery or being cared for in the intensive care unit (ICU). Because of this, I fell in love with anesthesiology. As an anesthesiologist and perioperative physician, I have the opportunity to care for patients from 9-days to 99-years of age. I have the opportunity to care for patients during cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, or a liver transplantation. I have the chance to care for patients before surgery in the Preoperative Clinic, during surgery and after surgery in the intensive care unit. I enjoy caring for women during labor and delivery and helping patients manage acute postoperative pain. The breadth and depth of opportunities is endless.
You’ve been with Mayo for 18 years now and have certainly climbed the ranks. What do you do in your role now?
As Regional Vice-President for Mayo Clinic Health System, Southwest Minnesota Region – I am responsible for six Mayo Clinic hospitals (Mankato, Fairmont, New Prague, Springfield, St. James, and Waseca) and 22 clinics across southern and southwestern Minnesota. In this role, I am ultimately responsible for the quality, safety and service of the care we provide patients; as well as the finances and strategic growth of the hospitals and clinics throughout the region.
While the Mankato hospital is the central “hub” for the entire region, what geographic area is considered your region?
The geographic borders of Mayo Clinic Health System-Southwest Minnesota Region include: North to New Prague/Belle Plaine; East to Waseca; South to Fairmont; and West to Springfield/Lamberton.
Are there challenges in leading such an expansive and diverse region?
Yes, the large geographic area makes it a challenge to personally meet with staff from each site on a regular basis. Although I try to visit each site on a monthly basis (at a minimum), more frequent interactions with staff and local leaders are accomplished using phone- and video-conferencing capabilities. These same modalities are used when connecting with Mayo Clinic colleagues on our Rochester, Arizona or Florida campuses. Technology has made it easier to stay connected within such a large geographic region.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
The biggest challenges of every healthcare executive include decreasing reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid despite higher complexities of care, national workforce shortages, government mandates, growing administrative and regulatory burden, and the rising cost of staff, supplies and pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, the unpredictability of future healthcare models and commercial insurance payment reform presents a constant challenge.
From a consumer perspective, what is the biggest healthcare challenge today?
The biggest challenges for patients include navigating commercial insurance reform and adapting to new models of healthcare such as team-based care, non-clinic based care, and a much more proactive vs. reactive approach to managing chronic medical conditions. As healthcare organizations face national workforce shortages, patients will also find it increasingly difficult to see physicians and specialists in a timely manner. This is particularly true on the east coast of the U.S., where physician shortages are most severe.
Workforce shortage is an issue in almost every industry in our region, is that true for health care in our region as well? What jobs are most in demand? Do you see that correcting?
There is currently a significant workforce shortage among physicians and other healthcare professionals across the United States. This is particularly true within rural America. The American Medical Association estimates that the U.S. will have a deficit of 120,000 physicians by the year 2025. This includes both specialists like neurologists, urologists, psychiatrists, etc. as well as primary care physicians, or those physicians practicing family medicine and internal medicine. Unfortunately, this will be an ongoing challenge for healthcare organizations across the U.S. – forcing hospitals and clinics to develop alternative practice models that place a greater emphasis on Advanced Practice Providers (e.g., Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants).
Mayo has expanded its reach in southern Minnesota. Please talk about the importance of Mayo having a presence in our region’s more rural communities?
The Mayo Clinic Pyramid of Care ensures that every patient receives the right care at the right time in the right location – particularly within our rural communities. The Pyramid of Care includes three primary components.
The first is called the Base-of-the-Pyramid. The base of the pyramid is made-up of rural and small community hospitals and clinics across southern and southwestern Minnesota, including Fairmont, New Prague, St. James, Springfield, and Waseca. The focus of these practices is to provide preventative care, primary care and select specialty care for patients close-to-home.
Then we have the Middle-of-the-Pyramid. The mid-portion of the pyramid is made-up of regional medical centers, like Mayo Clinic in Mankato, that provide advanced medical, specialty and surgical care not available within rural settings. Mayo Clinic patients from rural communities needing a higher level-of-care would be transferred to Mankato for complex procedures, advanced imaging techniques or critical care (ICU) medicine.
Finally, we have the Tip-of-the-Pyramid. The tip-of-the-Pyramid is the Destination Medical Center practice in Rochester. The Rochester practice is able to care for the most acutely ill and complex patients – including complex cardiac surgical care, complex neurosurgical care, bone marrow and solid organ transplants, pediatric and neonatal intensive care services and other highly specialized medical and surgical care.
Having the Mayo Clinic Pyramid of Care within our region ensures that every patient receives the right care, at the right time, in the right location. The ability to provide comprehensive and coordinated care to patients is what differentiates Mayo Clinic as a healthcare provider across southern and southwestern Minnesota.
Mayo has expanded not only in locations, but also in services offered. Talk about current services you are expanding in our region? And what is next?
Mayo Clinic Health System is currently expanding several service lines, including Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Neurosurgery and Complex Spine Care, Medical Oncology, Pediatric Specialty Care and Nurse Midwifery within our Obstetrics practice.
One to highlight is Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. The Mayo Clinic Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Mankato has just hired its eighth orthopedic surgeon for the region. These professionals specialize in orthopedic trauma, joint replacement surgery, hand and wrist, foot and ankle, pediatrics and sports medicine. The Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine recently completed a $5 Million expansion of its clinic located on the hospital campus – including an expanded patient waiting area, doubling of exam room space, on-site radiology services, a cast room, and new procedural space.
Another practice to highlight is Neurosurgery and Complex Spine Care. The Mayo Clinic Department of Neurosurgery in Mankato recently added two neurosurgeons to their staff specializing in routine and complex spine care and back surgery. Both surgeons recently completed their training at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and provide comprehensive spine care in collaboration with our neurologists, physiatrists and pain medicine specialists.
Pediatric Specialty Care is another area of growth. Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato recently opened its new Children’s Center on July 2. The new $3.4 Million state-of-the-art facility will serve as the new home for the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in Mankato. It will also be the location for pediatric specialty outreach services for specialists from Rochester and the new Mankato Family and Child Advocacy Center. The Mankato Family and Child Advocacy Center is a space for law enforcement, child protection, and other social service agencies to meet with children who have been abused or are involved in other legal issues.
Finally, I should mention Nurse Midwifery. The Mayo Clinic Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology in Mankato recently added two Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) to their staff. Midwives provide advice, care and support for women and their babies during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and during the early postnatal period. The new midwife practice in Mankato is the only OB practice in the area offering care from nationally Certified Nurse Midwives.
How does Mayo go about determining when the time is right for additional services, locations, etc.?
The expansion of medical and surgical services is dependent on several factors, including patient demand, community demographics, projected market demand, required resources such as equipment and facilities, and infrastructure support.
What specialty is the fastest growing?
The fastest growing specialty within our region is Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. The Mayo Clinic Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine within our region now includes eight orthopedic surgeons and five Advanced Practice Providers (Physician Assistants). These experts specialize in orthopedic trauma, joint replacement, hand and wrist, foot and ankle, pediatrics and sports medicine. We also have a rapidly growing neurosurgical and complex spine practice that cares for patients needing back surgery; as well as a new Certified Nurse Midwife practice within obstetrics.
Connect is circulated to 12,000 business leaders in 13 southern Minnesota counties and two northern Iowa counties…what do you want the business community to know about Mayo?
Mayo Clinic is committed to providing high-value care to patients and businesses across southern Minnesota. Mayo Clinic is able to differentiate itself by providing comprehensive care to patients as part of an integrated medical practice across the Midwest (i.e., Pyramid of Care; see above). This includes providing expert primary, surgical and subspecialty care locally close-to-home; as well as having immediate access to experts within the Mayo Clinic practice in Rochester – which is ranked the #1 hospital in the U.S. – for highly specialized and complex care.
What is something you would like to see happen in healthcare in our region. The goals you have in your role is another way to ask this I guess?
My primary goal is to transform the Mankato campus into a premier Mayo Clinic Regional Medical Center to serve the patients of southern Minnesota. The roadmap to achieve this includes: continuously improving the quality, safety and service of the care we provide; expanding medical and surgical services available within the region; and modernizing our facilities. This roadmap will provide high-value care to patients across southern Minnesota while being part of a larger integrated Mayo Clinic practice across the Midwest, including having immediate access to experts and resources within the Mayo Clinic practice in Rochester.
Dr. Hebl’s wife Heather, also has close ties to the region.
“My wife and I will soon be celebrating our 25th Anniversary,” he says. “She is also from the Mankato area, graduating from Mankato East High School and then Mankato State University (as it was known then) with a B.A. In Elementary Education.
Together they have three children: Zachary is a Senior at the University of North Dakota majoring in Aerospace and Commercial Aviation; Matthew is a Sophomore at the University of St. Thomas majoring in Business Finance; and Gabriela is a 7th grader at Prairie Winds Middle School in Mankato.
When Dr. Hebl is not navigating the complexities of health care, he is navigating travel around the world. “My favorite travel spots include Rome, the Greek Isles, and Asia (Hong Kong),” he says. Other hobbies include spending time with family at the lake and reading.
- Consultant, Department of Anesthesiology, Mayo Clinic
- Regional Vice-President, Mayo Clinic Health System, Southwest Minnesota Region
- Professor of Anesthesiology
- Bachelor of Science: Natural Sciences and Psychology, Saint Johns University, Collegeville, Minnesota
- Medical Degree: University of Minnesota School of Medicine, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Medical Internship: Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota
- Anesthesiology Residency: Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota
- Fellowship: Regional Anesthesia and Acute Pain Medicine, Mayo Graduate School of Medicine
- Fellowship: Anesthesia Clinical Research, National Institutes of Health
- Business Administration: Certificate, ASA Business Academy, University of Houston
Mayo Clinic Health System Mankato Hospital and Clinic
1025 Marsh Street, Mankato, MN 56001