CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - The office of the man who has steered Saint Francis Medical Center for the last 18 years is filled with memorabilia that spans a lifetime.
Steve Bjelich is a self-professed sports fanatic. Golf, basketball, football, he loves it all. But in the 1970s, at Indiana University, he ran track.
A Big Ten champion in the quarter mile.
"I was 16th in the world at one time. Thirteen ahead of me were Americans. We were dominate," recalled Bjelich.
It's that competitive nature that Bjelich credits with his long tenure in hospital administration. After 39 at hospitals all over the country, the 63 year old is retiring.
"I'm looking forward to spending more time with my wife, traveling, enjoying our wines. It's important while we have our health," said Bjelich.
As he contemplates his time at Saint Francis, Bjelich is most proud of the relationships he has with his employees.
When he arrived in 1999, there were about 1,000 of them, today there are nearly 3,000. And if you've driven by the hospital over the last few years, you've seen it expand in every direction.
Twenty years ago it covered 340,000 square feet, today it's more than four times that size.
Bjelich pointed out, "that expansion created jobs and added new services."
As more of the costs of medical care are shifted to employers and patients, and with fixed overhead costs tied to that expansion, Heartland News asked Bjelich if Saint Francis had a plan to reduce the cost of healthcare.
"We have many primary care doctors in the hospital now. We have urgent care centers that people can use instead of the emergency room. Those things will reduce our costs in the long run," said Bjelich.
As he prepares to end the 75 hour work weeks, the time away from family, the stress, and move permanently to Florida, Bjelich doesn't deny he wonders, at times, if he'll miss it.
"My wife wanted me to retire at 60," he said. "I wasn't ready. The system wasn't ready. The time is just right now."
"Just right" comes on September 1, when Bjelich will pack up the memorabilia and the memories, and head south.