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July 17, 2018
Avera Health executive Fred Slunecka is retiring after almost 36 years with the health system.
He most recently was chief operating officer since 2010 and previously was regional president of Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center for 21 years.
“I think Avera is in a very, very good spot right now. We’ve got all our senior leadership positions filled, and everything is firing on all cylinders,” he said. “You always want to go out when things are going great, and things are going great right now.”
His time at Avera included the creation of the Avera Cancer Institute, Avera Prairie Center, Avera Heart Hospital of South Dakota and Avera Behavioral Health Center. Slunecka also helped spearhead research and eCare at Avera.
Slunecka calls building his team his greatest accomplishment.
“I think it’s the people I’ve hired and developed, and in turn, the people they’ve hired and developed,” he said. “Avera wouldn’t be where it is without them.”
Slunecka, who grew up on his family’s ranch near Miller, began at Avera McKennan as an assistant administrator in 1982. At that time, he couldn’t have imagined the sophistication and growth that would be achieved, he said.
“In 1982, it was inconceivable the McKennan had the capability to provide sophisticated services like liver transplant, so to watch the development of the organization and the skills and the people and talent necessary to provide services like that, like bone marrow transplant, that gives me a great sense of pride,” he said.
His last day is July 27, but he plans to continue consulting with Avera, focusing on its research endeavors with Alumend and Alucent. The biotech company recently announced plans to locate at the USD Discovery District.
“I think research is very, very important to the future of Avera. If you want to develop sophisticated services and attract great physician talent, you need great research opportunity for them,” he said. “It has to be part of who we are to be successful long term. The opportunities with Alumend and Alucent are amazing. The treatment for vascular disease we’re developing could revolutionize the delivery of vascular disease therapy, and it’s exciting to be part of that.”
Slunecka also was heavily involved in the community, serving as board president of the South Dakota and Sioux Falls chambers of commerce and the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, as well as many nonprofits.
He was inspired early in his career by other business leaders who left a legacy through community involvement, he said.
“I believe as the city goes so goes our business, and I’d say the same about the state,” he said. “I think it’s so critical that we as community leaders work together cooperatively to advance the community. ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ is one of my favorite sayings, and I think we all have an obligation to keep the tide rolling in. We’ll figure out a way to compete and partake in that growth later, but if we aren’t all working together to raise that tide, that tide will go somewhere else. It will go to another community or state where people who are similarly minded will be successful to our detriment.”
Slunecka’s departure marks the second major retirement at Avera this year. CEO John Porter is winding down his tenure and helping with the transition to new CEO Bob Sutton.
“Fred’s long service and commitment to Avera has helped build a strong foundation that will serve our organization well for many years to come,” Sutton said in a statement.
Dave Flicek, president and CEO of Avera McKennan and chief administration officer of Avera Medical Group, will become interim chief operating officer of Avera Health in addition to his current duties. An executive search will be done later this year to fill the role, Avera said.
In reflecting on his career, Slunecka was reminded of a consultant visit to Avera McKennan years ago that underscores his approach to health care. Impressed by the level of health care, the consultant said most facilities have at least a service or two they themselves wouldn’t use.
“And I’ll never forget the look on all our faces at the idea of a service we wouldn’t use. If there’s a service we wouldn’t use, we’re going to fix it,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. We take care of our friends and family. We don’t do this as a business. It’s our friends and family who are going to seek care in this institution. It has to be the best, or we won’t accept it. That’s what’s differentiated health care in this community, and I’d include Sanford in this statement. We are all, for the most part, local people taking care of our local friends and family. It makes a difference. And that’s what’s going to continue to make Sioux Falls the kind of medical center that it is.”
Avera Health executive Fred Slunecka is retiring after more than three decades with the health system.